Andrea was six minutes late as she tried to quickly make her way through the kitchen. The familiar echo of Hispanic men arguing over soccer, failing to enunciate all but their home countries perfectly, awaited her.
“Excuse me, guys,” Andrea let out in a giggle
“Hey Andrea what’s up?” Diego said, followed by greetings from two other men.
“Nothing much, only on my fourth amazing shift this week got three beautiful ones to go!” she said sarcastically while she put three fingers in the air.
“Damn I feel for you. Hurry though Francisco came in here complaining you were late again.”
“He can suck a big one I practically live here” she responded as she walked away.
When she got to the registers, she saw Francisco rushing towards her from out on the floor. “43 needs a Coke and a ham and cheese empanada.”
“I just fucking got here,” she said under her breath.
“What?” Francisco responded.
“Don’t worry about it, Paco. I’ll ring it up. Wait.. That’s not even my section.”
“It is now, Juan needs the money tonight, you come in late you don’t have the privilege of working the busiest section, that’s just how it is and you know this.”
She stared at him blankly for a few seconds then said, “Did you transfer the tables already?”
“Yeah Leila left at five on the dot so I stepped in, you know you have to get here on time she has a second job.”
“On the schedule it says Vane was day time section 2?”
“She called in sick.”
“Stop complaining, put your apron on and get to work”
The five o’clock humidity seeped through her clothes as she tied her apron around her waist and tucked in her shirt, proceeding to pour a Coke. At the same time, she skimmed through her tables for the night. None of them looked too promising. During her greeting run, she would say “I’ll be with you in a second.” to most of the new faces, and “Hola como están, vuelvo ahora con el agua,” to the regulars.
It seemed everyone was in a good mood, her big smile returned with even bigger ones. A happy customer makes the night flow, no matter how busy it gets. She liked being a server, thinking was limited to polite responses and having excellent time management. There was a world outside of that restaurant, and a much simpler world inside of it. The truth was, she was actually a person with a thousand things to worry about, but at work she was just the friendly waitress.
The man at table 43 was facing the other way but as she approached, his features all came together and wrapped themselves around her worst nightmare. Almost letting some of the coke spill as her hands shook, she placed it on the table and said, “What are you doing here?” her voice shook as much as her hands.
The man looked up with a seemingly practiced smile and said “I came to see you. You won’t answer my texts or my calls, so desperate times call for desperate measures.” She looked into his green eyes, his tight haircut and the tribal tattoo on his right arm almost made her flinched in response.
“I’ll come back with your empanada Sir.” is the only thing she managed to let out, and as he tried to get another word in she was already half way across the restaurant.
In her experienced, fast paced walk she hid an attempt to flee, to walk out through the same back door she came in from. Of course, she had been doing this for too long to not go through any other feasible, un-fireable solution.
The green logos on the black shirts of the servers walking past her, barely legible, her section, everyone else’s section, the tv’s, the brown booths and wooden chairs, everything she saw every day, overwhelmed her. There was too much color in the dullness, too much light in the dimmed lightbulbs, too much sun coming in through the glass windows. The restaurant was huge and suddenly it became so small, but ever expanding with each step, that did not end her up in front of Francisco.
Finally arriving at the registers she was greeted with “Andrea you okay?” said Chelsea, a tall red head with the kindest voice in the world.
Stopping only to ground herself before it all became too much, Andrea said “Yeah I’m fine, have you seen Paco?”
“Yeah he was just in the kitchen.”
She walked through the entrance to see him pacing back and forth, infornt of Bo, the most problematic waiter; another issue had clearly gotten to him first.
“Andrea, I’m talking to Bo, give me a second.”
“What?” He yelled.
“I’m not taking 43 give it to someone else, that’s my ex!” Andrea yelled back. Francisco and Andrea had developed a special kind of respect for each other in equally exchanged yelling that usually doesn’t occur between servers and managers; no one got away it but her.
He looked at her the way he always looked at her before saying no to her requests so she interrupted his trip to “No” Town, a specially named, made up home town given to him by a bus boy who used to work there. “I’ve been working 7 seven shifts in five days for a month now, I pulled a double yesterday, c’mon cut me some slack”
Bo leaned in from behind Francisco and said “I would take it but I’m slammed” “I’ll switch with you don’t worry” she answered.
“No” Francisco said quieting them both. “I’m dealing with something right now I don’t have time to transfer your tables.”
“Well, you don’t have to, I’ll ask Chelsea she wouldn’t mind doing it under my number.”
“She’s slammed too, Andrea. Take a deep breath for now I’ll figure something out when I’m done dealing with this,” He said, turning around to face Bo.
Andrea didn’t know how to deal with Sergio besides from avoiding him, but she would have to do it that day. She grabbed the empanada and some waters for the other tables and walked out with her chin up, a tear threatening to fall before she could finish another round. She walked through all of her tables except for 43, giving out waters, taking down orders, in a robotic manner. When she was done with that she looked at her note pad and didn’t remember anyone asking for the things that were written down. The empanada still in her hand, she rushed towards Sergio’s table and pretty much dropped it in front of him, saying, “Here you go” and trying to walk away.
