“Watch tonight, I’ll be freezing”, said the lady as she walked into the cafe. She was just starting her shift, doomed to repeat an eight to ten hour cycle that she had done countless times before. She would prepare the same things, for the same people, for nearly the same price, and receive the same lack of respect for her position behind the counter, taking orders from the big shots and unimpressed, as they stared at her over their iPhones and Macbooks.
“It’s warm now, but it’ll cool off”, the lady continued as she observed her co-worker, Rob, rap to himself as he pushed the broom across the floor. She was speaking to no one in particular, for no reason. She found herself doing that more and more as of late, as she slipped into the midlife minutia she seemed destined to stay in for her entire existence. She’d be working this job today, tomorrow, and forever until either she won the lottery (there was always hope), the store closed (there was always fear), or the man of her dreams swept her off her feet and out of this life (there was always the impossible). For now she consoled herself as she went about her work – 8 more hours, 7.5 more hours, 6 more hours, 5 more hours.
“I told you it was going to turn colder” she said to Rob, as the snow began to fall outside the windows of the cafe. She’d be walking home in it, the five blocks to her apartment in the Bronx, on this cold February night. She’d lived there for 10 years, in the same small apartment as her sister had lived in, until her sister passed. She had only a few friends who might come visit, and none of them were the type to volunteer to walk home with her tonight in the impending chill. 3 more hours… 2 more hours.
“Did it stop? No, it’s still going” she said in a sad, resigned voice. Her entire life could be summed up on the walk tonight, she thought as she ate her free meal. Aside from the meals she got while working at the cafe, she rarely ate. This was by choice. Eating without anyone to share it was somewhat boring and only reminded her that she lived much of her existence alone. But in an hour she’d be walking, and in a little over an hour she’d be home. She would make it through tonight, just as she had every other night.
“The handle is cold!” she exclaimed as she locked the door to the cafe. Most employees weren’t trusted with the keys, but when you’re stuck in a job for 15 years, and will likely be there 30 more, they start to believe in your honesty, to an extent. Rob wandered off to the subway as she began walking toward home. True to her thoughts earlier in the day, she felt the cold on her skin, her breath emanating in front of her. It was about 3 blocks from the cafe that she saw the eyes watching her. She heard the rustle from the alley, and turned just in time to see him approach.
“No….” she managed to squeak as he inched toward her, tall and imposing, cloaked in tattered clothes and coats. She turned to run, but slipped on the icy sidewalk. She was laying there, helpless as he approached. She couldn’t say a word, the chill of the weather and her fear kept her silent. As he stood over her, he brought up his gnarled, dirty hand.
“It’s cold”, he said, as he opened his palm to help her up. He righted her, and looked into her eyes. “Hungry” he said, as he backed away and held out his hand.
In that moment she thought about her life, her sorrows, and her worries. Her day of problems, her moments of fear, her self-loathing, all washed away as she considered the man in front of her. As she stood there, wondering what her next move should be, she found herself overcome. As he watched, tonight, she was freezing.