“Thank you very much.” While I watched the waiter stack the plates and clean the table I looked around the bistro. I had not done so before the meal. After three meetings lunch was all I could think about so I ordered my favourite dish and checked my email until my waiter brought big steaming heaps of pasta to the table.
Across from my section in the bistro, I saw a young boy with blond hair. There were two women at his table. I thought they were his mother and grandmother. The boy’s hair was sharply cut off but not straight. It looked as if his head had been slightly tilted when his bangs were cut. I wondered what hairdresser would allow her client to walk around like that. But maybe he had cut his own hair.
He was eating with his eyes down not looking at anyone around him. Not even at his table companions. At first, I thought that it may have something to do with the bad haircut but then I studied his face and body language.
His neck was straight, shoulders down, and his chin protruded a little while he kept his eyes looking down at his plate in a very unnatural manner. His head didn’t bend as it naturally would if you looked down at something. He held his head high with an air of contempt.
He picked at his food with a fork he held in his right hand. His left hand had disappeared under the table. When he tried to cut his food with just the fork it slipped and fell on the floor. He kept his head high, chin out, eyes down. Silence.
The younger of the two women moved. She placed her napkin on the table, lowered her hands to push back her chair, and then got up. Very slowly. Her eyes were closed and I was afraid that she was getting angry with the boy for dropping his fork. But she wasn’t angry. Her eyes were closed because she was in pain. She pushed herself up and I saw her walking with difficulty to the buffet where plates and silverware were stacked in colourful wicker baskets. Her right leg dragged behind her.
I quickly looked at the boy. Surely, he would get up and help her walk, right? Or, tell her to sit down and that he was going to get another fork himself. But no. He was completely ignoring his crippled mother who struggled to get him a napkin and a fork.
As she shuffled back to the table, she held out the napkin and fork in her outstretched hand. The boy didn’t look at her and neither did the grandmother. They just sat there as if this was a normal scene. Only when she was close to the table did the boy take the napkin and the fork. Not a word was spoken. Icy silence.
Disturbed by this scene I studied the grandmother’s face. She too did not look at her daughter. No compassion, no love. She was visibly ashamed. I hated them on sight. I was not the only one studying the odd trio. Several other guests were looking. Some were halfway up to help the mother but somehow they were frozen.
My waiter came back to the table with the bill and asked whether there was anything else that he could do for me.
“Yes. Can you please add that lady’s meal to my bill? But only hers. Not the other two.”
The waiter looked into the direction of my index finger and nodded. “I will be right back with your check, sir.”
I looked up at my lunch companion. I had completely neglected her. I had raced to her apartment after my last meeting and had not exchanged one word with her the whole time that we were in the bistro. She was looking at me with warmth in her eyes but also with that concerned look of hers.
“You work to hard.”
I smiled. “No, mom. Work is fine. That needs no adjusting. But my attitude does.”
I paid our waiter and left him a generous tip. Then I got up and helped my elderly mom in her coat, out the door, and into the passenger seat of my car. As I closed the door I made a promise. I will not take you for granted ever again.
“Dinner and a movie tonight, mom?”