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Bill and the Waiter

© Copyright 1997 Eric Robertson

Bill Biggins stood outside the restaurant window looking in. He had exactly six dollars left over from ten he'd made collecting cans and selling a leather jacket. He spent four dollars on beer and now he wanted something to eat.

He had just happened upon the restaurant. It was not normally a place he would go. But from the cold outside, he watched a table near the kitchen entrance and it whetted his appetite. Around it sat the service staff in formal attire and a large Asian man. Their bow ties were loosened and each sat before their own steaming bowl of curried chicken feasting in gluttonous delight. Between spoons of curry-dipped rice they pulled smooth bones from their mouths and piled them slick and shiney in a receiving bowl at the center of the table. The meal had the double good look of any where people are gathered round in fellowship and hunger.

Bill arrived unnoticed in the middle of the floor--an old black man who wore loose canvas jeans with a cowboy shirt covered by a blue windbreaker. Bill had once been in the rodeo. His specialty had been calf-roping. He stood arms lax to his side and weaved a bit as smoke drifted from a cigaret butt at his fingertips. The hostess, intent on her meal, was slow to receive him, so he sat himself at a four-top not far from the employee's table.

The hostess arrived with a menu and bent towards him. Bill mumbled to her, his lower lip hanging loose with intoxication. Unable to understand him, the hostess looked back panicky at a waiter sitting at the table behind. The waiter set his fork aside and took her place with the menu.

"You have an ashtray?" Bill asked, leaving his mouth agape with stale air. He had long, thin teeth set in a receding gum line.

"I'm sorry, this is a non-smoking restaurant," the waiter informed.

The old man looked at his butt, rose and went outside. The waiter hung in limbo between the door and his new table, making sure all was settled. When Bill returned, the waiter came again to his side.

"What can I get for you?" he asked, bowing toward the man.

"Coffee," Bill expelled with another breath of stale air.

The waiter left and returned with a cup, setting it before Bill by moving his place setting to the table's center.

"Would you like cream and sugar," the waiter asked?

The old man nodded and the waiter left and returned with a creamer dish and cubes of sugar. Then he went swiftly back to his unfinished meal.

"What did he want?" asked the large, Asian man.

"Just coffee," answered the waiter over a mouthful of food.

"This not goddamned coffee shop," boomed the Asian man in broken, staccato. He turned his head and looked accusingly at Bill. The waiter kept his head bent, shovelling curry and rice into his mouth.

A minute or so passed and the waiter finished his meal. While taking a sip of water he sheepishly raised his eyes and looked over at Bill. Bill's eyes, like deadwood, were on him, looking through him it seemed. They frightened the waiter. What did he want? He felt frozen in their stare. Slowly Bill raised a hand and the waiter snapped from his trance and came to his side.

"How much your chicken and rice?" the old man asked, staring past the waiter at the feast still in motion at the employee table.

"Well sir, we have a green curried chicken that is ten-fifty plus tax," the waiter replied.

"What that?" Bill asked, nodding toward the employee meal.

"That," replied the waiter, "is a red curry, but I'm afraid it is not on the menu."

After a long pause, the waiter asked, "Would you like to see the menu?"

Bill nodded and the waiter quickly returned, leaving Bill to look over the menu placed at his side.

After clearing his place from the employee table, the waiter came back.

"What can I get for you," he asked.

"Nothin'," said the man, his diction suddenly sharper, "this'll do."

The waiter left for the kitchen, then shortly returned with Bill's check, placing it formally alongside the remaining place setting.

"What kind of chicken wings you got?" the old man asked.

"Stuffed Bangkok wings," the waiter replied. "They're small chicken wings filled with pork and cellophane noodles that come with a sweet dipping sauce."

"How much they?" asked the man.

"Three-ninety five plus tax," the waiter replied.

This suited Bill, so the waiter took the check back and turned for the kitchen, pausing on the way to whisper to the large Asian man.

"So give him chicken wings!" the owner boomed.

The waiter stayed in the kitchen a long time. The deep fat fryer had to be turned back on. The waiter laid his torso across the steam table, placing his head on his arm to look up at the clock. Once he returned to the dining room and stood next to the wall, surveying the all but empty room as he bounced on his tip toes. It was near closing time.

Finally, he appeared with Bill's food. It was a small plate with four stuffed wings surrounding a monkey dish of sweet red sauce. He placed this before Bill, then stepped back, bowed his head and quickly returned to the kitchen. Bill studied the food for a moment, lifting one of the stuffed wings by its nib. He rotated it in the light. He had expected something larger, but they looked good and he was too hungry to complain. Soon he was wiping his hands and mouth, staring at the four nibs of chicken wings left on his plate.

With a waiter's intuition, the server suddenly shot from the kitchen and reached for the check, prepared and waiting atop the service counter. He moved quickly toward the table, head bent and oblivious as he passed Bill along the way. The waiter stopped short before the table. The image of Bill's boots moon walked onto the landscape of his mind and he quickly turned back to the register where the hostess and Bill stood waiting. He handed the check over without looking into either's eyes, then turned his back on the transaction. As if concentrating on something else he perked his chin up and began to bounce on his toes.

"That'll be five ninety-five," the hostess said to Bill.

He removed a slick worn leather billfold from his pocket. With two fingers he retrieved his last two bills, dangling the limp five and one like a used Kleenex as he looked at the waitor. The hostess took the money and returned Bill his nickle which he shoved in his front pocket with a thumb. Then he reached for a toothpick and walked to the exit, refolding and pocketing his wallet as he went.

"Thank you sir," called out the waiter, rising on his toes.
Bill raised his arm without turning, a single wave which he used to push open the door. The wind hit him cold in the face, but he was glad for the fresh air. He reached up and buttoned the top snaps on his windbreaker and stepped off the curb. Behind him the waitor came to the door and pressed his nose to the glass. He watched Bill's slow cowboy walk across the parking lot until a last ripple of the shiney windbreaker dissappeared in the night. Against the cold glass, a circle of the waitor's breath grew to his eyes. He turned quickly and began his closing chores.

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