As I was finishing up, an old lady came up to me and asked me what it was I'd been eating. Thai chicken burrito, I said. Was it good? Yeah, I almost always order the same thing.
How did I get it? she asked.
How did I get it? This struck me as odd. She was only about 60 or 65, had all her teeth, didn't seem confused, and displayed perfectly good English skills with no noticeable accent. Furthermore, there was a glass of beer on her table, and she must have gotten it somehow. But I said that I stood in that line and told the girl what I wanted, and I paid for it, and then I waited for my number to be called. And she said "if I gave you the money, would you get me one?"
I figured she was panhandling, but then she pulled a wad of bills out of her coat pocket and peeled off a five... so I said to myself, what the hell, I don't have anyone waiting for me. So I asked her what kind she wanted, and I stood in the line and ordered it to go, and I gave her her change. She kept trying to offer me some money, but I said I didn't need it. She explained that she didn't know how to order because she never eats in restaurants -- too expensive.
While we were waiting for the order to come up we talked about retirement, and children and grandchildren, and what the weather was like in Alaska. She was from there, but hadn't been back in five years, since the last of her family there passed away. Her name was Agnes, and she was worried that her son might want to know where she was, but she'd left her cell phone at home. I told her I'd call him, what was his number? Five, she said, and then push Call. Or was it four? But she did eventually come up with a ten-digit number, and I dialed it, and the person who answered was indeed her son. I told him where we were. Did she need a ride? She said that she did, and he said he'd be right there.
We chatted a while longer, and then the order number was called, and I picked up her burrito and brought it to her table. Again she offered me money, and again I turned it down, and then I wished her good evening and left.
As I was walking out of the restaurant, a man pulled up in a white pickup and headed inside with a rapid and deliberate tread. On a hunch, I asked if he was picking up his mother. Yes, he was, and he thanked me for the call. Her daughter had recently died and she was having problems coping with it. Had she been drinking? I told him I'd seen her drink one beer. She didn't seem drunk.
The man thanked me again, and said that he was a Buddhist and that it had helped him through many problems in his life, including his mother's drinking. We talked for a bit about the Buddha and the cycle of suffering and rebirth, and he asked me to say nam myoho renge kyo, so I did. And I wished him good evening and went home.
I didn't feel too bad about missing out on Nuestra Cocina any more.