The other waitress ran over to me. “He’s back,” she whispered. “He can’t be coming back all the time. He came in the other night looking for you and I sent him away. He’s a wino, you know. He’s always like that.”
It was a busy night and really no where for him to sit. I went and told him he’d have to go.
“Please can’t I have this food?” he begged. “You’re just going to throw it away.”
He was right, the pile of rice and chips on the plate would be tossed. If it had been my restaurant, I’d probably cook him a meal. The waitress and other customers watched to see what I’d do.
“You can’t stay here,” I said softly. “You have to go.”
“Oh sure,” he pleaded. “I’m hungry. You’re just going to throw it away. Can’t I have some of those chips?”
There was a basket lined with a napkin that still held four slices of brown bread. I took that and emptied the plate of chips, the three-bite-size pieces of burger, cut earlier by parent for child, the butter and jam and wrapped them all in the napkins on the table.
“But I want to sit down and eat,” he challenged me, hoping for a place.
“What is your name?” I stopped clearing the table and looked him in the eye. He sat stunned. Suddenly he realized that his role as town drunk didn’t interest me. I wanted to know his name.
“They call me Pádraig,” he said.
“No, Pádraig, you can’t sit here today. We’re simply too busy. But it’s a lovely evening. You take this now and go outside and find a seat in the sunshine.”
He nodded and shuffled out, both hands clasping his supper, his Eucharist.
You handled him very well,” the man smoking the cigar said. “It might have gotten quite difficult.”
“Oh,” I said, taking a small step back from the smoke curling in front of my face. “It’s difficult to know just what to do.”
“Yes, but you can’t have him coming back all the time,” his wife said, her blonde hair perfectly coifed, gelled, and sprayed.
“Well, why not?” I asked. “What harm does he do?” At least he’s not killing me with second-hand cigar smoke like your bald husband here, I thought, but didn’t dare say.
She smiled, a bit nervously, and repeated her husband’s compliment, “Well, you handled him quite well.”
“Thank you,” I said, half-heartedly, more concerned with how I’d handled myself. Had I been generous enough? Kind and at the same time clear enough? Was I fair? Was I compassionate?
When the cigar was finally snubbed into the ashtray and their bill paid, the couple said their goodbyes and left a large tip.
While living in Ireland in 1998, Catherine was surprised to find herself one summer working as a waitress in a little café in the popular destination town of Kinvara. Nestled in a crook of Galway Bay in the West of Ireland, Kinvara is a place of megalithic tombs, holy wells, a 14th century castle, ancient cairns, Irish music, and weekly set-dancing. Out of her experience, Catherine wrote the book “God is in Rosaleen’s Restaurant.”
This week and last, posts featured short excerpts about her struggle with serving a penniless man.