First a little backstory:
The municipal government building in which I work is situated more or less on the fringe of ‘business downtown’ and starts the shift towards ‘sketchy downtown’ here in the city. We as employees don’t have any actual lunchrooms in the building (at least not that I’ve found on floors I have access to) other than a counter space for a person or two to sit in the floor kitchen. Happily on the main floor of the building there is a cafe that sort of doubles as a cafeteria with a number of tables as well as some couches. It’s open to (and frequented by) outside people as they often have a good lunch special and the food is decent if sometimes bland. Most days at lunch I take my lunch break in the cafe, almost always watching an hour’s worth of tv or 1/2 a movie on my laptop or sometimes reading a book. Usually I just eat my lunch from home but I often grab a bowl of soup or an order of fries.
Anyway… so today I’m sitting in one of the corners (wearing my parka but unzipped as the wind often sneaks in the door and chills the place down) my headphones on and my laptop open watching a show and occasionally texting. I eat my sandwich from home but leave the rest of my food upstairs as I’m working a bit late and want to fend off hunger eating my apple and almond tart later in the afternoon. As time winds on the place gradually empties out until it’s only about half full, the credits are about to start rolling on my show and I’m just thinking that I should get my butt back up to my desk. That’s when it happened.
I notice a woman across the room who has finished her lunch stand up and begin walking towards me. I figure she’s heading to pick up one of the freebie papers that are sitting a few booths down from me by the door but no, now she’s speaking to me but I can’t hear her over the soundtrack. I pull out my headphones and say: “Pardon me?”
“I said would you like a soda pop?”
I manage to stammer out some sort of puzzled reply along the lines of “I’m fine” as I have a closer look at her. She’s late middle aged/early senior citizen, wearing a faded pink sweatshirt and ugly denim skirt. Her eyes are somehow simultaneously caring and vacant and I quite honestly can’t begin to figure out where she’s coming from.
“Well, are you hungry? Do you need something to eat?” There’s a concerned inflection to her voice now and it begins to click that she thinks I’m homeless/needy. Now on occasion homeless people do come into the cafe, we’re not far from a few of the bigger shelters and someone once told me the cafe owner donates a fair bit of leftover food to one of them. I’m fairly sure he also gives them a fair bit for their money when they do come in and want to pay for a meal. The thing I can’t figure out is why on earth she would think I’m homeless. I realize now that she’d come in after I finished my sandwich and therefore hadn’t seen me eating but I’m pretty clearly a staff member here. About the only visible reason might be that I forgot to shave… yet
- I look well fed (well let’s be honest, overfed)
- Other than being unshaven I’m reasonably well groomed
- I’m using a laptop/headphones and texting on a fairly new phone.
- I’m wearing a spotless fairly expensive looking jacket over what’s clearly a pressed dress shirt .
Obviously none of these things preclude me being homeless, but I think all of them together don’t really paint a picture of someone who needs her to come over.
Slowly starting to realize where she’s coming from I say: “No thank you, I’m good” But she leans closer and insists “No, you look like you wanted someone to come over and buy you some food.”
I thank her as politely as I can, tell her I already ate my sandwich and she finally accepts it and walks away saying “You know sometimes people just sit here hoping that someone will get them some food. (I eat lunch in here every day ma’am, I’ve never seen that.) Eventually I start packing up to leave at which point she finally gives up and goes to police her tray as I scurry back out to catch my elevator.
The damn thing was… the moment I went upstairs… I DID want a soda pop.