With a bedroll on his back, Traveler entered the fast food restaurant from another door, arriving at the counter just ahead of me.
He was wearing a quilted khaki-colored vest over a threadbare, red and brown flannel shirt. His blue jeans were brand new. In fact, the tape showing the size still ran down the leg. Above one beige hiking boot, his pants were cuffed. On the other side, the length had fallen down so that, with each step, the heel of his boot ground the denim against the floor. On the back of his hand was the tattoo of an open eye.
A young man stepped up to the counter with a smile. His dark brown hair was curly on top, short on the sides. Just below the collar of his navy blue crew shirt was a gold, rectangular name tag with BRIAN posted in bold, black letters. “How may I help you tonight, sir?”
Traveler glanced at me and winked a twinkling pale blue eye. He rubbed the stubble on his face, turned to the restaurant employee, leaned over the counter, and whispered something.
“I’m sorry,” the young man said. “I didn’t catch that.”
Smoothing his greying, blonde hair, the man bent closer to Brian. “Do you–mumble, mumble, mumble, whisper, whisper–coffee?”
“I’m sorry,” Brian said. “Excuse me.” He stepped to the side and glanced down a hallway.
I imagine he was looking for someone else who was, perhaps, more experienced.
He returned alone. “Could you please repeat that one more time?” He pressed against the counter now, studying Traveler’s face.
Traveler turned, his eyes appealing to me for help. So, I listened again, straining to understand as he said, “Do-You-Have–mumble, mumble, mumble, whisper, whisper–Coffee?”
Brian glanced at me. I could tell he was hoping I had deciphered the question.
I glanced back, trying not to show my confusion.
Then, that young man did something I will never forget. He looked the older man and said, “No. I’m sorry sir, we don’t.”
Traveler shook his head and left. Although he didn’t receive what he had come in for, Brian had allowed him to leave with his dignity intact.
I got my ice cream cone and left.
The next day, I made sure the manager of the store knew how well Brian had handled the situation.