The waitress strode by Jerome for the third time in less than 20 minutes, giving him nary a glance as she shifted another tray of plates and a pot of decaf coffee. Jerome watched her swoosh by, hoping to make eye contact but without any luck. It’s not even like the restaurant was busy.
But then, this is the way it was for Jerome, who was still getting used to being invisible.
Being invisible didn’t come naturally to Jerome. In fact, it was fair to say that he was struggling with the idea. There was a disconnect, you see, between how he saw the world and how the world saw him.
When he looked at his hands, he saw five fingers on each. His feet both had five toes. He had legs and arms, hips and shoulders, pretty much everything that every other person on the planet had. And yet, when other people looked at him…
Well, there it was.
Nobody ever looked at him. They didn’t know he was there. He was invisible.
Although the revelation had only come to him recently—partly the reason he had yet to wrap his head around the idea—it did begin to explain a lot of things.
Why people bumped into him on the Metro. Why teachers never called on him in school. Why his parents always ignored his questions. Why women never returned his smiles.
All of these things bothered him, even made him angry. Now, at least, he understood that it wasn’t personal. They simply didn’t know he was there.
Unconsciously, he raised his arm as the waitress blew past him before disappearing into the kitchen.
Personal or not, being unseeable could be irritating.
Jerome had wondered briefly if he wasn’t perhaps dead, a ghost wandering the streets. He’d seen a movie once about a guy who only ever spoke to a young boy and slowly realized that…
Outside the window at Jerome’s left elbow, a young woman appeared to be having a stroke. Well, in truth, she was staring right at him while applying lipstick, but her mouth movements were so exaggerated that he wouldn’t be surprised to learn her left side was completely frozen and her speech was slurred.
He pressed his nose to the glass. But for the glass, she could easily apply lipstick to his mouth, one way or another. But no.
He had dismissed the idea of death because the guy in the movie had a wife and a medical practice, neither of which he had. And besides, he didn’t know any young children, boys or girls.
“I’m not saying I want a relationship,” the woman at the next table said to her male companion. “But I don’t think we can ignore the fact that we slept together after the party.”
Jerome shook his head. You heard a lot of stories like this when you were invisible. People simply had no sense of privacy.
“And we had a great time,” the guy responded, gingerly placing his hand on hers, his body tensed to flee at the first sign of reciprocation. “But the fact that we work together complicates things.”
No matter how closely Jerome sat to the next table, no matter how obviously he ping-ponged between the speakers, the conversation never became more hushed. He heard every morbid detail, and no one seemed to care.
His attention to the burgeoning telenovela was distracted, however, by a furtive motion at another table. Several feet away, an old man in torn trousers and stained t-shirt palmed a tip left on an adjacent table.
That’s not kosher at any time, Jerome thought, but especially not a couple of weeks before Christmas.
Jerome wanted to say something but then the man used the funds to pay for his own coffee before snatching a ratty knapsack from the floor.
Was he homeless?
The waitress scooped the coins as she vaulted past Jerome with someone’s bill.
Grabbing his unopened book from the corner of the table, Jerome rose from his seat and fished through his pockets.
I don’t know why I even come here, he thought. Still, it didn’t seem right that the waitress should lose out simply so a homeless guy could keep warm.
From the far side of the restaurant, Tula watched Jerome drop a few coins on the table where the old man had stolen the tip. She smiled as she bookmarked the page she was reading, the melodrama at the next table making it too hard to concentrate.
She would have liked to have complimented the man on his beautiful gesture, but there wasn’t much point in even trying.
Tula, you see, had recently determined that she was invisible.