It was 6 p.m at the café where I work. We were starting to get things in order to close up shop when this bent-over little old lady came in. She traversed slowly with the help of a pink walking cane and carried a shoulder bag bigger than her. I guessed her to be in her early 80s.
I was headed to the kitchen with some items to be washed when she dropped everything at the first table she came to and started mumbling something. Then she mumbled louder with just a slight turn in her head towards me, her clear, bright blue eyes piercing me. I figured she is in distress of some kind so I put the items down and headed her way. I asked if I can help her and she replied, "I don't know, can you? Is this a damn restaurant or a cafeteria?"
"Neither," I said. “It's a café."
She lifted her head a little higher and started peeling off her pink raincoat. "Well... where the hell is the food?"
Right about then, the “despicable me' kicked in and decided that she was either (1) a loon or (2) drunk. I also decided to get out of this lady's hair really quick. I told her we have coffee and Danishes. The coffee, though, was self serve and I figured by the length of time it took her to get in the door and to the table, she would still be working her way to the coffee pot at closing time. So, I offered to get it for her. While I was making it, she started telling me about her trip in the pouring rain to see her doctor who moved into the same office buildings the cafe is in.
"The damn roads were soaked, I skidded once, and I passed the exit three times going both ways. A multimillion dollar hospital and the damn politicians put up signs bigger than that little thing out there."
I asked who her doctor was and she told me his name. She said he probably moved here to be closer to a golf course. "You know how those devils are," she added.
I told her that she seems to have a good doctor, which prompted this reply: "And how would you know that? Because he smiles when you make his coffee?"
LOL... I burst out laughing.
"No,” I answered. “He seems like a good doctor because he has a good following of patients that have come over here with him, and they speak kindly of him." Meanwhile, I was thinking to myself, this lady is a trip. I decided to give her a few more minutes even though I was going to be in the weeds with my closing routine.
"Well, I don't trust him," she said. "Too damn quiet, you can't read them quiet ones... I couldn't be married to a quiet one like that. Not that I want to be married again anyway, I've already killed, I mean buried two." She started drinking her coffee and I leaned against the coffee kiosk, wiping it here and there. She squinted and tried to read my hospital ID. She couldn't make it out and gave up. I started to offer my name to her, but I figured—probably the same as her—we were just two ships passing in the night. No use trying to remember another name.
She repositioned herself in her seat, with some obvious discomfort. Possibly arthritis? "Screw the powers that be!" she exclaimed suddenly. "Just look at me! I can't walk, can't remember stuff, pain all the time. And don't you go talking to me about Jesus!"
I put my hands in the air in surrender, and she laughed. "There's a purpose for everything" I told her.
She replied, "If there was a God, why would he let me just exist like this? Why would I be here? Out in the middle of the evening in the pouring-down rain to see a doctor. What is the purpose of that?"
I thought (stupidly) that this was a cry for help so I tried to reach out: "Well, maybe that purpose is to be here talking to me."
She squinted and tried to focus in on me. "Why? Are you thinking of committing suicide?"
So much for talking someone down from a ledge. I started cracking up again.
She kept going. "You know what? You go through life, don't kill anyone (except those two husbands she told me about) you try to be good, and you end up like this. And then some low life who has robbed and stolen from his family all his life is in perfect health, living a life of luxury. What is fair about that?"
I replied, "I don't remember that I was promised life would be fair anywhere." I silently summoned Jesus. No answer. No smart scriptures are floating through my head. And even if they were, this lady clearly had spent a lifetime batting them down. I would have taken on a teenager after you've just told him he's grounded in place of this tough cookie.
A pharmacist, working late, came in for a cup of hot chocolate. Maxine (as I have just named her) latches onto him. "So, what are you doing here at this time of the evening? Some doctor got you deciphering and cleaning up his messes this late?"
He chuckled and I took the opportunity to get some things put up. I felt a little guilty leaving the pharmacist on his own with her. But it was a short-lived desertion because Maxine started choking. I mean really choking. The pharmacist (we'll call him Lee) and I headed her way. He asked her if she needed water. She says something—doesn't sound like water. She finally got her breath in and said, "Vodka"—or at least that's what it sounded like. Lee gave her a cup of water and said it was the best he could do. Eventually, she got it together enough to tell Lee that she thought she was going to have the honor of him performing the "Heimlich" on her. He laughed and headed out the door.
Another doctor walked in for his last-minute snack of the night. Maxine started up a conversation with him, too. I listened in and realized this little chick is much smarter than she lets on. She's not drunk, not a loon—hey, maybe she's just dealing with reality in a non-fairy tale kind of way. Maybe she is a little bitter, maybe she wants a present that is unwrapped already. Too tired of this world to deal with the niceties of the presentation.
The doctor left and she proceeded to tell me more about him than I knew, and he comes in two or three times a week. He's Slovakian, came to America 20 years ago. He thanked her for the compliments on his use of English grammar. She looked at me more intently, like she knew our time together was almost over. "So why do you believe in this God?" she asked.
Now, the important part. I NEVER told her I believe in God. "Was it because you were one of the lucky ones who was raised hearing about him? Because some preacher told you if were a good girl you would go to heaven?" I thought hard again. Nope, nothing there. No clever words of encouragement, absolutely nothing. I just took a breath with a lightning-fast prayer (along the lines of, Lord, don't let me screw this up).
"No," I said. "I think I knew about God before anyone told me there was one. I think we all know there is a higher power. I think we choose what we want to believe. And I believe there are consequences in an afterlife depending on our choices." I heard a coworker calling me from the kiosk. She asked about ringing something up. In the meantime, Maxine got up, put her pink coat on, and came up to me. "Okay, girlie, I'm out of here. I am going to come back in a couple of months. You keep trying to figure out this damn universe 'til I get back."
She grinned and walked off, and I was left scratching my head. I felt like the tables were turned on me somehow, like she was testing me. I told Maxine I feel like there is a purpose for every moment, and ever since, I have been trying to think of what that purpose was in her visit. What I've come i[ with is this: the angels may go through a down moment or two, some spare time. I think they might come to us even in the form of bitter little old ladies, to test us. I know I flunked. But maybe I entertained a few angels.