Chapter 1: Restroom Coffee
Have you ever puked your guts out in a public restroom? In a bathroom stall at the mall, where everyone who enters the toilet can hear you? You'll hear them walk in, sometimes you will even see their feet, and then you'll hear how they they stop when they hear that you're vomiting. They will stand still for a moment – probably to make sure that they really heard someone throw up – before they walk out again. Presumably to go to another restroom. If this person is a nice woman, she might knock on the door and ask if you're fine. You will say that you are, and they will walk away again. They will leave on the other side of the door, kneeling on the cold tile floor with spew and salvia around your mouth; your stomach content floating in the toilet. They will leave you with an awful headache, a sore throat and a horrible taste in your mouth.
I bet you've only been there when you were drunk or suffering from a migraine. And I know that you find it quite embarrassing.
The smell is terrible. If I were to describe it more in-depth, I would say that it smells like something, presumably a rat, has died in the deep down in the sewer and that you can smell the stench from the remains all the way here through the pipes and the toilet. To be honest, I don't really know why my nose hasn't gone immune against this smell. But my body likes to play pranks on me, so maybe I shouldn't be so surprised. I stare into the bowl as I try to stretch out my fingers which have been gripping at the edges so hard that they actually hurt. In the toilet floats something that looks like it once could have been vegetables and some bread and I wrinkle my nose at the fact that this has been inside of me; I've actually eaten this. That's even more disgusting.
I take my eyes of my former stomach content and get up on my feet a little too quickly. The world starts to spin and I have to lean against the locked door for a moment to make the black dots disappear. I close my eyes and exhale my breath as slowly as I can through my slightly parted lips. My breath touches my tongue and reminds me off the awful taste I've got in my mouth. If you can determine that your breath smells awful just by tasting it, I think it's actually really, really bad. And apparently my breath is that bad, because the taste almost makes me puke again. I swallow to get the something else to think about and then I brush some dust off my black jeans. My knees are incredibly sore after kneeling on the cold floor for so long and my stomach hurts because of the force I used to make it give away every bit of food I've given to it today. It's not much; that's why I've been in here for way longer than I usually need to. Mostly, I can empty my stomach content in the toilet in just a couple of minutes, but when it has been more than three hours since I last ate, it becomes more difficult. The main reason there is a delay, is because the bile makes my throat go so sore that I can't go on for as long as like.
But you should know that I don't do this because I want to get thin or anything like that. It's just that can't eat anymore and it's not because I think I'm fat – I know I'm not – it's just that… I can't. I can't keep my food. Not when the process of getting rid of it makes the numbness go away for a while.
I adjust my jeans and straighten myself before I unlock the stall and step out in the harsh fluorescent light. During my little session only two people came in. The first was presumably a man in his mid-forties with laced shoes and black dress pants. He was either talking to himself or in his cell phone and he didn't go in to a stall – at least I did see his feet steeping into one. From what I could see, he just stood by the mirrors and talked for at least five minutes with whoever he was talking to. He had this muttering voice and because I was throwing up my guts at the same time, I couldn't really hear what he was talking about. Not that it matters. I just hope he was talking to someone else. The second person who walked in was probably a teenager in my own age, considering his worn-out sneakers and lean calves. He did actually knock on the door and asked me if I was okay. Just like I always do, I told him I was fine, so he just left. His friends were probably waiting outside so he didn't have the time to care about me. I'm just glad he left as soon as he did. Even though I don't mind throwing up in public restrooms, I still think it's a little awkward when people stay to listen to it.
I check that every stall's empty before I walk over to the mirrors – very careful not to look at myself – and pull out the mouthwash of my old, brown-leather book bag. I don't leave the house without it. I can't know when I'll be forced to eat something, and when I eat, the urge to throw up will strike. So I always carry it with me. Because in the outer pockets lies the mouthwash and a pack of really intensive peppermint gums. I don't want my breath to smell like a garbage dump when I go back to work. Speaking of which; my breaks over in about two minutes. Shit.
I rinse out my disgusting mouth with the mouthwash, take two gums, grab my bag, slam the door open and then I make a run for it. I used to be on the track team before I began with this shit, and I can still pull off a good run when I feel like it. I squeeze myself through a crowd of people and head for the escalators. There's a staircase between them and everyone knows that when you're in a hurry: take the stairs. I'm not one to differ.
