“Good morning, has the pain stopped yet?”
I stopped and stared at her. She had a big smile on her young face, her red apron was covered with splashes of syrup and coffee creamer, her pony tail was bristling and frizzy beneath her black baseball cap.
I searched her face, but I didn’t know her. How could she possibly know about the pain in my chest? The deep heartache and mental anguish that had manifested themselves as actual physical discomfort in my body? Then it hit me, she didn’t know, I had misunderstood her.
“Good morning, has the rain stopped yet?” I asked the man as the bell over the door jangled above him. This September had been rainier than any other in my life. He looked at me like I had just asked him to explain the meaning of life. He stood there for a full ten seconds, his mouth hanging open.
I was planning on taking my break soon, but I didn’t have my car today, and wanted to wait until it was clear enough for me to walk to the grocery store before I clocked out. I thought it was a simple enough question, but he didn’t seem to understand. His eyebrows came together in confusion and he opened and closed his mouth at least three times before saying, “No”.
“No,” I finally said when I realized what she must have asked.
“Bummer,” she replied.
“Yeah,” I said. “I wish it would go away.” She nodded, and her face looked more understanding than all of the therapists and counselors combined.
“Not much we can do though, huh?” I said as he came closer to the counter. His expression was still off and I wondered if he was okay.
He didn’t look like any of the homeless people who came in from time to time. He was an older gentleman, clean and well groomed. He was dressed in a nice button down and pressed slacks, but that didn’t mean that he was any better off than them.
“No, there isn’t much we can do,” he said darkly.
I tried to make my tone conversational, but it sounded wrong in my own ears. This was how life had been for the past few weeks. I felt like I was playing a part. Like I was an actor on a stage, and everyone was watching, waiting to see if I would mess up, waiting to see me fail.
I wasn’t really sure what the point of me being here was. I wasn’t really sure what the point of anything was anymore. I wasn’t hungry. I didn’t want food. I ate, and drank, and went to bed, and got up, and went to the office all out of habit.
But none of that was this girl’s fault. I tried to put a little more effort into being cheerful. “We’ll just have to wait it out, I guess,” I said to her in what I hoped was a lighter tone.
I nodded and tried to keep smiling. Something was wrong. I didn’t know what, but I could tell he needed help. I always felt bad for the homeless people when they came in, their lives were hard and they didn’t have anyone. Maybe this guy’s life was hard too, maybe he didn’t have anyone either.
“It’s not so bad, though,” I said. “When it does stop, we’ll appreciate the sunshine even more, right?”
He nodded. “That’s right,” he said. “We’ll appreciate it more.”
“Did you want to order something?” I asked.
He nodded again. “Yeah,” he said. “A coffee.”
Her words echoed in my mind for a moment. “When it does stop,” she had said, as if the fact that it would stop were a given, and the only question was when.
I guess that was true of rain. And if it were true of rain, could it be true of other things, too? Maybe it could be.
I wondered what I could do for him. If he was homeless, I would buy his food for him, but he obviously wasn’t. I decided that that didn’t really matter. It wasn’t the food the homeless people needed either, not really. It was a deeper need, a less animal and more human need. It was the kindness. We all need it. He needed it.
I rang up his coffee, but I didn’t tell him the total. I took it out of my tip jar and closed the register.
“This one’s on me,” I said. He looked shocked and then his eyes filled with tears. I wondered if anyone had ever done anything for him in his life, or if the world just looked at his nice clothes and took it for granted that he was fine.
When she took the money out of her tip jar, I felt like crying. There she stood, probably a student, probably working her way through school, probably running on a couple hours of sleep; and here she was smiling at me, talking to me, and buying my coffee.
Maybe this was the point of it all.
I felt the tears stinging my eyes as I said “Thank you”. I took the coffee and sat down at a table to drink it.
When I finished, I went back up to the front and put a tip in her tip jar, then I left.
I went to the back to grab some more medium cups and when I came back the man had left the lobby. I noticed a folded piece of paper in my tip jar. I walked over and pulled it out. When I unfolded it, a hundred-dollar bill fell out.
I smoothed out the paper and began to read. “Don’t ever stop being kind,” he had written. “It matters.”
Kristin Beaven is a graduate of Arizona State University. Her writing credits include “Ashes” published by Canyon Voices Literary Magazine, “To Serve and to Protect” published by Jumblebooks, “The Fruit of the Spirit” published by Keys for Kids Magazine, and “The Meeting Place” published by Every Day Fiction. She currently lives and writes in Tennessee.