A seventy-year-old-ish woman mumbled something as I walked towards to my favorite restaurant in Krakow, Poland.
I instinctively shook my head, “No.” No, I won’t give you money. No, I can’t understand you. No, I am not buying anything today.
But after I passed her, I turned back. Was she hungry?
I motioned for her to come with me into the restaurant and motioned that I would pay.
The woman was about five feet tall and wore two long sleeved shirts on this 80-degree day. Was she wearing all of her clothing? She looked me in the eye and said something.
I said that I could not understand her words, but that I would like to buy her lunch.
I pointed to the restaurant, then to my purse, then to myself and back to the restaurant.
She nodded slowly, as if she wasn’t sure she understood. She walked towards me.
I motioned for her to go in first.
She walked up to the counter.
I go to this cafeteria, regularly. For 22 Zloty or about $5.50 USD I can get four different foods. It’s an enormous plate of mostly vegetables. Filling. Healthy. Delicious. Affordable.
The woman stood in front of me in line. When it was her turn, she mumbled something.
The server looked at her, trying to catch the gist of what she was saying. When the server looked to me, I motioned that the woman was with me and held up four fingers, showing that I would pay for a full plate of food.
My guest pointed to foods rapidly. She didn’t appear to be a picky eater and didn’t complain when they cut her off at 4 things.
Trust me, it’s a lot of food.
Her smell reminded me of students who were neglected and hadn’t showered in – weeks. I wondered why she was so hungry. I had no idea if she was Polish or Ukrainian or from another country and it didn’t matter.
She waited patiently through the line and didn’t ask for dessert or fancy drinks, which is how the restaurant jacks up the prices.
My guest got to the table first and tried to take off the tablecloth, likely wanting to preserve it.
I put the tablecloth back and placed my food on it, setting the tray aside.
She copied my food placement.
We sat across from each other at the small, wooden table and began to eat.
I ate slowly. She added more food to her mouth before she finished chewing the last mouthful.
We might have pantomimed liking the broccoli salad or marveled that every bit of fruit in the fruit salad was perfectly ripe or wished for more roasted beet soup, but we didn’t. We ate quietly, in a comfortable silence, like friends who already knew each other’s secrets.
After a while, she copied my lead: I took a bite of food then put my fork down. She took a bite of food and then put her fork down.
My guest pulled a clean tissue out of her large, black purse that appeared to be otherwise empty and wiped her nose, then returned the tissue to her purse.
She didn’t rub her nose on her shirtsleeve. He had a tissue. She used it. She put it away. Yes, she had manners.
We sat in a comfortable silence as we finished our meals.
When we were both done eating, she motioned to her water bottle and her purse.
I had no problem at all with her taking her water with her. I nodded a resounding “Yes.”
She placed both hands on her heart and bowed her head.
I reciprocated the gesture.
When we got to the door my guest reached out and gave me a long hug. I’ve read about homeless people and how little touch they have in their lives.
I hugged her back, looked her in the eyes and told her that I wished her the very, very best.
A sob burst from her throat as tears streamed down her face. I wasn’t sure if she was responding to my looking her in the eyes or if she could tell what I was saying by the tone of my voice.
She turned and walked away.
Later I wondered if I should have invited her to lunch again tomorrow.
Too late. She was gone.
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