People Watching

by Linda Hudson Hoagland

People Watching I am doing it again. I am people watching in a popular cafeteria where there seems to be a constant flow of bodies in and out as they hurry on to meet the demands of their busy lives.

An elderly couple with the gentleman riding a wheelchair seem to be the happiest of those sitting at tables within my sight line.

The gentleman, I will call him John, is wearing an oxygen hose on his face to enhance his ability to breathe the good warm air filled with food smells that are caused by the cooking of the fine cuisine for which the restaurant is famous.

The little gray-haired lady, I will call Mary, makes sure everything that John wants to eat is within his reach. She does not baby John at all, but she makes life a little easier for the disabled man.

Mary keeps a good stream of conversation going using a pleasant, calm voice at all times.

When she finishes her meal, she sits at the table and patiently waits for her companion, John, to place his eating utensils on the plate and reach for his cup of decaf coffee.

She talks to him and he answers with short sentences or one word. She looks at him with old eyes displaying a love of many years.

Mary, a petite lady, of about five feet or less, gathers up everything and starts pushing the John filled wheelchair to the exit.

I jump up to open the door to allow them to leave without the struggle that would have occurred without my assistance. It makes my heart feel good to help.

This cafeteria seems to be the place for family and friends. They outnumber the solitary diners much to my chagrin because on many occasions since the passing of my husband, I am a solitary diner not by choice.

I also see the servers who have not been called upon to take care of people at the tables rush to decorate the interior of the restaurant with Santa’s, snowmen, and poinsettias to highlight the coming holiday season. In no time at all, they have created a Christmas atmosphere fill with laughter and joy.

Joy is hard for me this year. Sonny, my beloved husband, companion, travel mate, and best friend, succumbed to a life-ending colonoscopy three weeks before Thanksgiving, one day before my sixtieth birthday, and less than two months before the upcoming Christmas holiday.

I am sitting behind a table filled with the books I am trying to sell in order to meet the obligations incurred while trying to keep my husband alive.

I struggle to force a smile on my face to overcome the black, empty feeling that fills my heart.

I am trying so hard not to think about my reasons for sadness, but Sonny will never, ever leave my thoughts.

My eyes are tearing up again. I have to force my thoughts away from my Sonny and how much I miss him.

I see a single soul sitting at a table on my left side. I will call the man Jim. He appears to be a gruff individual with a no nonsense attitude. He isn’t wearing a wedding band, but with men it isn’t unusual for the absence of a band, and still have a wonderful wife sitting at home.

He must have asked to speak to the cafeteria manager. He drums his fingers from both hands on the table as he looks irritated and unhappy.

“He is busy right at this moment, but he will be out to speak with you in a few minutes,” explains a noticeably nervous server.

“That’s all right,” says Jim to the busy waitress. “If he is too busy to talk to me, I understand.”

“Sir, if you can wait, he will be out to talk to you.”

“I’m busy too. I’m eating right now so I’m not going anywhere.”

He continues to eat stopping every so often to drum his fingers and look gruff.

“He is still busy, but he will be here to speak with you,” whispered the worried waitress.

He can see the worry on her face and he reaches out to her grabbing at her arm, “Don’t worry, Honey, it’s not about you.”

You can see the tension melt from the waitress with those words.

Jim continues to eat and drum his fingers. When he finishes his meal he sits and waits and drums his fingers.

“Do you know the manager’s name?” he asks the same harried waitress.

“Yes, Sir, his name is Donald Androsian.”

“Can you spell that last name for me?”

“A-N-D-R-O-S-I-A-N,” she says distinctly so Jim can write it down on the small piece of paper he is holding.

“Where is your main office?”

“Alabama.”

“Do you have that address?”

“No, Sir, but the lady at the cash register may have it.”

He stands up and starts to put on his coat. He has to pause to let diners carrying food-filled trays to pass,

He sees me watching him.

“Busy corner here,” he says in a booming voice.

“Yes it is. It’s kind of dangerous to cross the oncoming traffic,” I say with a smile.

He crosses the isle and stands in front of my table filled with books.

“I’m a local author. I have a book of Christmas stories you need to buy for your wife or girlfriend.”

“I wish I had one,” Jim says as he shrugs his shoulders and walks away.

He stops at the cash register near the exit door to pay for his meal and says a little too loudly, “Do you have the address for the main office in Alabama?”

“No, Sir, but you can find it on the Internet.”

“Thank you, Young Lady,” he says and finally leaves after having stirred up several employees with what everyone believes to be a complaint. He never did get to speak to the manager who was extremely busy with all of extra holiday traffic being served in his cafeteria.

I am sure the home office will get the complaint, whatever it is. Jim appears to be a man who, like a dog with a bone, will chew away at something until he feels relieved or too tired to continue chewing.

It is mid-afternoon and the traffic pattern is beginning to slow. It won’t last long because the evening meal rush will rev up momentarily.

I haven’t had much success at selling my books, only two have been purchased but I consider it a winning experience if I sell just one. Two book sales made it a double win.

