Plates rattled as they were stacked in the corner, piling up like the unbearable hours of my shifts, more and more every week. I tied the apron around my waist with a sigh, pulling my hair back into the same ponytail I’d had yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that. I stacked the plates and ignored the yelling, trying to block out the countless orders – the same cups of coffee with no milk, the same toasts with little butter and extra ham. Sneaking to the back of the restaurant, I pretended to be grabbing something I needed, reaching for the small jar buried at the bottom of my bag. I dropped in the morning’s modest collection of coins. The tinkle as they collided with the glass was music to my ears, the best sound I’d heard all day. I crossed my fingers for generosity, for a small pile of coins waiting on the receipt as I cleared the table. We’re getting there, I thought to myself, eyeing the bronze coins that had barely filled up a quarter of the jar. I watched them glimmer, knowing that it would happen someday. Dreams could come true.
“Nicole, get out here, you’ve got customers!” Deep breath, fake smile, knuckles holding onto the plastic pen and notebook so hard they turned a crimson colour – like the salami sandwiches, a popular favourite.
Golden coins caught my eye as I made my way to the table, longing for each one to be mine, for each one to double, to triple, to fill up ten of my humble glass jars. Table 35. Teenagers. No tendency to tip. Great. Glancing at his shirt, I noticed the flag drawn onto the back. Australia. The one place I’d always dreamed of going. I tried to avoid coughing, struggling for air, strangled by the sickly smell of cheap coffee mixed with the cigarette smoke drifting in from outside. I kept my coughing in, kept it all locked up inside, just like the emotions, the misery, the depression, the agony of spending each and every single day trapped in the same cafe, waiting on the same tables, in the same small town with the same provincial people. I longed to escape, to just pack up some things and leave for a while – clear my head. I longed to try something new, meet a new person, taste some new food. I longed to dance with the African tribes and to swim with sharks in Greece. I longed to explore the rainforests in South America and to gaze endlessly at mountains in Alaska. I longed to get in the car and just drive, throw the map away and follow the signs, choosing the best, most tempting town name and heading that way. I wished for a change, to wake up not knowing what will happen, not knowing where I’ll end up. I longed for a miracle to come along and fill up my glass jar until it overflowed with passion, with excitement, with adventure. But, instead, I drew in a deep breath and plastered the same superficial smile on my face, a painful pang striking at my aching heart.
“What can I get you?”