It was very early and only the morning shift workers had entered the cafe. It was still dark but for the lights shining through the cafe’s large windows. The early morning regular was patiently waiting outside at the door.
In the day time, the street was busy with tourists walking on the sidewalk and cars driving slowly through the little street. But in the early hours the street was quiet. The regular liked to stand on the sidewalk, with his own coffee mug, for a few minutes before the doors were unlocked. He looked at nothing in particular but always seemed to be listening for something.
“Last month he lost his job,” the older waiter said.
“Well, that’s not too unusual right now, but it’s tough.”
“He’s an old man. It’s hard to find a job. His wife left him too.”
“Money, of course.”
“How do you know it was money?”
“Isn’t it always?”
The younger waiter leaned against the counter. It was a little past time to open.
“Shouldn’t you open? It’s the junior’s job.”
“I guess.” He unlocked the door.
The regular asked for a cup of coffee in his own mug. He wanted the discount. The young waiter took his credit card. “Have a busy day at work today?” He filled the regular’s mug.
“Yes,” said the regular, “I do have a lot of work to do today.” He walked over to his usual table in the corner near the big windows, pulled out his phone, and began to browse the job sites.
“Be nice,” said the older waiter to the younger.
A young woman, another regular, of particular interest to the young waiter entered the cafe.
“The usual,” she said with the rising tone of a question. The young man quickly poured a cup of decaf.
“She wants that in a to-go cup, junior.”
The young man’s cheeks reddened. He poured the decaf from the porcelain cup to a to-go cup.
“Could you please re-pour a fresh decaf?” she said with that rising intonation. Her mouth smiled but her eyes didn’t.
“Yes, yes.” And the young waiter did just that and the young lady left.
“Why do you have to correct me in front of customers?”
“I’m not. I’m giving customers what they’ve paid for.”
By this time there was a small line. The young waiter was flustered.
He missed several orders, and the older waiter had to fix them. After an hour or so, the manager appeared from the back of the store. He walked behind the counter. He surveyed the store with the eye of critic.
“There’s that old guy again. It’s like he lives here,” he whispered.
“He’s looking for a job. He pays.”
“He always waits by the door, listening. It’s creepy,” said the younger water.
The manager returned to store room shaking his head.
“He’s not creepy. I told you he lost his job.”
“And his wife,” said the young waiter with a smile.
The young waiter walked over to the regular. By this time, there were several other customers in the shop.
“Can I get you another cup? You’ve nursed that one so long.”
The regular’s eyes widened a bit and his lips tightened.
“Uh, no just one cup today. Thanks.”
The other customers took a quick look.
The young waiter raised an eyebrow and tilted his head.
“Well, it’s your right to stay. You paid for a cup.”
The regular touched the four corners of his phone. His hand shook a little. The waiter looked back and smirked. He sauntered behind the counter. The older waiter frowned at him.
“You have youth, confidence, and a job. He has nothing.”
The younger man shrugged his shoulders.
After a few minutes, the regular stood up and bumped the table. His mug fell to the floor and broke. Embarrassed, he rushed out of the cafe.
The older waiter noticed that the regular had left his phone. It too had fallen on the floor. He quickly picked it up and ran for the regular along the sidewalk. When the doors opened, the young waiter noticed that it was loud with traffic and the tourists were just getting out.
The manager came up front with an irritated face. “What happened?”
“The weirdo broke his mug and left his phone.” He chuckled.
“Well clean it up.” The young waiter stopped chuckling. He jogged to the back room to get a broom.
The older waiter ran back inside the cafe, panting lightly.
“Where have you been?”
“I ran to give the regular his phone. He forgot it.”
“You’re not supposed to leave the store! Next time bring it to me. I’ll put it in lost and found.”
The older waiter nodded sadly. As they talked, the regular drove his old car past the cafe. He peered at the windows looking for the older waiter, but the reflection of the morning light obscured the interior.
The manager and the waiter watched the slow pass of the old car and the old man. The manager shook his head and walked behind the counter. The older waiter waved, even though he knew the old man couldn’t see him.