Diane Payne



She really isn’t that hungry, but she did splurge on a night at the hostel in downtown Seattle. She didn’t know she’d have to vacuum all those stairs, and there were three flights of them. "I can’t believe I had to pay seven bucks for that cot and now I have to vacuum," she says to a group of visitors as they head down the stairs.

"Americans are so spoiled," the German lady says to her friends. She looks at the American and kicks mud off her hiking boots.

"Now you’re acting spoiled," the boyfriend says, but he doesn’t want to upset her, so he gives her a quick kiss and waves to the American.

She’s been on the road for months and usually sleeps behind churches or in cemeteries. Seven bucks seemed like a lot of money for a room and she wants to balance things out.

Her money’s running out but she’s not ready to return home. She sees a restaurant she knows she can’t afford but enters anyhow. Her hair’s clean, but she should’ve rinsed out her tee shirt at the hostel.

The hostess asks if there will only be one. "As far as I know."

Drinking her water, she spends a long time looking at the menu and watching costumers.

She notices most people are leaving food on their plates, and walks over to a table and starts eating the leftovers. She imagines her friends have left her behind, but she’ll catch up with them later. Maybe they had an argument and she stayed behind to pout. Maybe she’s waiting for someone else. Eating from their plates, she’s anyone but herself. Even she would never eat off a stranger’s plate.

From table to table, she samples leftovers, but never takes the tip because that would be unethical.

"Mama, that girl is eating the leftovers."

"Shh, don’t point. Just eat."

"Can I give her my leftovers?"

Ignoring her daughter, she turns to her husband and says, "I hope Amelia doesn’t turn out like that."

She hears the mother and waves to the family.

"You happy now?" her husband asks.

The daughter waves, thinks of what foods to leave behind.

The waiter brings her a loaf of warm bread, hoping she’ll quit eating off the other plates. "I’m not quite ready to order." He refills her water and she remains seated at her booth, not that hungry any more.

One month ago, she never would’ve done this. Two weeks go she may have talked to someone about all the food wasted in restaurants after meeting so many homeless people. Tonight, she’s not eating the food as a political statement.

Or as a drunken dare. She’s just balancing things out.

The waiter surprises her with a plate of fresh pasta. Figures he’ll make more money feeding her and getting his table back. "People sure are friendly in Seattle," she says.

"We try to be."

"I just visited the San Juan Islands and the chick who gave me a lift said she was the Electric Kool-Aid writer’s former old lady."

"You must’ve been hitchhiking. Roz loads them all in her van and tells everyone that story. She’s been saying she was his old lady for years. Who wasn’t?"

"I tried the electric Kool-Aid but nothing happened. No visions. Nothing. Must be something with my high metabolism. Drugs just don’t work on me. Not like this pasta. Now this does the trick. I feel like a new woman now."

Relieved, the waiter tends to his other customers.

Copyright © 2003 Diane Payne.  All Rights Reserved.

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