I was having an unprecedented moment alone in a cafe. I had a book open and a cappuccino by my right hand. A special needs man walked in. I’ll call him a boy for the purposes of this post because I never caught his name, but he was early to mid twenties, white, in a sweater a mother might select, with hair parted on the side like a young boy’s. His care giver, I assumed she was, was a petite middle-aged hispanic woman, almost two heads shorter, her hands folded in front of her at the wrists, a black purse hanging from a forearm. They talked over the breakfast menu like conspiring thieves. She didn’t feel the necessity of eye contact but whispered back over her shoulder. The young man was excited and loud. His voice echoed through the whole cafe, “Think there’ll be berries on mine, Denise? Think there’ll be berries?”
She moved this way to see the menu and he followed by a step to maintain distance. They ordered. Setting her purse on a chair she told him she’d be right back and headed to the restroom. He sat, his leg bouncing, glancing at the bathroom, setting and resetting the silverware. A server came over, a big hispanic man, tattooed to his neck, and looking every inch like an ex-con (because this suburban white girl has been told what ex-cons look like).
“Hey, man,” the server said followed by some subdued conversation.
“Hi, Dominic,” the kid gave him a high-five, loudly again, “Hi, Dominic. Where’s Denise? Where did Denise go, Dominic?” hand now bouncing off his leg which was bouncing off the floor.
“She’s just in the bathroom, man. No worries. Here she is.”
“Denise! It’s Dominic. It’s Dominic, Denise!”
Denise smiled and offered her hand primly. Dominic shook it, placing his other hand on her shoulder as if to stabilize her against the enthusiasm of his shake. And he returned to work.
I heard the young man telling Denise how the guys had made him his own custom smoothie. “My own smoothie, Denise!” How they had promised he would get Nutella and raspberries on his crepe. “Nutella AND berries, Denise!” They must come here all the time, I thought. I looked around at these fine people who took such care of this young man.
Everyone who worked at this cafe was apparently a relative of Dominic’s, face or knuckle tattoos not a preclusion from employment, biceps-the-size-of-my-torso a must. All of them were beaming over register and hot food line at this kid.
Their food arrived shortly after.
“Try this, Denise, You’ve got to try this!” Denise ate bites off of his fork and made faces of approbation, content to let his volume speak for both of them. Dominic came to check on their breakfast.
“It is so good, Dominic! Look, they gave me Nutella and raspberries, Dominic!”
Dominic came back at the end to take their plates. I watched Denise insist on her young man getting a picture with Dominic. Her only moment of command, “Stand there.” The boy posed proudly, Dominic smiled, chest out, chin up, with an arm around him.
They left and about ten minutes later. I was done and putting my book away in my purse.
“Are you done with this?” a voice.
I looked up and smiled. “Thank you, Dominic,” I said.
He was surprised I knew his name. I thought how wonderful it would be to be known by name for something kind. I motioned by way of explanation to the empty table where Denise and the boy had sat a moment before and smiled my gratitude for the scene.
He laughed when he got it.
“Do they come in all the time?” I asked as Dominic took my tiny espresso cup in his giant hands.
He looked surprised again. “Oh, no, that was the first time. I’ve never seen them before.”