Every once in a while, every week or so, one person will come into Thai Express and order fried rice —
“what fried rice would you like?”
“Cool, what meat would you like?”
“ooh it’s customizable?! Chicken, please.”
“Coming right up!”
But as you’re handing one customer their order, the next one comes in
“what fried rice would you like?”
“What meat would you like?”
“Oh, I guess today I’ll go with chicken.”
skip one or two customers
“Welcome to Thai Express! What can I get for –”
“I’m in a rush so just put in an order for basil fried rice with chicken.”
(repeat as follows)
It doesn’t matter if it’s basil fried rice, or beef noodle soup, or “just crab rangoons” or crispy pork with pad thai — strings of people in a given three hour shift are telepathically longing for the same thing. The same item that can offer satiation.
At Thai Express, sometimes, it’s not a string of people who make your chest swell.
Sometimes, it’s the quiet, weary, group of four that walks in and takes a menu to their table.
Your breath catches. You’re trying hard to not assume that just because they look like they’re in tears, just because it’s been a field day for national news, just because of the color of their skin, that these are people at the forefront of history —
What if they’re just customers who want some goddamn tom yum soup? BE NORMAL. Maybe, for one hour, they just want a waitress who doesn’t know what’s going on. Who’s an objective third party that doesn’t bring the elephant-in-the-room issues to the dining table.
You give them ice waters without asking. You hear that they’re trying to get food for a large group of people. It’s clear what’s going on.
They don’t end up ordering, but they seem apologetic. They hand back their untouched glasses and sheepishly apologize for not liking stir fried garlic beef or pad se ew. You frantically babble that you can at least give them waters to go with your boss’s Thai tea cups, the only thing you can offer them on this cold, soulless day. They accept. And then —
“I wish there wasn’t a ladder with a proverbial end all be all soluti–” you misspoke as you’re filling their cups. They stare at you curiously. You’re forced to go on.
“I wish there wasn’t an idea that there’s one thing that anyone could do to make things better, because there really is not, or if not, that that idea was true at least, because I’m sad that getting what you think you want might not be the solution to end rac–”
You shut up eventually because you realize it’s useless. Saying something is useless. They give you sad smiles. You wonder if you made them feel better or worse. You hope you didn’t make them more tired.
And as they leave, all you can do is clutch their empty glasses, wishing desperately that you could have satiated their earthly hunger, but also the hunger that tears at them all the time
And then you get angry that you didn’t tell them, you didn’t end up telling them what happens in this restaurant, what happens when people of different ages and genders and races and political beliefs all turn their attention uniformly to an interconnecting of food choices — and that when that happens maybe that symbolically signifies that maybe humanity can still agree on something and maybe one day that can translate into something that will make a difference and satiate any current crippling hunger for change —