On a drive to work, I entered a drive-through coffee premises, turned a corner and pulled up next to a speaker box.
‘Welcome to ——-?’ said a voice.
‘A small cup of coffee please, and could you fill it up?’
‘Okay, drive up to the window.’
‘Okay, drive up to the window,’ is a command used by fast food stores to control the masses of customers they strip every day of their money in exchange for (sometimes) watered-down coffee and tons of sugar-impregnated, fat-loaded donuts.
When the car in front left, I drove up to the cashier. The window retracted, and two fingers and a thumb snatched my credit card. Half a minute or so later my card was returned, followed by my small cup of coffee, which I rested in the first coffee holder behind the gear lever.
I could have driven away from the store premises and made the right turn which joins the road that led to my medical practice, but instead, since I was feeling unsure, I parked in a strip of space facing the main entrance door of the store.
If there was a day someone felt unsure of what to do next, how to proceed with what my son calls ‘the repetitive robot’s way of life,’ this was the day. In this passive mode, in between sips of coffee, we can come up with excuses for our indecisive actions, ideas that do not survive beyond the dream stage.
‘Cold coffee!’ my brain screamed when my mouth made contact with the opening in the lid. Among all the things I hate, a cold cup of coffee is top of the list. I can reheat my coffee more than ten times before I finish a cup.
One problem is always a gateway for much more. Now it suddenly occurred to me that though I had been assured of a full cup of coffee, my coffee was not only cold but half empty as well.
Half a cup of cold coffee meant one thing. The attendant had fooled me. Clues of his hatred were everywhere.
All of a sudden I saw the dislike the attendant had for me in the tone of his voice, in the way he took my credit card and the way he handed me my coffee. No wonder he wore the constant grin of middle-aged men who are desperate to hide the wrinkles of their age.
I exited my car and went into the store. The attendant was serving a woman who, by the way she was dressed and her quickness of movement, suggested she just got out of the gym. So I loitered around the open front space, reading labels of decorated food poisoned with loads of sugar and rocks of salt.
It did not take much time before the woman who had just gotten out from the gym hurried away, permitting the attendant to acknowledge my presence.
‘How may I help you?’ the attendant asked.
‘This coffee is cold,’ I answered as I handed him back the cup of coffee. I did not mention the ‘half empty’ issue, because he would say that it was the store’s safety policy, or (even more annoying), that it was for my safety to prevent a spill.
He hesitated as he considered his options. He could warm up, discard, or replace the coffee.
My cup of coffee was now in his hand once more. He ducked it on the wooden flat top behind the computer screen, my visibility limited to various motions of his elbows.
All the while he tinkered with the cup of coffee his permanent grin did not tweak, but his eyes rolled sideways like someone who has more surprises for their enemies.
‘All set,’ he said handing back the coffee, his face a whiteboard of nostalgia and ridicule.
Delight and a sense of ancestral revenge filled my psyche as I walked back to my car.
‘Take a sip before you leave,’ a thought insisted.
My lips went out again. The contents were not only a snort warmer than the original cup but, also, tasted like a cup of boiled water.
Why would the attendant act in this manner? What would a reasonable customer have done? Be nicer? Walk away? Ignore the abuse?
What does our money buy us? What the buyer asks or what the seller has to offer?
It was one of those days when one meets just the perfect foe at a perfect time.
A part of me raged to go back and challenge the attendant. To let him know I knew what he did to the cup of coffee, and to watch him wriggle as he confessed the allegation.
Warriors hate men who never fought for anything in their lives, men who give up easily. There comes a time in a man’s life when he should stand tall for the things he believes in. Whether a cup of coffee rises to that level is hard to tell.
But again, retreat is not always an act of cowardice. Only people who stay alive live to fight another injustice and another betrayal. A man capable of diluting one’s coffee with water could quickly pull a surprise; whip up a pistol from one of the bottom lockers and fire indiscriminately. Or if he doesn’t harbor a weapon, he could speed-dial the police to report a nonexistent threat.
The first thing an officer – who, given the time of day, is likely to be a young officer – would see upon arrival is a black man confronting a white store attendant. Any officer would take sides and pronounce judgment based solely on color.
An adrenaline surge could erupt without notice, compelling the young officer to draw their gun, and one or two lives could be lost – all for $2.37, the cost of a cup of coffee.
Major disputes over similar miffs lead to a loss of lives every day. Money clashing with ego is a hard beast to contain. Where one issue stops and another problem begins is difficult to tell.
Had a moment of contemplation not intervened, my body would have remained in turmoil. But, under my feet, the ground looked so dry it could do with a cup of water.