I went to the same diner every night of the week. My friends told me I needed to get out of the habit, but I didn’t think it was something bad. I knew all of the people that worked there and the cooks knew how to make the things I wanted the way I wanted them. I called that a win, but apparently not having enough spice in your life was frowned upon by people who claim to be cultured but have never left the eastern seaboard.
I’d show up around eleven at night with a friend of mine, we’ll call him Hank, and we’d sit at the bar and drink cappuccino and hot chocolate all night. Occasionally we’d order nachos and cheese fries, our wallets willing. Lucky for us we usually always had the same server, who went by the single letter of G. She was German, but her name also started with a G, so it worked both ways.
One night Hank and I went outside to smoke a cigarette while we waited for our food to come up, and during the time we were outside we were met with a strange woman who sat on the edge of the risen concrete garden underneath the windows. She watched us out of the corner of her eye as we watched her, and by the time we were done with our cigarettes I realized none of us had said anything, but we were all still watching each other.
“Do you think she’s mute?” I asked Hank, and he shrugged his shoulders.
“Maybe. Either that or she’s on drugs. Or she just doesn’t like to talk.”
I put my cigarette out on the bottom of my shoe, having learned my lesson about putting still-lit cigarettes in ashtrays from working at a pizza joint whose back door flower pot ashtray caught on fire multiple times. Hank watched the woman as she sat there, eyes peeled out towards the road, and I wondered if he was going to walk over and say something to her. Another thirty wordless seconds went by and no one said anything.
Just as I was about to head inside the woman stood up from her spot and walked toward us, her face angled down toward the sidewalk. I waited with my body turned toward the door to see if she would pass us or decide to engage in conversation, and much to my surprise, she ended up doing the latter.
“Can I get a cigarette?” she asked, as Hank looked on in awe.
“Sure,” he said, pulling one out of his coat pocket to hand to her. “Are you waiting for a ride?”
“No. Well, I guess.” She looked off in the direction of the roach motel behind us as she answered.
“We can give you a ride somewhere,” said Hank, stubbing his cigarette out before inserting it in the mouth of the long-necked ashtray. “Our food won’t be up for a little bit anyway.”
The woman looked between Hank and I, her lips pressed shut and her hands in her pockets. The road looked slick from the melted snow during the afternoon sun having refrozen in the night’s chill. Hank turned to me and shrugged his shoulders, and I nodded my head in the most nonchalant way I could manage.
“I was listening to your conversation before,” she said, looking down at the sidewalk once again as she blew out her smoke. “I’m not sure if you’re really my kind of people.”
Hank turned to me once again with an eyebrow raised, and I couldn’t do anything but stare.
“If you find us so uninteresting, why are you still standing here?” I asked, my hand resting on the front door handle that stood between me and the chocolate-laced warmth of the inside.
“You gave me something. I can’t just take from you and wander off with an attitude.”
“Why not?” asked Hank.
“You ever see the movies?” the woman asked, looking back and forth between us again like she was watching for a certain reaction. “If I was to take this cigarette from you and just walk away, my chances of being attacked would skyrocket.”
I felt my jaw clench and I gripped the door handle harder. “Well that’s awful, but we’re not rapists or abusers, so you don’t have to worry about anything from us.” I pulled the door open and looked over at Hank expectantly, hoping he would get the hint and head inside. He did. “Try to stay out of the cold.”
“Not usually a problem,” she said, as she pulled another cigarette out of her pocket and lit it with the one Hank had given her. She flicked the butt haphazardly into the blackness of the mostly empty parking lot and I went inside without another word.