We were sitting in the lunch spot down the road from the office. It was the “special” place when we had a bit more time in our day – enough to sit down at a table instead of ordering to-go in the smaller cafe down the road. We’d go to get table service and a hot plate of pasta instead of a little plastic container that had been sitting on the counter for an hour or two. I’d never go alone, even though others from our office did. It was at the point where they’d recognize me and wave, but none ever asked me to go to lunch. I was shuttered off in the “English speaking” office. At least that’s what I felt anyway. She always walked in without barely saying a word to the staff and plop herself at the table of her choosing. I would try and make eye contact with the girl behind the counter as this routine happened, giving her a small smile and a “ciao” and motioning to ask if the table was ok. Sometimes they’d ask us to move to make it easier on the waiters (or waiter – when there was only one for the entire restaurant). Every time it happened, there’d be a huff of annoyance from beside me.
I sat there with her and shared daily thoughts, and I’d think it was how it should be – working together but trusting each other. She’d ask our big office of three for our opinions all the time and maybe share too much. I didn’t feel like I was an “assistant” and if I put my job description down on paper, I was certainly doing more leading than assisting – at least as much as she’d allow.
The tables were crowded in the little hallway of a restaurant. Layed out like many in the old Florence piazzas, the place is only wide enough for one or two small tables crammed onto the left in front of the counter, then a narrow hallway that leads to the more open back room. They had just recently renovated and made it “modern” which mean basic neutral colors and Ikea-like furniture. Nothing on the walls and no windows, so it’d echo almost annoyingly from the big tables of office staff eating together. I’d watch them from our little table as they laughed and joked with each other, wishing I could be a part of something like that. Instead, I’d sit speak in English with this woman, ostracizing myself just by listening to her complain about her divorce and how Italians are so rude.
That one day, I agreed to the coffee always offered at the end of the meal. A few more minutes out of the office. A few more moments of pause before heading back into the thick of things. She ordered one too, and the one waiter, the boy that always smiled, always hustled, always apologized when the kitchen was backed up, brought them over in their saucers, never spilling a drop. He’d remember that I liked raw sugar instead of white.
She slid her chair back and got up from the table, taking out her wallet and turning toward the counter to go pay. I stood and grabbed the two coffee cups and saucers, the empty sugar packets, our napkins. The boy was busy in the back room. The girl behind the counter was ringing other customers.
“What are you doing??” She asked over her shoulder and then turned back around toward me, the right side of her face twisted in annoyance.
“I’m just bringing these to the counter?” I replied, holding the saucers, not sure what I was doing wrong.
“Put them down. That isn’t your job.” She scoffed and walked over to the girl behind the counter where the coffee machine was located. Where we had to walk to pay our bill. Where the boy would have to bring the cups and the saucers anyway.
I didn’t move. She insisted. “Just leave them.”
I carried the empty cups to the counter.