Enter. Order. Eat. Pay. Leave.
The whole operation is streamlined; a seamless experience for staff and customer. The rules are clear and seldom broken: there’s to be no trespassing. People are here to nibble at sandwiches and sip coffee, not to have a stranger in an apron pry into their personal lives. So you serve them and leave it at that. That’s just the way it’s done.
…until it isn’t.
Because no matter how hard you try to respect the boundary, standing behind a countertop gives you a perspective you otherwise wouldn’t have. It’s from that vantage point, over the course of twenty-one years, that I got to know Nancy.
Tuesday June 15 2004
The door chimes. A family of six enter: a mum, a dad and four young ones, attached every which way to their parents. He’s more built. She does more of the carrying. They don’t speak much English, but find their way around the menu. They order. They eat. It’s chaos. I offer the kids colouring in. They take it. It works for a while. Until it doesn’t. He points at an apple cinnamon muffin and fumbles his way through asking for candles to be inserted and lit. They sing. She smiles. Until the oldest one blows them out before she gets the chance to. It’s not about her.
Sunday June 15 2008
The door chimes. A family of six enter: the children are older now and better at English. He’s on the phone. She’s handling the kids. They want the same as the previous four years: dinosaur nuggets and chips x4, a BLT for him and salad for her. They order. They eat. It’s less chaotic. I smile at how far they’ve come. They forget the muffin this year. They sit in silence. Until they don’t. He’s been promoted and needs to work away. They fight. She cries. Until the younger ones whine that they’re bored. It’s not about her.
Saturday June 15 2013
The door chimes. A family of five enter: the children are teenagers. He’s not there. She has bags under her eyes. They say a prayer for him. They order. They eat. It’s loud. I notice she’s not doing any of the talking. They talk over her. They ignore her. Until they don’t. He isn’t here to pay. They need her to. She approaches the counter, pays and spies the muffins. Until they impatiently call out. It’s not about her.
Saturday June 15 2024
The door chimes. A woman enters. He never came back. She, all alone, orders an apple cinnamon muffin. They want nothing to do with her. They left. They never call. It’s sad. I insert and light candles. They flicker. They hold on. Until they don’t: a draught extinguishes them. He isn’t here to sing. They aren’t either. She whimpers. Until people stare, disturbed by the noise. It’s not about her.
Sunday June 15 2025
The door chimes. It’s not Nancy. The café goes on. It’s not about her.