When she first started working in the building, a multi-purpose office building and train station downtown, what struck her most was how dim the lighting was in the food court which mostly didn't smell at all of the fried chicken, the Indian food, the two Mexican joints, the french fries from several places, the donuts, the Chinese places. Grease didn't hover in the air and attach to every surface and the soap-and-candle establishment kept its odors inside. What did permeate every hallway of the building was when the popcorn place got to popping and cheesing and caramelizing their fresh kernels. It made it all the way up to the top floors of the building and hung in the air as a tantalizing reminder of a light snack made into fatty goodness for those who liked it or weren't yet sick of it and for those who wanted nothing to with the stuff, it said that this was the jankiest building around.
The chairs in the food court were not welcoming. They didn't invite the weary traveler to sit there and linger. They invited someone to eat and leave but it didn't stop people who were between dwellings from stopping there for a few hours to get cool or warm up and stay dry, every single thing they had left in this world gathered around them. The chairs were easily cleaned at the end of each day or as needed in case of accidents. In case of the building about to be occupied by hostiles, the chairs and tables could be quickly removed and stored so that no one was encouraged to stay. They offered a spot for those waiting for a train to carry them to the suburbs so they could say good bye to an ailing loved one or to be shown some love that their now-exes just were never able to genuinely muster. If the chairs could talk they'd say, "Get moving, idiot. You're not the only one who wants to sit." She had never once sat in one of those chairs.
She couldn't think about going up to her job but a cup of coffee from the donut place and sitting to watch strangers sounded good today.
"Extra two percent," she told the middle-aged Indian lady who took her order. "Please." She managed to muster a smile and the lady managed to grin back. There was a throng all around her and the grin was probably all she could stand the thought of. The lady took her money, made the drink, and gave it to her. "Thanks," they each said. "Have a great day," the lady told her with great insincerity, her eyes looking at the throng. She tossed her change into the styrofoam cup that someone had decorated with a felt marker and wrote TIPS at the last minute and walked around the corner to one set of tables.
Middle-aged men were reading papers. Youngish men who did construction in the area had their heads together, lying about their girlfriends and the evening before. A woman she recognized as someone who worked at an office in her elevator bank sat and read a chunky Danielle Steele novel, one hand holding the book open, the other around a cup of coffee, a fast food biscuit wrapper balled up near the book. Though they always said hello, she didn't know the woman and didn't feel friendly today so instead she went to the other bank of tables that were closer to the back exit of the building and sat at a round table that was meant for a family with kids that needed to be corralled or entertained or enthralled by a round table.
She sat and exhaled and first a couple of buses unloaded at the back door and then a train arrived, followed by another and then another and the area filled with people walking fast to work, getting a snack and then racing for the door, some chatting with train friends, all going as fast as their legs could carry them. There were some major funky smells coming from the corridor in the back that led to the street and with the doors all open to accommodate the entrance and exit of the employee, she wrinkled her nose and made a sour face. This was just when she saw her coworker who also saw her.
"Hey, Boo Boo," he said, a smile crossing his face. He called her Boo or Boo Boo at all times, depending on his mood. She called him Boo or by his one-syllable name, Lee, which she always said three times if she used it. She had to smile when she saw him because he was lovely and supportive and sweet.
She said his name three times and he smiled wider.
"Why are you sitting here? Jodie's probably got some coffee all made." Jodie was one of those who got to work 90 minutes ahead of time and called her daughter in another time zone and then her boyfriend to wake him up and then she made the coffee about 60 minutes before everyone arrived. When Jodie was on vacation, other people made the coffee and it wasn't ever as good. Jodie's coffee was excellent and the donut shop just couldn't compare with it but the coffee was at work and she didn't want to go there.
"I can't bear it, Boo," she said and then sighed. "I just can't bear it."
"Why not, Boo Boo? What's wrong?" he asked. Then added, "Come tell me in the elevator."
She sighed again and slouched forward almost putting her head on the table that was as easy to clean as the chairs.
"Lee Lee Lee, I just can't face it. Go up without me. I'll be up in a bit."
Lee always moved very quickly, a fast walker who liked to arrive early or five minutes ago. She and Lee had that in common -- they liked to arrive early but he had to slow down to accommodate her slower gait. Each made the other laugh like the funniest things ever had been said and that made any accommodation worthwhile. She always agreed to come with him when he said to go, so he started inching away with great suspicion.
"Are you sure, Boo?"
"Yeah, Boo," she replied. "I'll just finish this coffee."
"You don't like that coffee, Boo Boo. You like Jodie's coffee. Come have that."
"It's not bad today, Lee Lee Lee. Really, I'll be up in a minute."
"O ... kay," he said inching more slowly. "If you're sure." He stopped in his tracks.
"Please, it's fine. I'll see you upstairs."
"Okay, Boo Boo," and he leaned over and they gave each other air kisses, his heavy stubble coming almost to her face. He then turned and walked away very quickly.