Jessica was walking down the sidewalk that afternoon. As she passes people on the sidewalk, they nod and smile at her. The people were not rushing around, but enjoying the time they were spending out and about. Strangers not living in their own bubbles, but interacting, allowing spontaneous conversations to pull them to the side and distract them from whatever brought them to take this early afternoon stroll through town.
This friendly atmosphere made Jessica strangely uncomfortable. She avoided people’s eyes as they tried to say hello. In the city where she grew up, her behavior was the normal one; no-one would engage an absolute stranger on the streets. It was the people who looked around, and made eye contact that people would avoid. Sometimes going so far as to step off the sidewalk into the street. But now her insular demeanor was causing people to turn and stare at her as she rushed to the diner where she was meeting friends.
When she arrived she found a bustling hub of activity as people were being flagged down by old friends, and making new ones over the backs of the booths lining the walls. Jessica walked through the diner looking for friends when she realized that she could not remember who she was meeting. She kept her eye out for familiar faces, but strangers waving her to sit with them made her nervous. She slid deeper into the turtleneck sweater she was wearing. In the far corner Jessica found an empty booth and slid in as far as she could to avoid the gazes of the other patrons. She determined that if whoever she was supposed to meet did not find her soon, she would leave. Whenever she found out who it was she would just apologize and say that she overslept. It was a plausible excuse given her lifestyle. Then Jessica realized something odd – she did not feel tired at all. Without trying to understand why she was not exhausted, she did a celebratory dance that attracted the attention of the onlookers again. Before she caught her mistake Jessica was surrounded by the curious patrons of this curious diner in this curious town.
“Are you alright?”
“I am glad to see that you are happy, I was a little worried when you walked in hiding in your shirt like that.”
“What brings you around here, stranger?”
“Why were you hiding earlier?”
“What’s so exciting to bring you out of your shell?”
Jessica just wanted to climb the wall to escape this onslaught of strangers who thought that this intrusion was socially acceptable. Jessica was not normally a shy person, but she had never been put on the spot like this. These people were completely oblivious that they were the reason she had been hiding, and that she would rather stay anonymous to this bunch of busybodies. But she was far too polite to point this out, and just sat frozen in the corner, dumbfounded for what seemed like eternity before she finally found her voice.
“Pardon me, can I have a little space please?”
As one entity the crowd shifted back a little, allowing Jessica to sit upright and arrange herself a bit. She thought for a minute more about how she was to explain her apparently strange conduct to these people without speaking too much.
“I came to meet some friends here for lunch.”
The crowd erupted in various cries of “Hey that’s why I’m here!”, “Me too!”, “What a coincidence!”, “Why else would you come here?”, and “Well today is your lucky day.”
Jessica paused for moment, baffled. When the crowd calmed down she was able to understand the miscommunication.
“Um, sorry. Not meet new people, but meet up with some old buddies,”
The crowd spent a few moments looking at one another baffled by this interesting grammatical distinction between two concepts they largely regarded as the same thing. A few voices were heard explaining the distinction to those who were slower to understand. Once the word had spread the crowd collectively seemed to sigh and take a dejected step back into the dining room before returning to their tables. But one gentleman stayed motionless. He had not spoken a word since he sat down, which was a bit odd since he was sitting on the bench right next to Jessica. He observed her closely, but did not seem to stare.
Jessica had not really noticed the man before, but he was now the only one left. Since his silent observations of her were beginning to make her uneasy, he was suddenly the only thing she noticed. How she could get this seemingly clueless man to leave her alone became her all-consuming thought, when he suddenly broke the silence.
“So what are you going to eat?”
“Umm, I don’t know. I haven’t exactly had time to look at a menu.”
The man chuckled a little, “How quaint, a menu.” He stopped laughing, looked at Jessica with a deadpan expression and repeated, “What do you want to eat?”
Jessica was puzzled why the server would be sitting at the table in this unprecedented manner. She decided he would be receiving no tip from her.
Noticing that she seemed uncomfortable, the man calmly extended his hand, “I think we got off on the wrong foot. My name is Rodney.”
Jessica hesitated a bit before extending her hand in return, “Jessica.”
“It is very nice to meet you, Jessica. I hope that we can become old friends.”
Jessica couldn’t help but smile a bit at Rodney’s reference. His calm manner allowed her to relax somewhat. As her head stopped spinning, Jessica realized that her stomach was grumbling loudly, quite enough for Rodney to hear.
“I guess I could go for a nice burger.”
“Well here,” Rodney swiped his finger along the table and a fully animated build-it-yourself burger was displayed directly on the table. “Just slide over what you want on it, if you don’t see it, just say it.”
Jessica began assembling her animated lunch, hoping that she would be eating real food. She finished up and pressed the “YUMMY!” button at the bottom. Rodney got up, and quickly returned with a plate. Jessica was a bit disappointed and rather confused when it was his half eaten steak instead of her perfect burger.
“I haven’t seen any servers in this place, who works here?”
“No-one works here, it’s a diner.” replied Rodney like it was the most obvious thing in the universe. He paused for a moment thinking before he asked, “So where did you say you came from?”
“I didn’t.” Jessica thought she would stop at that, but her mouth continued before she knew it. “I grew up in New York City, but now I live in a small town in Missouri.”
Jessica woke with a start, absolutely sure that this man now had enough information to find her house, social security number, credit card information and anything else about her. Once she had reassured her tired achy body and mind that it was a dream she slid out of bed and turned on the radio to keep her company while she took her time getting ready for work.