Kim walked up to the table, and took out his pen and pad.
“So,” he said, “what’ll it be?”
The man at the table put down his menu, and, without making any eye contact with Kim, said “I don’t know. Burger and fries and a Coke, I guess.”
Unlike other waiters, Kim didn’t just scribble down the order. He took his job seriously, and loved his work. He was a waiter, and he knew when to wait.
So Kim waited. He breathed easily, his stomach rising slightly as he took the air deep into his body. A silence stretched out, yet it was not an awkward one. This was, not, Kim knew, an instance in which the man would glare at him and say “are we done,” or something like that.
“Wait a minute,” the man said, breaking the silence. He reached for the menu, and opened it up. “I really don’t want a burger. I’ll take, let’s see…”
The man’s eyes scanned the menu.
“I’ll take a chicken salad sandwich.”
The man closed the menu.
“Wait,” the man said, opening the menu. This time, he went through the entire menu, his gaze resting on one item, and then, when he shook his head, darting to another.
The man threw the menu down.
“I don’t know what I want,” the man said. “I just don’t.”
“It’s okay,” Kim said, “take your time.”
The man picked up the menu again, and scanned it.
The man threw the menu down.
“What am I doing here,” the man said. “In town for some business meeting for a job I don’t even understand. I sit down, and people just talk. I have no idea what they’re saying.”
The man began, absentmindedly, to draw little circles on the table with his pinky. He started at his hand, and a tremor passed through his body.
“I’m just going to go through the motions like this, for my entire life,” he said. “Then one, day, I’ll die. No one will remember me.”
The man looked up at Kim.
“I’m sorry,” the man said. “This is so stupid.”
“No, it isn’t,” Kim said. “And I have plenty of time.”
Again there was silence. The man closed his eyes. Kim waited.
“I could chuck it all,” he said. “I have money saved up. I always wanted to do something with my hands. I could learn, start over.”
“You could,” Kim said.
A smile appeared on the man’s face.
"Yes," the man said softly, "I could."
The man's breathing slowed. He closed his eyes, breathed deeply, and opened them.
“I think I’d just like some tea,” the man said. “Would it be okay if I had some tea?”
“Sure,” Kim said, and when Kim smiled, it was such that years later, the man would always associate that smile with the day his life began.
“Anything else?” Kim finally said.
The man stared into space for a moment, and then looked at Kim and smiled, really smiled.
“You know?” he said. “I really don’t need anything else at this moment. Nothing else. Just the tea. The tea would be great. Fantastic, actually. I promise, I’ll leave you a good tip.”
“Oh, you don’t have to worry about that,” Kim said.
“No,” the man said, “I want to.”
“Thank you,” said Kim, who out of the corner of his eye at another person at another booth, flipping through the menu with a sour expression on her face, barely reading it. “Let me just help out this other person, and then I’ll get your tea.”
“No worry,” the man said. “Really, no worry. Take your time.”
“Then I shall not only take my time, but make good use of it,” Kim said.
The man laughed.
“That’s great,” the man said, “I like that.”
“Glad to hear it,” Kim said, walking toward the other booth.
The man watched Kim arrive at the other booth, and as he watched him stand there, completely at ease, taking air into his lungs as if every breath were a gift, he felt a sense of grace spread over him. The answers, he told himself, would come. Everything was going to be all right.
The man closed his eyes, smiled, and waited.