Kaye at 30
Looking back, I should’ve been more conscious of the surroundings and the people around me. If I had, I would’ve noticed it sooner. I would have noticed that this wasn’t where we first met. And he wasn’t the person I thought he was.
“He’s not coming? It’s past twelve already. He usually doesn’t get late.”
“It’s still lunch time though,” I answer casually although I’m also a bit worried myself. “Maybe he’s just running late.” I pick up the pan and flip the omelet. “Go and clean up the tables that’ve been vacated.”
Since my divorce, it’s been more than three years that I’ve been driving a food truck. During my starting year, it’s just a so-so business. Yet, after finding the right spot and earning my own patrons near a university and its neighboring establishments, people eventually are the one’s looking for me.
Since then, business becomes stable and I was able to open up another two food trucks that station at other locations, managed by my two sisters. Kevin’s a college student who once came up to me looking for a part-time job. He does everything aside from cooking and he’s been really a big help ever since.
“Oh, look! He’s here after all,” Kevin whispers excitedly after climbing up the truck.
I jerk my head up and look at the man crossing the street. He can’t be missed because of his impressive height although he’s a bit on a thin side. Plus, he walks in a staggering manner like a drunk person yet I don’t smell alcohol from him whenever I’m close.
Oh, he stinks alright. Something like unwashed bedsheets and wet socks. The man has greasy long hair that almost covers his entire face. Not just his hair that obstructs his face, his coke bottle glasses and thick beard are permanent fixture on his dour face.
With a cartoon character printed pajamas and matching cotton slippers, without fail he always comes staggering to my food truck looking exactly the same every day for lunch. It’s comical to see and I even once thought maybe he’s a little bit loose in the head.
I don’t know anything about him. What I’m sure though is that he’s not really crazy, just a bit odd. Eccentric maybe and sometimes grumpy. He even leaves a generous tip after eating which are rare nowadays. That’s why I always look forward to his visits.
From my wild guess, maybe he’s in his forties or early fifties. I know it may sound stereotypical but he might be one of those people working hard on eradicating cancer or solving global warming. Nah, from the looks of his glasses, maybe he’s been going crazy about exploring another habitable planet.
I turn off the stove and place the omelet on a plate. “Stay here for a sec, I’ll go take his order.”
Ever since he first ate in my food truck, he never lets anyone else take his order but me. I find it amusing and a little troublesome especially when he comes during peak hours. Must be the age? Or his sole eccentricity?
“Lobster rolls and grilled cheese,” he immediately says without even raising his head as soon I step near his table.
“How about your drinks?” He never makes eye contact and it makes me really curious what he truly looks behind those glasses and his curtain of hair.
“Water,” he slaps his hand over the table as if irritated by my simple question.
“Alright.” Before I can turn around, I bend a little lower and whisper so other customers won’t hear. “By the way, I’m currently reinventing my menu and I made cupcakes. It’s not on sale but I’d love to share them with you and hopefully ask for your opinion on its taste.”
For the first time, he raises his head and meets my gaze. It’s my first time seeing him this close and I admit I’m a little surprised at how sharp his eyes look. They’re deep blue with yellow flecks at the corner. It’s like staring at the ocean that bursts with the flickering sunbeams. It’s totally mesmerizing.
“Well…” I prompt.
“Hmm.” He jerks his head away and makes a shooing motion with his hand, indicating I should move it.
Whether he wants the cupcakes or not, I still put two on his tray. Seeing this, Kevin becomes ecstatic and obviously envious, grabbing me around my waist to fawn on me.
“Boss, you’re being unfair! Why can he get cupcakes and nothing for me?”
“Shut up and unhinge your arms from me! I made a lot. There are still more at the back. I’m giving the old man some sugar rush. Who knows it might cure his staggering.”
Kevin chuckles as he rummages at the back where I stashed the Tupperware of cupcakes I baked last night. After finishing up the old man’s order, I let Kevin serve it to his table. Since the boy is a head turner with his looks, he’s turned heads even more so with the cupcakes on the tray he carries.
After Kevin serves the lunch, a few people leave while another batch take the vacated seats. One of them shares a seat with the old man. It’s been known to my patrons that he doesn’t share his table to anyone, else he goes into a tantrum. However today, this newly arrived person doesn’t seem to know the silent rule.
“What shall we do, boss?”
“I don’t think he’ll make a scene this—”
“You, freakin’ moron! Can’t you understand what leave means?” The old man starts his tirade and kicks the nearby vacant chairs. “Do you want to get hurt?”
Before anything else happens, I quickly jump down the truck and rush towards their table. “Sir, I’m sorry but could you please move to the other table?”
