poured out before bed
“I’m very, very sorry sir, but the satellites are down… we can do cash only just now.”
The middle-aged woman at the register purses her lips sympathetically, gesturing sadly for the man to take back his card and pointing at a hand-written sign on the counter.
There is a pause as that man in front of me, as all of us in line process this mildly distressing information. I shove a banana and little bottled milk beneath my arm as I dig in my purse for cash. But I’m interrupted in my search, starting and nearly dropping my fruit when a gruff voice ahead of me barks out suddenly, much too loudly considering the early hour and proximity of his conversant.
“Are you bleeping serious?! This is bleeping ridiculous – what’s your name? Mary? Well, MAR-Y, this is unacceptable. Where the bleep do you guys get off not taking credit cards?! It’s 4:30, you’re the only bleeping business in the airport open – “
I freeze, blearily shocked as he goes on, throwing in a bleep here, a bleep there, his voice straining to express some pent-up, dark emotion.
Mary flushes, her lips pursing more severely, and takes a step back from the counter.
“I’m sorry sir, it’s beyond our control. Our systems are functioning just fine – it’s a satellite outage this morning. They’re working on it. But for the time being, I apologize that we can take only cash.”
The man’s thin face becomes angular.
“I don’t care if it’s ‘beyond your control.’ That’s still bleeping ridiculous! Don’t you realize most people don’t carry cash when they travel?! What the bleep, Mary -“
The unrest among those in line behind me grows even as it pushes painfully inside my skin. The couple behind me, a young man and woman, the man with a wide-eyed babe strapped to his chest, give each other a look and shake their heads. The little old woman behind them, her plaid cane and perfect permanent shining under the fluorescent lights, deepens her lovely winding wrinkles with a disdainful frown. Beyond her, an ugg-booted college girl stops texting for a moment, glaring with black encrusted eyes and placing a hand on her black legging’ed hip. I feel my heartbeat hit tachycardic range.
Before I know what I’ve done, I step up next to the still sniping man.
“Excuse me, sir. Hi. I’ll pay for your coffee.”
The man stops talking, gives me a sick, uneven smile, and nods his head smugly.
“Well, thank you, thank you very much – I mean, this is just bleeping ridiculous.”
I step a bit closer to the slight man, look into his hazel eyes, and feel my own grey ones narrow. I’m floating uncertainly outside of myself, who seems on the outside really quite sure, at this point.
“I’ll pay for your coffee… But only if you apologize to Mary. Apologize and mean it.”
The silence that ensues seems to last for ages. From where I’m floating above the situation, I question my sanity a thousand times over and wait for the man’s rage to be fully directed at me, me, who has no counter to hide behind.
The man stares at me, then through me for a moment, then at the coffee, that steaming nectar, that special, life-giving, sense-jolting concoction. He becomes visibly, palpably aware of the collective surprise and contempt of those standing in the line behind him.
He pales. He opens his mouth, emitting a guttural sound, closes it, takes a breath. He swallows.
“I’m sorry… sorry.” The voice is waifish, his face that of a naughty school child outed before his peers.
I nod, slide his coffee down the counter, and watch as he run-walks from the scene of the crime. From the line behind us comes scattered applause.
“Have a better day,” I say to Mary as I check out. I know I did.