Otis sat at his tattered corner booth, the pale pink and teal upholstery ripped and worn by all those who had rested there before him. His charcoal-grey hair was oily and unkept as if he hadn’t known the pleasure of a shower or a comb since his early days in the war.
His once green army jacket, faded to a light grey, covered the untucked, torn, and sweat-stained Goodwill T-shirt under it. He wore an old pair of denim blue jeans that were shredded in the knees and rested three inches above his boney ankles; exposing the charity he depended upon. His eyes, filled with loneliness and despair as if he had realized a lack of purpose in his life, were set in bags of black and purple rings two layers deep. His long, slender nose was set above a full crooked mouth with little lines at the corners giving his face the character of someone who used to smile often, but the firm set of his square jaw revealed a portrait of a man who knew only failure. I glanced around the dimly lit dining room of our neighborhood Jack-In-The-Box at the collection of adolescent girls and boys gossiping about their absent friends, urban families enjoying their weekly treat of chicken fingers with exotic dipping sauces, and a teenage employee attempting to grasp a carpet sweeper with her fry-greased hands. As each of their gazes wandered the room curiously observing the quaint surroundings, their eyes conveniently skipped over the socially unacceptable figure in the corner, but I saw him clearly.Order now
With both hands resting lightly on the table to each side of his white foam cup, Otis stared into its deep abyss of emptiness with his head bowed as if willing it to fill again, giving him a reason to enjoy the shelter that the indoors provided. I could almost touch the conflict going on inside of him, a battle of wills as if he was negotiating with an imaginary devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other. I sensed a cramp of discomfort seizing his insides, compelling him to flee, then a silent resolve, as if a moment of clarity had graced his consciousness. After my husband consumed the last bite of his fully stacked grilled chicken breast sandwich and deep-fried onion rings, he regained my attention when he continued to vocally reflect upon the horror of his day at work; how it seemed that each person in his already stressful world wanted something from him, but he was physically, emotionally, and financially taxed beyond limits. As if Otis had courteously waited for us to complete our meal, he slowly rose from his comfort zone in the corner and limped over to our small table by the door.
“Escuse me sir, ma’am. Do ya haf thirty fife cens sos I can git me a cup o coffee?” Otis quietly asked with his head bowed, refusing to make eye contact. “No, I don’t have any more money,” my husband replied in a curt tone of voice. I was dumbfounded; my tongue paralyzed and uncomfortably muted.
Immediately I saw shame on both of their faces. In the deep pools of my usually kind and giving husband’s eyes I saw a gut-wrenching anguish that expressed the breaking of his heart for Otis, but his pride could not rescind the hurtful tone he had used. Then he closed his lids and shook his head as if communicating displeasure with himself. Otis’s expression contorted from painful remorse, as if he had injured himself when he twisted his own arm to approach us, to blushing embarrassment; wishing for the autonomy he had possessed just five minutes earlier.
“I’m a-sorry to haf bothered ya sir, ma’am. Yoos haf a good night now,” Otis mumbled. As he continued to stare at the crumbs on the traffic-worn carpet, he ran out of the restaurant door, his limp hindering his urgency. My heart was broken into two jagged pieces. One severed part bleeding empathy for this unfortunate stranger who needed no more humiliation or disappointment in his bleak, desolate existence.
The other consumed by sympathy for my husband who, for the first time, glimpsed a darkness through the window of his soul. His clenched .