“Jim, how long do you plan on lying here feeling sorry for yourself?” Jim’s mother got up from the side of his bed and opened the curtains. She turned the television off and then tugged at the bottom of her jean jacket. “Iat’s been a week. I would think that you would be relieved, not having to go to that job.” Jim felt too weak to respond.
“Coffee Gail?” Shelly came in with two mugs and handed both of them to Jim’s mom. Gail nodded and smiled at Shelly. She wrapped her fingers around the mug handles, careful not to bump her large stone rings that lined some of her fingers.
Gail’s long cotton dress floated over to Jim’s beside. He sat up, rubbed his face and reached for the coffee. Shelly went back into the kitchen and then returned with a mug for herself. She leaned against Jim’s dresser. Shelly had been the one to call Gail to get Jim up. Gail told Shelly that when Jim was young, it wasn’t uncommon that Jim would become depressed and told her not to worry; he would come out of it.
“What am I going to do?” Jim whined. He would have to come clean about his debt. His mother would cover his bills. She made plenty of money but he would be responsible for paying her back. It made him queasy to think of the mess that he’d gotten himself into.
“No whining. Let’s just focus on today. Get dressed, I’m going to take both of you somewhere.”
“To ride the Ferris wheel?” Jim joked half-heartedly and his mom winked at him. It was a running joke since childhood. Jim knew where they were going. He wasn’t happy about it or sad about it; he really felt nothing.
Gail drove them closer to downtown but not far from Jim’s apartment. She pulled up and parked in front of an ornately decorated building. It used to be a popular ballroom that held grand memories from the past but now stood in slight decay. The buildings next to it were new with bright red brick. A few misfits hung out on the sidewalk, smoking cigarettes and laughing. Jim felt like he was coming home. It had been awhile since he had been there.
They all got out of the car and Gail waved to the people out front. It was a gray, bland day with a light wind. A guy in a business suit held the door so the three could enter. Huge lights on the expansive, painted ceiling warmed the noisy room with an amber glow. Jim instantly felt his energy shift. Long tables lined with folding chairs rested on the wooden parquet floor. Most of the chairs were occupied and a mix of people from business folks to the homeless sat eating lunch and conversing. A lady dressed in rugged jeans and an old, haggard sweater pushed a broom across the floor careful not to run over Jim. She smiled.
Jim’s heart melted . . . he realized that he had forgotten where he had come from. His mother had been dedicated to the eatery. Jim grabbed Shelly’s hand and squeezed it tightly.
“Hi Gail,” a lady in the kitchen came up and hugged Gail. “Here for lunch?” Jim didn’t recognize her.
“Yes, but we’d like to help, too.”
After introductions, the lady handed each of them plastic gloves and aprons and set them to work. Jim was humored as Shelly pushed her curls up into the plastic food service cap. He told her that she looked like Lucille Ball in the chocolate factory.
At the front of the serving line, near the trays, plates and utensils, was a box for donations. People would pay what they could and if they didn’t have anything, they helped out with various duties. No one left without having a good meal. Jim, Shelly and Gail dished out the food and made sandwiches that customers requested. The other workers were patient in helping them to learn the process. Everyone seemed happy and compassion was in the air. It was a unique group of people who had come together at different points in their lives and yet had a common bond, community. There were no borders.
Shelly teased Jim that it was the most fun that they’d had together. It was the first time that she caught a glimpse of the real Jim. He wasn’t trying to be something that he thought others expected. After they finished kitchen duties, they ate lunch together. When it was time to leave, he told the lady in charge that he would be back on a regular basis. Then they stepped out into the gray day. Jim felt relief; the wall around him had started to crumble.
“Gail, how you doin’? Come look what I got.” A tall congenial black man walked up to them outside on the sidewalk. He wore a big cowboy hat. “This right here!”
“Wow, Bo, nice!” Gail clapped her hands together and walked up to the white Bronco parked in front of her car.
“Now, this is the best part. Lookie here,” he pointed them in the direction of his license plate.
“NOT OJ,” Jim murmured and then chuckled. His mother shot him a sly look. Only then did he realize that he was able to read it. Bo laughed loudly and Jim just shook his head back and forth. It was unbelievable what could happen once the stress disappeared.
Jim was on the train, coming back home from an interview when he noticed a familiar face. The guy was hunched over, walking down the aisle pleading for money for food. His torn up shoes shuffled along the train floor. Everyone on the train ignored him, pretending that he didn’t exist. It was the homeless man who usually sat on the sidewalk near the train’s entrance by Jim’s house. He was the man who Shelly gave change to, much to Jim’s displeasure. Jim stood up as the man approached. The man noticed and was about to turn around, away from Jim. Jim stopped him.
“I know a place where you can get a hot meal for free,” Jim looked into the man’s eyes. “You hungry?”
“Yeah,” the man sighed.
“I’ll take you there,” Jim smiled at the man.