“But I’m still talking to—”
“I don’t want to talk!” The old man snarls with his spittle flying while some crumbs cling to his long beard. “You hear me! Get lost! Get lost!” He swings his fists to the other person but I quickly embrace him from behind to stop him from hurting anyone. “I don’t want to see your cursed face! Son of the half made idiot! You… Let me go! I’m gonna cripple this human!”
“Calm down, sir! I don’t want police to catch our attention, please! Let’s talk this down peacefully.”
“Ah, you shouldn’t—” The younger one points at me but the old man only becomes crazier. “O-okay, sorry! I’m sorry.” The new comer finally says with a dejected face. “I’ll leave now so please enjoy your meal. And,” He clutches his briefcase and sighs. “I’ll try to come back—”
“Don’t ever come back!” He kicks the table again and the other man finally scurries away in a luxurious car. “Y-you! H-how long are you going t-to hold me like this? Are you enjoying yourself?” He growls at me over his shoulder.
“I’m sorry,” I quickly release him from my grip and raise my hands in the air. “Geez, you stink, old man!”
I pinch my nose after inhaling his body odor and step away. Imagining his germs have clung to me, I quickly brush my clothes off as if I can somehow get rid of them.
“Hmph!” Scowling, he places a hand over his chest sa if checking his heart or is he inspecting if I’ve taken something from him? “W-who are you to comment about my smell? I pay my food more than enough to afford you a goddamn branded perfume!” He slaps a few hundred bills on the table, indeed, more than enough for his order before sneering at me. “And don’t give me cupcakes again since I don’t enjoy sweet things. Perhaps to the coeds they’ll sell. Plus, choosing me among all your patrons makes me think you’ve got a thing for me. So quit it.”
“Wh-what?” I gawk at him in disbelief.
“Excuse me!” He kicks his own chair before staggering away.
“Are you alright, boss?” Kevin appears beside me, carrying an empty tray and table rag. “Wow, he didn’t even finish his lunch. He really lost his appetite there, huh.”
“Such a troublesome man. I just wish I won’t turn out like him when I hit my old age.”
“With the pressure of family and peers, plus, the stressful college and work, my only wish is to hit old age, boss.”
“Life’s always stressful if you think it that way. Rather, just enjoy it, ok.” I clap Kevin’s shoulder before turning away. “Go clean up the table.”
“I’m falling in love with you even more every day, boss.”
I laugh nonchalantly and shake my head at his usual punch lines. The rest of the afternoon is peaceful and productive. Around five, we’ve cleared up the tables and packed them into the truck. Kevin bade goodbye with his motorcycle while I get behind the wheels and crank up the engine.
It’s too early to call it a day for most people but my ingredients don’t usually last until night. Besides, it’ll be additional expense for the lease of the spot. Plus, I want my nights free so I can rest at home in front of a ballgame with cold beer in hand. What a perfect night, indeed. Wait, I think I’m out of beer. Let’s see, should I stop by a convenience store first?
Before I can turn into an intersection, a person suddenly rushes across the street and hits my truck. Shit! I’m driving slow coz I’m about to park but I sure feel the impact of the body hitting the front grille. Did I just kill someone? No, God. Please, don’t let it be like that.
I unbuckle my seatbelt and jump out of the truck, rushing forward to inspect the person. He slowly sits up from the ground while clutching a laptop close to his chest. I quickly approach and carefully help him up to his feet.
“Are you alright? Are you hurt?” I ask frantically.
“What do you think?” He snaps irritably and my eyes widen in surprise.
“I’m sorry,” I say after realizing it’s the staggering old man during lunch time. “Here, let me drive you to the hospital.”
I didn’t think anymore and just scoop him up in my arms and carry him to the passenger’s seat of the truck. He must’ve hurt somewhere by the audible gasp that comes out his lips and I panic even more.
I help him buckle up his seatbelt before rounding the car to sit behind the wheel. Hurry up! I have to hurry up! Just as I’m about to U-turn towards the nearest hospital, he suddenly grabs for the steering wheel and I howl my surprise.
“What are you doing? That’s dangerous!” I tell him in mild panic while righting the wheels.
“Just drive straight home. I don’t wanna go to the hospital.”
“Well, where’s your home?”
“I mean drive me to your home. I don’t want to return to mine.”
“Wha… Huh?” I glance at him with a frown but when he doesn’t answer, I look at him again. “Did you run away from home?”
At his age? I want to add. Maybe he’s gone senile? Should I report him for the missing person?
“Yes,” he releases the steering wheel and relaxes on the seat while looking outside the window. “You side-swept me on the streets so as compensation, adopt me for the time being.”
“I don’t think that’s possible.”
Right then my phone rings.