‘Do you still remember: falling stars,’
– Rainer Maria Rilke, Untitled
Photo by Carli Jeen on Unsplash
‘You have been served by Sara today,’
It says on the receipt, the latter printed on cheap, grimy paper rolls in smudgy purple ink. Underneath, the cost of mediocre weekday takeout – dinner in a cardboard box – and just over the dotted signature line, a presumptuous request:
The curmudgeonly, supposed recipient does not even try to smile. Black grease wedged under her long fingernails. Peeling polish that once was cherry. Hair in a messy bun, strands of black and silver falling onto her forehead. Sweat. Impatience, though there are no other customers waiting behind me.
Sara must have been beautiful once. I do not know how I know. Or why that matters on a weekday nine p.m. I just want to go home. All Sara is, is a face and a hand at a register on a counter. All I am is her worst kind of customer: modifications to the order.
Sara must have been happier once. She looks different on her photo. At one point she must have actually smiled and even had ambitions. The American Dream may have even woken her up every morning before the alarm set for four a.m. and scurry for the bus at four twenty.
The tip must have mattered at some point. Been expected, or at least sought. But perhaps that was before the boys shooting heroine and cocaine up their veins in the bathroom. Before she had to call an ambulance, and the cops. Before the overdose. Before the cold tip of the gun on her temple one night as she emptied the contents of the register– forty dollars and thirty cents – into an angry man’s knap sack.
Before the forty dollars and thirty cents were deducted from her pay. Before the cameras were installed and supervisor hired, just in case. Before the proposition, declined. That it had ever been made, denied. Before the rumours: ‘Dirty Latina.’ The insults: ‘Mexican whore,’
‘why don’t you go back there?’ Because, actually, Sara is from Honduras.
Because she has two young boys waiting at home. Because they have been since seven. Because that is when her shift ends, but not her work; the morning’s orders, also, are waiting.
And because tomorrow there will be other, similar orders to fill. Other receipts on which the same request will be printed, ignored, for a tip.
As will her name: ‘You have been served by Sara.’ She will be called ‘Excuse me,’ ‘Hey,’ ‘Please,’ and ‘You! What is wrong with you? This is not what I ordered!’
‘Do you still remember: falling stars,
how they leapt slantwise through the sky’
Sara does not remember the last time she took a whole day off.
She does not remember that I had asked her for the dressing on the side. I do not remind her. Falling stars,
‘like horses over suddenly held-out hurdles
of our wishes—did we have so many?—’
I include a tip on the receipt.