You know what finally brought me to tears?
My fried chicken lady down the street always greets me with a smile. Her, all pink-checkered apron and teeth is the best part of my street.
We meet. I practice my Thai, she practices her English. We do this dance so gracefully, so perfectly, so pretty.
I reach for the hottest piece, the one still sizzling with steam. She takes, asks if I want it chopped (I always want it chopped).
She takes the sharp, mountain cleaver and brings it down three times. Hard. I don’t flinch. Not once.
“เอาคะ” or a nod (depending on how self-conscious I am about my Thai that day).
She wraps the chicken and the sticky rice neatly, hands it over like a gift, with extra packets of sauces (she knows how much I like the sauce).
I pay. At discount.
Maybe she’ll sneak in a few free pieces like she sometimes does.
We talk some more and in minutes I leave because I’m usually tired, or in a rush, or ravenous.
if I were there right now–ordering, taking the bag with one hand and handing money with the other, I’d linger a little longer than usual.
I’d stay long enough to watch the line fill and digest, fill and digest.
Watch the oil burst and eclipse a billion times.
I’d take in every detail of her face, place it neatly in the bag on top of the chicken, keep it warm, keep it gently tucked away as if it were a gift; collect extra smiles, lay them next to the sauces; keep speaking in Thai, even if it doesn’t make sense because at least we’re talking.
Do this all in an effort to make our dance a little longer, more gracefully, more perfect, more pretty
like it would be the last time we’d dance again.