I work as a waiter at this little cozy coffee shop on the top floor. It's an alright job: the pay's average, my boss's okay and the customers are usually nice. Nothing to complain about and I'm not. I wouldn't want to work anywhere else. The owner is a childhood friend of my Mom's and about four months ago, they needed more people. So when Mom brought it up at dinner, I took the job without hesitation. I would have jumped from the bridge if that would've made my parents stop nagging and worrying so much about me. They went on day and night about how I just went home after school and then slept until dinner, how I wasn't hanging out with my friends anymore and how I never took anyone but Anna home. I think they thought I was bullied. Well, I'm not, never was.
I'm just so exhausted and tired all the time. And for some reason, sleeping isn't helping.
A miracle occurs, because somehow I manage to get back to the shop on time. Lucy – my boss – just raises her eyebrows when my breathless form shows up behind the counter again. I put on a smile like a good boy while I put on the black apron around my hips. I've never been late before, so I don't think she'll fire me. Plus, I know that she likes me. I do my job, and I don't ever complain. Lucy has had too many teenagers, that turned out to be douchebags, working here during the years, and she even told me that I am a keeper. So I'm not really that worried that she'll fire me unless she needs to cut down on the employees. And for the next hour I run back and forth between the tables; most of the time with a either a plate or a cup of coffee in my hands. But after approximately one and a half hour, the constant stream of customers finally slows down, and I can get some time off to sit down behind the disk and rest my aching feet and pounding head. The last half hour before we start to close up is usually a quiet one. I rest my head on my arms while staring at some commercial on the TV-screen on the opposite wall. The woman smiles at me before she puts her arms around the neck of some faceless, but really muscular man while she tells me how good the soda/energy drink/ whatever she holds in her hand is. To be honest, I'm too fucking tired to give a shit.
"Oh, you're still here! Hello, stranger!"
I look up from my arms and ruffle my hair a bit when I hear that familiar voice. I feel that I probably have a big, red mark on my right cheek, caused by my knitted sweater, but I know that Anna won't notice, even if I were to rub it in her face. She would've been your average girl next door if she gave a damn about her looks. But she doesn't. We both know that she looks fabulous enough, without all the make-up and fancy clothes. Anna's just like that. She looks drop dead gorgeous just walking towards me in her patched jeans, t-shirt and slightly greasy hair in a ponytail. If you like natural beauties, Anna's a real catch with that body and those eyes of hers.
I'm not jealous of her or anything, but I always look like shit, no matter how hard I try.
"So, when do you get off?" she asks as she plops down on the opposite side of the disk; her head obscuring the commercial I was not-watching. Anna works at the gift shop on the first floor and she unofficially gets off whenever she wants. She works her hours of course, but she doesn't have a schedule like I do. They call her when they need her and she takes her breaks when she feels that she needs one. And although this is her first job ever and it is supposed to teach her what being an adult is about, I don't think that Anna could have gotten a job that fits any better with her personality and new-age attitude. I told you before that my work's fine, but of course I would also like to get off whenever I want too. But that would probably just make me even lazier than I already am.
I yawn and clap a hand over my mouth before I answer. It isn't appropriate to yawn in public. Not that I think that vomiting is either. "In about half an hour, I think"
"Good." She re-arranges her ponytail and nods approvingly as her hands move around. "I'll give you a ride home then. And can I have a cappuccino, please?"
"Coming right up."
She's never been talkative, so I after I put the cappuccino in front of her, I don't expect her to say start up a conversation. Between Anna and me, that's my doing. I talk and she listens. And that is really nice, because the girls in our class are as chatty as hell; no one taught them the beauty of silence. I'm quite sure that Anna learned the "sit down, shut up"- guidepost from her father. He has been in the army, but nowadays he is even more laconic than his daughter; he doesn't say anything if he doesn't have to. I like that. I've heard that the words one say are just a very, very small part of the communication between two individuals. What really matters is the body-language and the tone of one's voice. Sometimes I think it's for the best to remain silent.
