I saw him when I got to Chattanooga. He was an old man, in the restaurant, seated in the booth directly across from mine. He was just sitting there, drinking coffee. His clothes were crumpled. He was unshaven. He wore a ratty cap.
When I am an old man, I will wear a ratty cap.
The waitress stopped by and asked if he needed anything. He said no, he was waiting for his daughter to arrive. But she was running a little late, he explained.
“You want some more coffee?” the waitress asked.
“Yes, please, darling.”
When I am an old man, I will call waitresses “darling.”
The waitress topped off his cup and scooted into the booth beside him. “I’m sure there’s a perfectly reasonable explanaion why she’s running so late.”
“Like maybe she’s stuck in traffic?” he said.
“Or maybe she’s in trouble. Maybe she’s had an accident.”
“I hope that’s not the case,” said the waitress.
The old man reached into his pocket and retrieved his phone. He was checking for any missed text messages. There were none.
The waitress just smiled at him. “She’s just running late, that’s all. Lots of people run late.”
The old man smiled weakly. “We agreed on a time and a place for lunch. She said she’d be here. She always forgets me. Crime in Italy.”
When I am an old man, I will say crime in Italy.
“Just give her a few more minutes,” the waitress said. “Your daughter would not forget you.”
My lunch break ended. An hour passed. I was watching the old man as he played Wordle on his phone. Hell hath no greater torture than Wordle.
And when I was finished, paying our server, I could see the old man was still seated at the table. Waiting.
The waitress came by his table again.
“Are you sure you don’t want to order lunch while you wait on your daughter?”
He was visibly disappointed. He pushed his empty coffee away. He paid his bill in cash.
The old man began to leave the restaurant. When he got to the curb, something happened.
There was a young woman stepping out of the passenger side of a tow truck. She rushed to the old man’s arms and they fell together. He kissed her hair. She kissed his cheek.
“Thank God,” the waitress said as she watched through the window.
I couldn’t have said it any better.