Standing in line at the Louisiana cafeteria two children provide a distraction for the author waiting in the queue
I was standing in line, queuing up for lunch in the Louisiana cafeteria. It’s not self-service but you queue up to a counter with glass display cabinets. When you reach the head of the queue you get a tray and the cashier serves you with your choice from the cabinet. Your choice of sandwich, pie, biscuit, desert. You can also pay for the lunch buffet, in which case you get a plate for the food and a bowl for the soup. Anyway I was in line and the queue was moving very slowly.
Ahead of me was an older woman – in her late fifties I suppose – and two kids. I took them to be her grandchildren. They were about 10 years old. Physically they looked about the same age to me, though it was obvious from his behaviour that the boy was the younger. He was sticking close to grandma and pressing up against her, and pointing and asking for things.
Meanwhile the little girl stood on the other side of him. She also pointed and asked, but her body language told me she was more independent. Still, she did try sometimes to get closer to her grandmother, but then her brother got in the way. This was clearly deliberate. The little girl didn’t seem to be upset though. A tolerant young woman.
The noise level in the cafeteria was quite high so I couldn’t hear what they were saying. I couldn’t even be sure what language they were using, though I suppose they were Danes. After a little while the grandmother received a tray with four plates of the Louisiana cafeteria’s delicious strawberry tart. She added spoons and cake-forks and paper napkins. Then she handed the loaded tray to the little girl, trusting her to carry it safely to the family’s table. The girl took the tray and carried it slowly and with great care, walking past me and heading for the doorway to the next room. There was a look of intense concentration on her face.
I’ve said the cafeteria was noisy – it was also crowded and busy with people. Just before the girl got to the door a woman stepped in front of her. The woman stood, blocking the doorway, looking out into the other room. This wasn’t deliberate. I’m sure she just didn’t see the little girl. But she never looked around to see if she was in anyone’s way. She was looking for someone she’d lost, out there in the other room and she had no eyes for anyone else.
Even if she had looked around though, she was a good bit taller than the girl. I am not sure she’d have seen her. Her gaze would have slipped over the top of the little girl’s head.
The little girl didn’t really know what to do. There was a way around, but it was perilously close to the woman. What if she turned as abruptly as she had stepped in the way. If she caught the girl’s tray with her shoulder bag or banged the girl with her hip, the tray and all the desserts would go flying. The girl stepped back, stepped forward, stood still and looked up at the woman’s tall back in front of her. I saw the tray tilt alarmingly down towards one corner, but the little girl noticed in time and changed her hold to keep it level.
The tension was palpable (to me anyway) and I felt I ought to come to the little girl’s aid. Call out to the woman perhaps and ask her to move. But then I had a mental image of her turning in alarm and cannoning into the girl and her tray. Fortunately the woman suddenly caught sight of the person she was looking for, raised a hand and stepped through the doorway. The little girl looked very relieved and carried on her careful way through the door herself.
Back at the head of the queue grandmother and grandson were still in debate. It seemed that the little boy also wanted to carry something, but grandma wasn’t keen to let him. He begged and eventually she gave him an opened bottle of pop and a glass to carry. He did this, but it looked as though he was struggling all the time with a temptation to do something with the bottle. I don’t know what – drink out of it perhaps, pour it into the glass, hold it up to the light and look through it. He actually did that last.
Then the little girl reappeared, sans tray, and the boy suddenly found it necessary to defend his position at grandma’s side. The little girl pretended to be a savage dinosaur – claws and snarling jaws – and the boy pushed back at her with his bottle and glass. One step forward against her, then one step back to grandma’s skirts.
This was awkward because the grandmother was now turning away from the counter carrying her own tray on which were four full cups of coffee. I think she told the little girl to take her brother’s bottle and glass, but he kicked up a fuss. Instead she told the children to go ahead of her, to lead her to their table. The girl pulled her brother along, pinching the arm of his shirt. He didn’t like that, and tried to twist out of her grasp, though he followed her anyway, still clutching his bottle and glass.
Grandma followed on behind, also carefully carrying her tray. She had an expression on her face not so very different from the little girl’s with the strawberry tarts.
I was watching them leave through the doorway when the man in the queue behind me asked something sharply in Danish. I realised everyone was now waiting for me.
Written for the #Blogg52 challenge.
I originally published this article on the separate Stops and Stories website. Transferred here with a little polishing for SEO and a new featured image 14 June 2017.