“I’d Like Another Coffee, Please.”
Life goes on. It’s funny how that works. Something out of place happens, the natural rhythm of an environment is disrupted, a completely crazy event occurs. But life goes on. Things change and adapt to new scenarios.
Yesterday, this girl came into the coffee shop I work at, and she had to have been in third grade at the most, I really couldn’t tell. It was weird at the time, this little girl coming for a coffee but not knowing anything about it, but looking back I’m not really weirded out. Perhaps concerned is the better word.
I wasn’t alone today, there was another employee working the same shift as me, just the two of us. “Hey, you’re slacking,” he said, whipping at me with the towel he was using to clean a counter top. “Something on your mind?”
I shrugged. “Maybe, kind of, I don’t know.” Truth is, I really wasn’t sure. I didn’t know what to think of that girl or why I even remembered her. I don’t remember any of my customers.
I kept an eye on the clock. Noon came and went, with the usual flock of business men coming through on their lunch break. 1:00 o’clock, and the rush of college students on their way to class came through. 2:30, the high school self-proclaimed “coffee fanatics” who only knew how to order one drink. 3:00, the quiet part of the day.
The other guy had the whole day scheduled with me, but he was in the back organizing some of the shelves I’d rearranged in my random searches for drink ingredients. Guilty, I’d never put back what I’d moved.
I checked my watch, and sure enough it was 3:30, so I kept my eye on the door. I don’t really know what I expected. Did I expect this girl to come back again? Why?
But there she was. Same backpack, same rain coat, different outfit underneath. She was definitely coming from school.
She seemed to perk up when she saw I was working behind the counter again. “Oh, hello!” She said, seeming more confident than yesterday. “That drink you made yesterday was good! It was a mu, ma, mo-” she stuttered, looking for the right word.
“Mocha,” I said with a smile. “Let me guess, you’d like another one?”
The little girl nodded, “but could it be a little sweeter this time maybe?”
Sweeter? I’m a little curious how this kid, who I only assume to be a third grader, could be intrigued enough by coffee to want a mocha to be sweeter.
“We could try adding caramel or cream, which would you like?” I suggest, doing quick math in my head to see if her $5 could afford this addition. She could add both cream and caramel and still afford it, I found.
“Just cream, I think, I’m not really sure.” She said, reaching to her pocket to pull her money out. “I only have five dollars again-”
“Don’t worry, that’s more than enough.” I say, already with her change set aside in the register. “A mocha with cream added would be about $4.15, so 20 cents extra. That’s okay, right?”
The girl nodded and handed me the five dollar bill, and I gave her the 85 cents difference. She put a nickel back in the tip jar, “for helping her again.”
“Momma always taught me to be nice to the people who help me.” She said as she dropped the coin into the jar. “I know it isn’t much though, I’m sorry.”
I mostly anticipated her arrival today so I’d set everything needed for a mocha out already, save for the cream. It was usually on hand though, so I wasn’t worried.
I finished up the drink and added the cream on top, spiraling it around until the top was all covered. I put a lid on the cup and slid a collar around it so the holder wouldn’t burn themselves, and handed it down to the little girl.
“Thank you so much!” She said. I stepped out from behind the counter and walked to the door, holding it open for her after seeing her struggle yesterday. “Thank you again!” She exclaimed, walking away down the sidewalk. I watched her for a while before she crossed the street at the first stop sign, continuing down towards the edge of town. The hospital may have been that direction as well, but I couldn’t really remember.
I walked back inside, sighing. “I still didn’t ask her name,” I said out loud.
“She’s gone and you’re still talking.” The other worker called from the back room. “By the way, how’d you know her?”
I walked back behind the counter and began cleaning up the things I’d used to make the drink. “Honestly, I don’t.”
— — —
I got off work early that night because I had a night class at the community college, so luckily I was able to skip the 5:00 o’clock rush of workers heading home. Some people liked their coffee later in the afternoon, I’d never understand it but I wouldn’t judge them.
I got to bed early that night, mostly so I wouldn’t stay up all night thinking about that little girl. I wasn’t really concerned anymore, I was curious. Where was she going every day with this mocha?
Maybe I’m overthinking things. Maybe she’s just a girl who tried daddy’s coffee one day and decided she wanted her own, so she started eating bits of other people’s lunch and using her money to get a drink on her way home. It’s something I would’ve done, for sure.
But something still didn’t seem right. She was always alone, she didn’t walk to a car parked outside or talk about anyone. All I heard her say was “momma always taught me.”
My plan to go to bed early and not think about her, by the way, didn’t work.
— — —
I didn’t have to work an early shift the next day, and I could’ve had the day off, but for once in my repetitive life I felt compelled to go to work. I took a shorter shift from noon to 5, as opposed to my usual 8–6 routine.
I was ready today though. 3:30, and I’d already had 85 cents set aside, mocha ingredients ready and cream stocked for sure.
3:32 and the door opened, in she came.
“Let me guess,” I smiled to her, “you’d like another mocha?”
She smiled at me excitedly, nodding and laughing, “yes!”
We fell into a routine at this point. Every day around 3:30, this little girl came to the shop and ordered the same mocha with whipped cream and payed with her $5 of what I assumed to be lunch money. Saturdays she would come earlier, closer to noon, and Sundays she wouldn’t come at all. I tried my hardest to always be there to make her a mocha.
There was one day I had to stay home sick, I got a call from one of the guys working who asked if I knew a girl who looked to be in third grade. I told him I did, she always comes and orders the same drink at the same time each day.
He probably thought I was weird either for making friends with a customer, or that I seemed so excited about this little girl. Either way, I didn’t care.
I came in the next day and greeted her like normal, to which she seemed excited that I was back. “The guy who made the drink yesterday didn’t do it right.” She said glumly. “So, I’m glad you’re back!”
We laughed, and got back to our regular schedule. I made her drink, and saw her as she left and walked down the road, crossing at the first stop sign.
My life fell back into rhythm once more.