The pause gives me time to reflect upon the nice young men I encountered when I made my trips to my parked car to retrieve my selling materials.

The first young man of what appeared to be Asian descent stood with the door handle in his hand waiting for me to get closer before he yanked the heavy glass and metal door. The show of respect floored me especially coming from a young man I did not know.

As I exited the mall to get my second load of books, another young college age man held the door for me. I smiled warmly and nodded to acknowledge his kindness.

It doesn’t take a lot to impress me. Both of those young men were appreciated by this little old lady.

While I was contemplating the unexpected signs of respect, my small book selling table became surrounded by people looking at the pictures in the collage I prepared to spark interest in my mystery novel.

I guess it was a good idea. I have one of those every once in a while, a good idea, I mean.

Two more books are purchased bringing me to a total so far of four out the door.

The cafeteria is full of people who need to complete their chores and not waste time with an old lady trying to foist her novels onto unsuspecting victims.

I’m beginning to feel better about being here until I am told that it is snowing outside and the roads are getting hard to manage.

Now, I get to wait and worry about what the roads will be like when I leave here after four more hours.

Another lull but not before two more of precious volumes of words are sold.

It is usually a terrific book signing if I can sell ten books. I’m well on my way to terrific.

The booths and tables are filling up again. Now, the all day shoppers are tired and hungry. The new arrivals are anxious about getting the eating out of the way so they can go explore the Christmas wonders for sale throughout the mall.

I am tired of sitting behind this table. I get up and stretch my legs. A trip to the ladies room is the only exercise I will be getting until I hit the magic hour of eight o’clock when I can pack up and drive for an hour and a half to my home in Stillwell. Hopefully, it will only take me that long, ninety minutes, but the falling snow may prolong the long, lonely drive.

Another book is purchased and this time it is by a man. He actually bought one of the anthologies that I am prone to giving away when someone buys two of my novels. It serves as an added incentive, a simple come-on that works once in a while.

Another book gone, this time it is my first novel. The total is now at eight. I’m keeping my fingers crossed. I have about two more hours to reach the magic number of ten.

The looky-loos have appeared at the table several times today. Most tell me “I don’t have time to read” which in a few cases may be true, but most of the time it’s just a dishonest way of telling me they are not interested or they don’t have the money. I would rather hear the truth.

I look at the live poinsettias that have been placed on the half wall partition that separates this large room into two sections. Those deep red leaves remind me of my mother and her love for the Christmas plant.

Mom didn’t inspire too many good memories because of the way she was acting a few years prior to her death. Old age made her mean and ugly when dealing with me. That attitude was the opposite of the mom who raised me.

It’s nice to have a good memory about her love for poinsettias.

A lady sitting at the table directly in front of me was chatting with a woman who looked to be her mother. There was a strong facial resemblance.

The younger woman, I will call her Jill, is blessed with a beautiful face. She has a quiet, subtle beauty that radiates from her.

“I hope you weren’t embarrassed with my stares,” I say as she begins to walk toward the exit. “I think you are so very pretty,” I add in explanation.

“Thank you,” is her humble reply.

She looks at my books questioning me about each volume. She chooses two and I gave her the third, an anthology that contains my prize-winning short story.

My total now is ten sold and one given free. I’ve had a terrific book signing with the possibility of selling even more.

“Do you like to read?”

“No, I wish I did,” mumbled a lady as she passes my table.

Again, I ask, “Do you like to read?” and a different lady stops to look and decided to buy the small volume of Christmas stories.

One more hour needs to pass so I can go out and brave the winter storm during my long drive home.

A nice lady also named Linda quizzes me about my writings. She purchases a book and goes on her merry way.

That purchase has exceeded all of my expectations and makes the long drive ahead of me a little more bearable.

Now the area in front of me is thinning out and I see two older males sitting in different booths are eating their suppers alone. Both have hair that is mostly white and thinning in spots. Both are nicely attired in clean casual clothes. Neither of them has a wedding band and the lack of a smile on either face tells me they spend most of their days and nights alone.

I’m sure Christmas holds the same appeal for them as it does for me. Being alone does not allow for the feeling of great joy.

All of the late diners are arriving to eat before they head for home and hearth.

Suddenly the two diners are lonely no more and every booth and tables seems to be filling up rapidly. The older of the lonely men departs wearing a scowl across his handsome face.

“Have a good evening,” I whisper as he passes my table.

“You, too, Lady,” he tells me as he continues to walk to the counter to pay for his food.

You can tell who the frequent visitors are to this eating establishment. After the meal has been consumed then they stack the individual serving dishes in the same manner that the servers do when they are bussing the tables.

The second lonely man does just that. He stacks all of his serving dishes before he departs the table without leaving a tip. I’m sure the stacking is helpful to the servers but “no tip” is not kind.

I arrived here at eleven o’clock in the morning and it is now almost eight o’clock at night. It’s been a long but a terrific one.

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