The space within us
Mainly I remember how sad she looked. She was around 50. With white hair, cut short. She wore thick black glasses and a beige overcoat, that’s about all I could tell you about her appearance. Truthfully she was unremarkable in every way and she knew it.
She made her way to a corner table and sat down, looking straight ahead. The waitress came over to her but she spoke first as if she wanted to apologise for her presence. ‘I used to work here’ she said by way of explanation. ‘Oh, okay’ replied the waitress, though you couldn’t really tell if she recognised her or not, ‘can I get you something?’ The woman addressed her hands, which were spread flat on the table in front of her, ‘The chicken pie please’.
She seemed to relax a little once the waitress had left, taking a few visible breaths, scrupulously avoiding eye contact with the handful of other people sitting in the cafe. There was something captivating about her to me. It was as if I could see this vast space within her. I mean there’s space like that in all of us I guess, but most of us manage to fill it. Friends, family, girlfriends and boyfriends. Sound and fury. In most of us it’s busy enough that it feels small on all but a few quiet days.
But hers was impenetrable somehow. It was hard to imagine anyone being able to worm their way into it.
After a few minutes the waitress returned. ‘Marco says it’s on the house’ she said as she arrived. It looked as if she wanted to add something else, a smile maybe, but wasn’t sure how to introduce it into the setting, so she just placed the plate on the table and left. The woman nodded to the space the waitress had occupied, then took a fork from a little metal beaker on her table and quietly started eating.
I realised I must have been staring for at least 10 minutes at this point, but she hadn’t noticed me. It didn’t seem as if she’d noticed much of anything really. Me, the other customers, even the food she was patiently and joylessly shovelling into her mouth. She just looked so sad and lost.
And all I wanted to do was to stand up and walk over to her table and sit down with her as she ate. Not out of pity, I didn’t want to save her or anything dumb like that, it was just…there was so much space inside of her. And I though how nice it would probably be, just to have someone with you to share it, even for a little while. Someone who didn’t do or say or ask anything but just sat there together with you. I really wanted to do that for her. But I was afraid I would scare her, and I probably would have. Even if I didn’t, I would have had to explain why I was sitting at her table which would have ruined the whole thing.
So instead I just sat in my chair and tried not to disturb her. And even though I knew it was impossible, I hoped that from where I was, she could feel me sharing the air with her while she ate.