Waiting for Now
By now, the second train had left, and there was nothing they could do to stop the customer from shaking. Very few people wanted to stay in the trackside cafe as a result. The staff tried wrapping a warm blanket around him. Jessica had heard this was a good idea years ago. They also tried tea, talking, sitting by his side – everything that they could do to placate him while they searched his belongings for any information they could use to contact his family. It would have been easier had he had a heart-attack; they could have called the paramedics then, or had him rushed away. They could also call the police, but this man was not causing a loud disturbance. He was causing a quiet one.
He went on and on about how they were coming for him, how there was nothing for him to do but wait for his inevitable capture. The story was unintelligible. No amount of talking calmed him, but every few minutes he’d pause, and his eyes would widen with a look of fear. Whenever this happened, Connor snapped his fingers a few times in front of the man’s face.
“Why are you doing that?” Jessica asked.
“I’m trying to see if he’s having a seizure.”
“By snapping? That’s not how you do it.”
Connor watched as the rest of the staff moved to the kitchen, quietly ushering up any responsibilities they had to Jessica, the manager of the cafe. He took his towel and cleaned up coffee that the stranger had spilled, almost hitting his own head against the wire mesh table.
“Leaving town is the only option,” the man whispered. He seemed to be talking to Connor, but having already made the mistake of snapping fingers, Connor decided not to engage the man further. The man kept insisting nevertheless, reaching for Connor as he walked away. “But I will remain here,” the old man said. Connor stared at the man, knowing that if any eye contact was made it would be brief and inconsequential. He gritted his teeth.
There was only an hour left on Connor’s shift, and he was grateful. He didn’t hate working at the station, but the thought of staying there for the rest of his life, staying there and hearing the train whistle blaring – that thought he hated. He wished the man would pay his bill and make up his mind, but it didn’t seem plausible.
Connor cleared a few plates of the next table and took them to the kitchen. The rest of the staff were huddled around as if they were waiting for him to give some definitive answer to all the questions they had. Why would they look to him? When he returned, the man was still sitting there, and his manager, Jessica, was stroking his hand gently, but the man didn’t even notice. Connor shuddered. He would never touch a customer, and the idea seemed insane. They weren’t doctors – they had no real responsibility to the man other than serving him his coffee and sending him to the right platform. There was something freeing in knowing this, but usually that feeling was evenly applied throughout his day. It was meant to be a short job, but the need for money and his demand for hours grew. He knew he would stop bussing tables in an hour, and in at most a year, he could find another job. That fact was also comforting.
The man broke another cup. A small part of Connor felt the walls of eternity closing in. There was always a chance that he would get stuck, that something wouldn’t go through. He hadn’t thought too far ahead. The man dropped another cup, and Connor picked up the pieces. He held back any words that he wanted to say. By then, the third train had left, and the old man continued whispering to himself. Jessica was still there, holding the man’s hand, telling him it would be alright.
Connor picked up the pieces of the cup and felt the hairs on his neck stand on end. The man had grasped Connor’s shoulder with unimaginable force. “Go now,” said the old man. “Before it’s too late.”