This was a two part assignment where we described a scenario wherein we observed and/or overheard individuals then chose one or more and imagined lives for them. Here’s my submission. I look forward to your thoughts.
I went to lunch yesterday at my local sushi restaurant.
I deliberately chose the busiest time, as I wanted to fade into the crowd of humanity. I’m an introvert, an observer, by nature, and I dislike being alone in a restaurant as I find it gives far too much time for the staff to hover and try to either earn a tip or forge that elusive of all human connection- genuine human contact while working at menial labor.
I brought a textbook, as I am currently in my last semester as a Junior at my state college and I want to keep the honor roll status I have earned; being older than the usual college student I feel I need all the beneficial distinctions I can earn. I ordered my drink and opened my book, intent on getting a few pages read before the distraction of delicacies wins over responsibility.
My drink is placed before me by the waitress just before she slides a dish of wasabi- I never touch the stuff- and ginger- too holiday spicy for my taste with sushi- to my left. I finish my first page and close the text; the service is even more efficient than usual. I’ll have to make my selections before getting too engrossed or risk missing my favorite dishes.
I choose a few treats and settle in to read.
A fragile brunette is seated to my left, her skin taut over frail bones, her veins clearly delineated beneath her skin. Pale blue scrubs adorn her thin frame and she settles in, ordering miso soup and a water. I bite my lip to keep from urging the cream puffs on her. The dark shadows under her eyes hint at sleepless nights and magnificent worries.
Her hair is scraped back, her purse clutched close to her side until she realizes that no one is paying her much attention. Then, she relaxes, loops the end of her purse over the back of her chair on the side farthest from me- a coincidence that it is the only empty side, or a hangover from a cautious upbringing?- and scoops four plates off the conveyor belt in rapid succession.
I couldn’t tell you the names of the dishes if pressed, though they all looked delicious. If only I could stomach raw fish!
My mind wanders, engaged in the imaginary conversation we have. . .
“Hi, I’m Lex.”
“Cora,” she says.
“Hi, Cora. On lunch?” I nod to indicate her scrubs; the choice is hers whether to specify yes or no; school or work.
“Yeah, the new hospital is holding training classes, helping us new hires get familiar with the layout before its doors open. I’m a sucker for sushi- somethings you just can’t get fresh unless you’re on the coast.” She flashes a bright smile at me and turns back to select a seaweed-wrapped morsel from the conveyor belt in front of us.
I smile at her enthusiasm, reminded of the first time I tried sushi.
“I’m lucky to have an iron stomach,” she says, plucking the raw fish from the top of her roll and popping it into her mouth. “My mama always wanted to be a doctor, but it turns out she faints at the sight of blood. Hers, someone else’s, an animals; doesn’t matter. If it’s blood and mama sees it, she’s gonna hit the floor.” Her bright blue eyes sparkled with fondness and humor. She tugged at the neckline of her scrub shirt.
“I discovered I had no such affliction when Chrissy, that’s our tabby, had her kittens on my blanket the summer I turned seven. Since then,” my new friend shrugged. “I’ve known that the mantle of the first doctor in the family would fall on me.”
The rest of the sushi roll was followed by a quick swallow of water. “I guess we all got lucky the day I fell in love with pediatric medicine. My sister got real sick, ya see. She spent months in the hospital recovering. The doctors and nurses there were always kind to me, seeing that I got fed and special attention paid to me while my parents were closeted with the surgeons and pediatricians. I was taken on tours that most children never have the privilege of taking.”
Cora smiled, wistful sadness warring with optimism. “Abigail never did recover completely. And my fate was sealed.” She popped another sushi roll into her mouth, the sadness I saw disappearing within seconds as she swallowed, drank, and dabbed at her lips with her napkin.
“I’m lucky I was a bright student and loved to run. The scholarship I got to the university helps pay for everything except the little extras that make life worth living.” She sighed and closed her eyes in apparent pleasure, popping a wasabi pea into her mouth. I could hear it crunch and shuddered to myself as I imagined the burn on her poor tongue.
“I work at the clinic for my externship and then I come here and bus tables a few doors over, you know the Mexican place?”
I nod, my own mouth full. Cora grinned. “Good, huh?” A flick of her wrist signals the waitress and she orders another bowl of soup and a green tea. Where she puts all the calories she consumes I’ll never know. Cheesecake slices have begun to circulate on the conveyor belt, plastic lids protecting them from the aromas of the seafood that surrounds them. Cora snags the first dish of chocolate cheesecake to pass in front of her and sets it aside, a moan so low I’m uncertain I hear it emanating from her. My eyes flick to hers and I catch such an expression of longing there that I quickly drop my gaze, feeling like an intruder.