I return to my previous position (with my head resting on my arms) and scan the shop only to realize that it's practically empty. Well almost empty, the only exception being the two college students in the sofa. They've been here since I got back from my little session at the restroom and the girl still looks so happy whenever she whispers something in her boyfriend's ear and then giggles when he kisses her on the forehead. I know that Anna follows my gaze and I can see that she crooks an eyebrow when she sees what I'm staring at. But she doesn't say anything; just takes another sip of her coffee. I tear my eyes from the couple and look her dead in the eye. They are this pale blue that some people like to call ice blue.
I put a lock of her hair behind her ear. "I'm doing fine."
She snorts. "You can say whatever you want, Simone. I won't believe you."
"Well, then I don't know what to say" I say as I take a sip of the coffee she just bought. It tastes delicious and suddenly I'm proud to be working here. Lucy's coffee really is the best.
"You could just shut up. It sounds like a really good idea to me" she retorts with a smile and I have to resist the childish urge to stick out my tongue at her.
Eventually the couple in the sofa leaves and I can start to mop the floor and set up the chairs while Lucy puts the last of the day's dishes in the freshly installed dishwasher. Because we swab the floor regularly during the days, it's easily done and I'm done in just a couple of minutes. Anna has been leaning against the doorframe and watching people while I was slaving in there. So she doesn't notice that I'm done until I put a hand on her shoulder to say that I'm ready to go. When I'm done laughing about her surprised reaction, she grabs hold of my hand to drag me out of the mall. I get to say a quick good night to Lucy – who's still waiting for the dishwasher to be done – and then we head out to the parking lot to find Anna's car.
Since the mall is sharing the parking lot with an office across the street, it takes us longer than it should have to find her little, red car. And once in the car's passenger seat, I lean my head against the headrest and let out a deep sigh. My headache is back with full force and I try to convince myself that it isn't long before I can finally go to bed and sleep. I've been tired since lunch, but I need the money more than I need to sleep, so I didn't even consider skipping out on work today. And tomorrow is my day off too. I watch lazily as Anna puts the key in the ignition switch and the small car starts with a silent growl and she drives out of the parking lot. It's really dark outside and I'm thankful for the ride. During the summer, I usually walk the three miles home, but from now on I realize I will have to rely on Anna and her small, cigarette-smelling car. It's already the end of September so it is getting quite cold outside during the nights. This morning I even saw traces some frost on the window sill outside the kitchen window. I close my eyes as I know that Anna almost never talks when she drives – she just got her license, so it is understandable – and listen to some song from the soundtrack from "Moulin Rouge", Anna's favorite movie of all times. I made this CD to her last year, so I'm quite familiar with the order of the songs. After this song there will be some 70's punk and 80's rap. My friend has a very weird taste in music. Not that I complain; old school is good, but I prefer my lower mainland bands.
The ride home takes about fifteen minutes because Anna won't push the speed limits, but with Grandmaster Flash, Iggy Pop, and Elton John it feels like nothing at all. She pulls over just outside my house and I yawn and stretch like a sleepy cat in my seat while trying to summon enough mental strength to get out of the warm, cozy car. It's windy as hell outside and it began to rain when we drove over the bridge. When I don't move, she turns the music off and then starts to poke at my protruding ribs trough my knitted sweater.
"You are getting thin. If you do drugs, I also want to try it."
I open my eyes and stare at her before I snort and burst into laughter. She has this really fake serious face on and it looks a lot like a bad imitation of my own worried mother. Anna is really good at taking the seriousness out of situations like this. I don't know if it's good or bad, but I am grateful for it.
"Anna, I don't do drugs, I swear" I manage to say through my laughter. "And even if I did, I wouldn't do it without you."
She smiles at me, but I don't fail to see that she is a bit worried. "You wouldn't dare to. See you tomorrow!"
I slam the door shut and stand on the pavement as I watch the taillights of her car turn around the corner and disappear. A light drizzle fall over me and I stick my hands in my pockets as I fill my lungs with the crystal clear air. My breath comes out as smoke. The headache subsides slightly and even though I know that I'll catch a cold if I stand here for too long, I just want to stand here for a moment, enjoying the silence. Eventually I begin to get cold – my fingertips are white when I look down at them – so I head inside. Mom asks me if I want something to eat, but I lie and tell her that I already had something back at the mall. Since I just pass her on my way up to my room, she doesn't get to see my face and that's good.
It's always so hard to keep a straight face around Mom.