The same story can be told from different points of view. Here’s my story, explanation follows:
- A waitress welcomes an elderly regular as he takes his seat at the counter in the diner. The man just got word his wife is dying of cancer. The cook watches through the order window.
Wanda was overworked that day. Her job at the diner was a hectic eight hour shift, after which she picked up her ten-year-old son from school. It was only at night when she finally tucked him into bed, did she get any time to pick up her books from where she’d let off the previous day. Night school was brilliant; she loved it because she was passionate about studying and had never had the chance or the money to. But watching her son play with numbers and letters and discover new things on those inanimate pieces of paper that made up a book, urged her to take up some books of her own. So she got together a bunch of women who, like her, wanted to learn but did not have the means and they shared their sons’ and daughters’ books every night and lay down the foundation, slowly. It was her secret. It was all she wanted.
It did make her sleepy in the mornings though, she realized as she served coffee to one of her regular customers. She liked this old man; he was always quiet and unassuming and he left her a good tip everyday. She yawned and tipped the mug a little too much, spilling some coffee on the table in front of the old man.
‘Oh I’m so sorry’, she said, feeling flustered and apologetic. Her night life was making work so much harder. ‘I’m really sloppy today’.
She gave him her best smile as she attempted to mop up the mess. The old man just smiled at her, somewhat sadly, she thought. It made her feel worse. As she turned away, she could feel his eyes watching her and it made her slightly uncomfortable. She could not understand why. But she shrugged it off and decided to throw in a muffin for him, on-the-house .
The cook watched his waitress approaching. He felt his heart swell once more.
He had admired her for so long but hadn’t realized what he was feeling until recently, when she told him she had set up a sort of night school for some women in her neighborhood.
So kind and thoughtful and sensitive she was! He wished he could tell her that. He wished he could help her out but she would never listen. He was chubby and balding and although he could whip up the most sumptuous desserts, that just wasn’t what she wanted. Once bitten and twice shy, he supposed. He hadn’t had no chances at love. Or luck, either.
He watched her take down an order or two before making her way over to him. She flashed him her gorgeous smile as she shouted out the orders. He nodded back at her and prepared to watch her turn around and return to her post while the oven warmed up for the morning, but instead she stayed.
‘I feel really bad, Herb’, she said. ‘That old man looks really sad, don’t you think? Can we throw in a free muffin for him? I mean, I know you don’t do that unless it’s a special occasion, but…’
She waited for him to reply.
He looked towards the old man, who was staring intently at a piece of paper on his lap.
He did not like that elderly man. He could not place it. He never saw that man, except for an hour everyday when he came in to sit in a corner and eat poached eggs and drink his coffee. But there was something there. Herb knew he shouldn’t judge strangers and it was important to be kind to the elderly. He did not want trouble.
But he did not like that old man.
‘Sure’, he said, smiling back at the waitress he madly loved.
The old man stared intently at the letter he held in his hand. His wife was dying. She probably wouldn’t make it through another week.
He wasn’t sure whether he should be happy or sad. On one hand, cancer was a slow, painful way to die. And that was quite a way for her to go. He did not want it to end so soon. On the other hand, he would finally be free of the burden that kept her clinging on to him, holding for dear life while he tried to pry her fingers open so she would just let go.
It had always been like that. He had regretted her since the very first day of their married life. He hadn’t thought marriage could be so nasty.
There was no love, no support, absolutely nothing. Just an empty expansive hollowness and wanting to hurt each other all the time. Through the decades of their childless, unromantic union, he had prayed for a savior. For something to make the torture go away, without the accountability.
If there was a God who answered prayers, he would have to be half-deaf. His prayer had been heard but too late. What’s a seventy year old man supposed to do as a widower? He couldn’t think of much.
Then again, he thought as he watched the perky little waitress returning with his breakfast, a muffin perched on the very top of her tray, smiling kindly at the elderly man she saw in front of her, he could always find ways.
He smiled back.
I suppose this theme was meant for a heart-warming story but I prefer to add a spin in the end. And I’m sorry for turning the old man nasty, but the first idea that popped into my head when I read through the Weekly Challenge, was to flip it all around. If you read through and liked it, please let me know! Thank you. 😀