next customer

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“What do you mean my food ain’t ready yet?”
I bit my lip, then threw a quick glance over my shoulder to the kitchen. There were white tickets hanging in a domino line; cooks with unisex loose-fitting uniforms, sweat curling up from their heavy, faraway eyes, sweat staining the black fabric edges of their visors. They were slapping rye bread onto the countertops, squirting ketchup until it dribbled down the stainless steel cabinets.
“It will be ready in just a few minutes,” I smiled, “Sorry about your wait, ma’am.”
She mouthed some obscenities and remained standing at the counter. There was a line of customers behind her, looking at me as if I could pick her up with my eyes and move her to the waiting area. And she was staring like my thoughts could blossom into bacon sandwiches and I could fry eggs with a blink and a blush.
“Well? Where’s my food?”
“It’s coming.” I eyeballed a big man in the back stuffing a wrapped sandwich into a bag.
“I want to speak to the manager.”
“What’s the problem?” The boss, a skinny man with a balding head, peeked over my shoulder at the word “manager.”
“She ain’t doing her job. None a them are doing their job. I been waiting at least an hour for my food.”
It’s been less than seven minutes, I thought. I stepped to the side and let the manager do the refund, cash out rhythm while the woman complained and ranted about how she would never set foot in this store again. Then she was out the door with her paper bag and a hand full of crumpled ones from her refund.
“Keep it together up here, okay?” The manager said as he passed me to walk to the back.
I swallowed and thought I need this job. I need this job. Do it for your future. Hang in there, girl.
Later, as I was walking out to sit in my car during my break, I saw the angry customer sitting in her car. The window was down to expose her hand and a half-puffed cigarette. As I walked by, I heard her on the phone, “Momma, you know I ain’t got no money left. I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Momma. You know I gotta take care of my boy, first. His daddy was supposed to do that but he’s dead and gone. I’m sorry, Momma, I ain’t got no more!”
I exhaled, watching my breath crystallize in the chilly mid-morning. Did it make a difference, what I had just heard? Would someone ever weigh my behavior with what I had suffered and hand me back the balance in coins and ones?
Could I ever beg life for a refund?
I blinked and was back by the register. Smile, only one shot. Only one life. God, please help me love them. “Next customer, please!”

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