It’s such an ordinary evening.
I’m just sitting there alone in Panera with my laptop and the best tuna sandwich I’ve had in ages. Deadlines loom large and Pete is home with kids so I can squeeze more hours out of a beautiful spring evening.
My head is full of the tapestry of women. How their lives blend across borders and time zones through laptops and shared stories and I carry their faces in my heart.
The mango smoothie is labeled “simply summer” and I drink down a promise of fireflies and late nights at the pool with our boys. I’ve already bought Zoe’s swimsuit. It’s all pink with layers of flaunted ruffles and I stroke it sometimes when I’m changing her – it lying on the changing table so I can smile at it now and then.
Families come and go around me and I’m lost in my keyboard until out of the corner of my eye I see 2 parents pull their daughter from a booth and rip her T-shirt off her small brown body.
My intuition outstrips my neurons.
Coffee is pooling everywhere. Seat, table, floor, small T-shirt.
The businessman a table across flicks a glance and keeps spooning soup. The guy in the baseball hat at the table with the friends and their laptop keep talking. Cashiers keep ringing up hungry diners.
I’m up with hands full of napkins and I don’t say anything – just thrust them at her mother and she grabs and wipes and runs for the restroom, tiny body gripped firm between her and her husband.
Two boys are left at the table. A turned over handbag, a wet pocket book.
We look at each other.
I go for more napkins.
We wipe and the hot seeps through the wad in my hand.
“That must have been scary?” I ask the boy who is frantically mopping alongside me.
He nods a jet-black head of hair.
“That’s your little sister?”
More nodding, more wiping.
We all sit and wait and watch the bathroom door.
I wonder at my shaking hands, this knot in my throat. I want to hug that gangly body all nerves.
She comes back and the little one looks up at me. I ask if she’s OK and from under her scarf her mother nods.
“I have a daughter too.” I offer the words and they come out a whisper laced in tears.
This tie that knots us together. This impenetrable commonality. This motherhood.
“Yes,” she says.
Arm around her daughter, picking up a dripping wet bag, they shepherd out and home I’m guessing.
I sit down and blink back the hot emotions.
The tuna and pickle are still on my plate.
And the setting sun blinds me.