The cafe is small, a 'front for a catering service that happens to have a lot of extra inventory. It pretty much feeds everyone in the building that can't drive away at noon, and typically only one person mans it. You end up developing a rapport with whomever you see most.
But across the counter today was a guy I'd never met before. He was maybe 25-27 years old, lanky and awkward given his height, with a trendy haircut.
"You're new," I said.
"I am." We introduced ourselves and shook hands. Witty banter was exchanged, approving once-overs conducted. We were clearly in the same league of Millennial Cool.
"So what would you like?" he said.
Before I could respond, a woman started banging on the employees-only door.
The boy was distracted. He turned toward her and shook his head no. She said something inaudible and he kept shaking his head.
I reached over to open the door.
"Don't," he said quickly. "She'll manage. She's very resourceful."
An awkward silence passed as the woman glared through the glass, turned and left.
"I'll have the chicken Caesar salad," I said.
"Coming right up!" He was bright and witty again. "You want your chicken hot or...?"
"Hi-iiiii." The greeting came from behind me and I turned to face the same lady who'd been banging on the door just seconds ago. With her matronly navy cardigan and khaki pants, she seemed comfortable with her surroundings, even as the guy behind the counter devolved into a jittery goo-pile.
"What do you want," he said flatly.
"Oh, I haven't decided," she drawled. "I'm not in a hurry, you take your time with her." She smiled significantly at me as the boy, clearly agitated, began chopping my chicken to ribbons.
"You know, he's a great cook," she said suddenly to me.
"Is he?" He can 'great cook' me into a salad, goddamnit, I thought, eyeing homeboy's cutting board hijinks.
"Oh yes. He makes the most amazing Thai-Rastafarian pasta at home."
"Rastafarian pasta. It's this thing, you know, with vegetables. He's mine. I'm his mother."
"Ah!" I grinned. "Do you work in the building? Or are you just here to be supportive?"
"I buy lunch wherever he works," she confided, "but it's not about support. I come to see about the people." Her son wandered away to grill the chicken. He suddenly seemed sullen and lethargic. His mother leaned in toward me. "Between us, I think he needs me around."
"A mother keeps a boy on his toes," I joked.
Awkward pause. Then:
"You know," she said, "a working woman needs a cook at home."
"I'll keep that in mind." The salad arrived. "It was very nice meeting you." I reached forward to shake her hand.
"No need to do that, honey," she said, waving me off. "We'll see you around?"
She smiled winningly. The Prize Boy looked away sharply, Napoleon Dynamite-style. And I ran upstairs to relay the awkward goings-on in the cafe to the rest of the world.