The Day was extremely cold, under 10 degrees Fahrenheit but with no snow. It was like the world was holding its breath waiting for a single snowflake to fall onto the cement. My faded purple converse shuffling along the snowless cement as we walked up to the door of the soup kitchen.
If you were in a car on the street, or just standing on the sidewalk, your eyes would instantly be drawn to me. The rest of my group, bundled up in black coats and shapeless hats, were no better than lumps of coal. I was the one black sheep among hundreds of white ones, the only star in the vast, open sky, the massive dog among tiny pups.
So, I will admit to having a distinguished fashion sense a bit on the, well... weird side. The rest of the street was grey, black, and brown. Boring bricks, boring walls, boring streets, and boring people.
I’ll also admit to feeling slightly awkward in my purple shoes, lime green tank top, and a lightning bolt necklace. But I was proud of my look, however people thought of me. Still, never the less I was nervous. I kept my head down as I slowly shuffled through the door with the rest of my group.
The smells of cooking oil and processed meat filled my nostrils as I stepped onto the cracked, blue linoleum. I am a vegetarian so I winced at the disgusting strings of meat. My heart started to pound and suddenly I stopped walking. Everyone else brushed past me as I stood, frozen to the spot. More people pushed past me as, finally I started to move.
When we got into the main dining area, a tall, Asian man stepped out to greet us. He said his name was Rod, and that he was the head chef. Next, Rod introduced us to the rest of his staff.
There were three cooks. Jenny, a perky blonde lady with a magenta sweater, Abe, a short pale man with a lot of freckles, and Olympia, a dark intimidating woman who looked like she wanted to chop my arm of with the knife she was using.
One by one, Rod assigned each of us to a task. The rest of the volunteers gradually filtered out until I was the only one left. Rod stared at me, his piercing blue eyes staring straight into my dark brown ones. He seemed to be sizing me up and, wow, he was intimidating. He was leaning slightly to the left, not on purpose just a natural stance, I guess. His skin was extremely pale, a face with long arching cheek bones and greying hair gelled to perfection, he scared the crap out of me.
Finally, after about two minutes of awkward staring he pointed at the door to the dining area. He didn't even say anything, he just pointed. I shuffled over to the worn wooden door. It smelled like pinecones, and a warm nutty fragrance I couldn’t put my finger on..
I opened the door and the nutty smells overwhelmed me. Some of the other volunteers were handing out casseroles. A short chubby boy with thick brown glasses motioned for me to put on some gloves. I looked to my right, and there was a cardboard box with medium sized vinyl gloves. I slipped a pair on, (they were about three inches too big.) and walked over to the serving table.
There was a pile of white, plastic, serving utensils and I grabbed a fork and started scooping green beans. They were practically liquid, with little pieces of ham poking in and out out the mush. Why must everything have meat in it!? I looked up at all the faces I was serving food to, they seemed scared and defenseless, I looked down again.
I didn’t want to think about these people not having a home, a warm bed, two dogs, or anything that I was so fortunate to have. I saw small children without parents, quiet senior citizens, out of work moms, and out of work downtrodden dads. And one small blurry shadow, wait… My head swiveled around and I saw a tiny little girl huddled under a table. I was about to walk over to her when.. “Oi! Are you here to volunteer, or sit around on your lazy ass?” It was Abe, one of the other cooks and he looked angry. I muttered something that sounded like: “bathroom” and I walked away.
I sauntered toward the the bathroom and went around the front of the building, through the kitchen, back towards the dining area. I saw the girl, this time she was sitting at another table in the corner. I scuttled up to her, careful not to be seen by Abe. I sat down at the table next to her and softly said, hello. She stared me, which I suppose is logical, given the way I looked. Then, she reached out and touched my hair.
Her tiny, brown, fingers grasping the strands of magenta locks. “You’re very pretty” she whispered. I was touched! I have never been called pretty. Weirdo, crazy, strange, odd, yes, yes all names I was used to, pretty? never! I thanked her and we sat in silence again. Then I asked: “Do you have parents with you?” She had a mom, no dad. I felt worse. I asked her if she wanted any food. She said yes. I got up and walked over to the food table.
Everything looked so disgusting compared to what I ate at home. I wished she had a salad and some warm potato soup, like what I had for dinner last night. Then, I remembered: my lunch! I raced to the closet where we were keeping our coats and lunches. It took a bit but I managed to eventually get the door open. I groped around in the dark, and my hand closed around the strap of my maroon messenger bag. I gingerly lifted it out and opened it. A spinach salad, pesto sandwich, and a slice of pumpkin cheese cake. I gazed longingly at the cheesecake, then thrust my lunch under my sweatshirt and ran back to the dining area.
I sat down for the second time and set my lunch on the table. She looked at me, as if to say “really? for me?” I nodded, she opened it up. Slowly, she savored the cheesecake first, then the sandwich. By the time she got to the salad she was shoveling it into her mouth as fast as she could. “Hungry?” I asked, “well…” she said, I’m vegetarian so it’s hard to find things to eat here. I nodded, “I know how you feel, I’m a vegetarian as well.” She beamed at me. I was about to ask how she liked my food when… “volunteers please meet your leader by the door, you will be leaving in 5 minutes.”
Her face fell, “I… have to go” I said, and I pushed my chair away from the table. My emotions were overwhelming me and I needed to get away from them, from her. I ran away as fast as I could. My group was already heading out of the door and I managed to catch up to them. We boarded to bus outside of the soup kitchen.
As we rode back towards our homes I looked out the window there were people sitting on milk crates, they were smoking cigarettes, ruined buildings scattered about. As we got closer, and closer the scene started improving. There were more people walking around with friends, on their phones, and walking their dogs. There was a change in the environment, a brighter, happier town than the one I just left behind. I thought about the girl the whole time. Then I remembered, I didn’t even ask her name.