I can’t believe it, walking into Wakefield market this morning there’s ice in the parking lot and it’s only mid-November. I zip up my fleece to keep the wind from cutting through my t-shirt, but once inside, Wakefield Market is warm and inviting, as always—bins of fresh produce, buckets filled with brightly colored cut flowers, all set up like a fresh air market.
The place is packed and the line at the deli counter is long, so I take a number and wait in front of the glass cases. There’s a woman behind me and to my right, dirty blonde hair, shoulder length, uncombed. She’s wearing a beat up winter jacket, a size or two too large and she’s staring straight ahead with an unfocused gaze, holding her jacket closed at the neck with her left hand. Maybe she’s 50, maybe older, but in reality she’s probably a lot younger than she looks. She looks tired, beaten down, and she’s unresponsive as the numbers are called one after another.
Finally they get to my number and still they haven’t called the number of the worn out woman to my right.
“This woman was here long before me and she hasn’t been called,” I say.
A shouted protest comes from my left, from a tall lanky piece of lumber, older man, stiff steel gray hair sticking out like he just rolled out of bed. His fierce dark eyes are at the bottom of two sunken hollows in his face, where his age is carved deeply in his wind-beaten folds of thin skin. He’s wearing a knee-length overcoat with sleeves too short, thus exposing his bony wrists. Shaking an arthritic finger at me he states his case about how long he’s been waiting and how he has the next number, so if I’m not going to go he should go instead of the woman who has no number. Looks like the kind of character who should have a hatchet in his hand and a pile of split kindling at his feet, or maybe he’s got a grandchild locked in a shed waiting for his beating.
A quiet voice materializes right at my side. “It’s okay,” says the tired woman. I’m just waiting for them to tell me about the soup. They’re checking for me to see if it’s ready.” She’s hopeful, but we’ve been here 10 minutes. Nobody’s checking on the soup, I know that. They probably forgot, but the woman doesn’t have the energy to do anything more about it.
“Can I use my turn to have you check on the soup for this woman?” I ask as I drop my number in the basket and then shift my gaze back to the fierce hollow eyes.
I recognize the woman behind the counter. She’s always very nice but not often happy enough, as far as I’m concerned. I know this because she is an attractive person, maybe late 30’s, but on the rare occasions when she smiles she becomes beautiful. I always want her to wait on me because I always think I can get her to smile if I’m really nice. I’m usually wrong, but today she smiles and says, “Sure”.
“My sister is so sick,” the tired woman continues. Her voice is like dry leaves skittering across the pavement and I can tell it’s an effort for her to talk. “They don’t know what’s wrong. . .I try to help her, I always try to help, but there’s not a thing I can do for her.” She looks down at her shoes and shakes her head. “I can’t help her,” she says in a whisper. Then she looks up at me. “But today she said she wanted soup so I came right here. At least I can bring her soup. At least I can do that.”
The woman with the beautiful smile comes back and trailing behind her is a cart carrying a tall urn full of hot soup. “What else would you like?” she asks me, but no longer warming the moment with that rare smile.
“He’s next,” I say as I point to the lanky piece of lumber and walk away. “No soup for you,” I say to myself, remembering Seinfeld.