“Wait, Andrea, did you forget I like ketchup on my empanadas?” he said.
“I’ll come back with some” a smile rose, trying to push back a tear from rolling down her cheek. She couldn’t help thinking about the many times he’d make her get up while they ate meals, she had prepared. He’d ask for things one by one, salt, ketchup, pepper; she’d get up for each one. The one time she refused to, he smashed the plate against the floor, and forced her to clean it up. It happened to be an empanada.
When she came back with the ketchup and tried to place it on the table without looking at him, he grabbed her by the wrist tightly. “I miss you, Andrea, I know you, you don’t look happy, you can’t be happy”
“Sergio it’s not about that, please don’t do this here” She was frozen over like if his grip was a pause button. He wouldn’t let go. Her thin arms looked helpless next to his, her caramel eyes, weak against the green of his, her naturally tan smooth skin pure, in contrast to his tanning bed, orange, complexity.
“What is it about huh, you can’t just forgive me for not being perfect? Are you too good for that now, it took a month for all your feelings to just go away?” He paused, expecting her to reply. When she didn’t he continued
“I know I’m not perfect but I can work on it, we’re going on three years now, I can’t see a future without you”
“We were.” She said in a low voice, looking down at her wrist, which he hadn’t let go of.
“What?” He scoffed. “It couldn’t have all been for nothing!” He squeezed her wrist tighter.
She said nothing in response except for, “Please let me go.”
He finally did, his practiced smile turned into a grin which turned into a frown. “This is burnt. I don’t want it. Bring me another one” he said.
Sinking into her past she let out what most of their discussions led her to say “Okay, I’m sorry.”
Everything went from too much to nonexistent. A numbness that started at her wrist, made her way through her body and her steps, one in front of the other, seemed to hit no ground. All she could think about was how you can just stop feeling like a whole person with a simple exchange of words, how she had gotten all sorts of customers saying all sorts of things, but when absolutely anything rolled off his tongue, it hurt. She rang up all the others, not knowing where she was at, not caring. She stood by the registers looking over her tables making sure everyone looked happy, and they were getting their food on time, but her eyes always ended up at his table for far too long.
His composure was so relaxed, but put together, what was attractive before was now menacing. He ate his empanada slowly, looking forward. He didn’t really like Hispanic food, or Coke for that matter. After a while during their relationship, he stopped doing anything that he didn’t want to without there being consequences. There more she observed the more she realized, nothing about this was unplanned. This was meant to send a message; he wasn’t asking for forgiveness, he was demanding it. As she stared he slowly turned to face her, took a sip of his coke, looked her in the eye, and then immediately put it down.
What was so powerful about a man sending a message with the kind of food he orders? It was stupid, she felt stupid. Rapidly her heart started pumping; it was gathering strength on its own. No one should feel like this, she thought. He was a monster but he was no god, he was a lion but she didn’t have to be prey.
Snapping out of it she walked up to Chelsea and said, “Please cover my section, I have to run to the bathroom.”
“Yeah, no problem, don’t take too long, though.” She walked into the kitchen, yelled “Move!” and watched everyone step aside, without questioning it. In the bathroom, the huge mirror served as a reminder that she was indeed human, no less than anyone. She remembered she wouldn’t drown because she knew how to swim, she came to the conclusion she always came to after reading her favorite quote: “I think a hero is an ordinary individual who finds strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.” – Christopher Reeves
It finally echoed inside her head without escaping through a gallery of excuses. She was stretching out her hands screaming “help” while everyone was doing the same, in their own way, facing their own struggles. She printed out his check, grabbed a to go box, and walked over to him.
“Here’s your check.” She placed down the check. “Here’s a to go box for your empanada.” She put down the box “I want you to leave me alone.”
“Are you actually talking to me in that tone? That’s not what a proper waitress would do.”
“A proper waitress also doesn’t have a video of you slamming her head against a wall, which her friends begged her to show the police. Get the fuck out of here”
“Oh so you’re threatening me now? You want me to tell your manager you told me to get the fuck out, I want to speak with him, I’m being treated very unfairly”
“Oh, yeah? Well I’ll go get him in a second, he’ll come right after I show it to him. I’ll also let you in on a little secret, he’s a big fan of calling the cops when people don’t want to leave.” She walked away and went up to her other tables asking how their food was, asking if they wanted dessert, when she finally turned around to face him, he was gone, and there was a 10 dollar bill on the floor.
The night passed smoothly after that and a few minutes before last call, Francisco asked if she was okay.
“I’m sorry about earlier. Bo had cursed under his breath at table 12 and they heard him. Then they complained about the food, saying they wanted a refund, Al never showed up so the dishwashers were super slow. I really don’t like making you guys deal with people you don’t want to deal with.”
“I dealt with it, it’s just that I’m not actually bruised all the time because I’m clumsy.”
“Why didn’t you say anything? I’m so sorry; I would’ve kicked him out right away.”
“I thought I wouldn’t have to, but it’s okay. You learn how to do something new every day.”