a grass hut in Chilliwack

I’m in the Chilliwack leisure centre at a Caribbean themed cafe called the Java Hut, complete with a grass hut roof. It smells like coffee, thai chicken soup and chlorine. There is a Christian music radio station blaring from the speaker and in-between songs of praise and pleas for redemption, a woman with a cultured soothing voice sums up the song’s message with a suggestion to think of people as though they were children, “it will help you forgive them”. I hate unsolicited advice as much as I hate pat answers for life’s complications. Let the song speak for itself. The song was actually pretty good.

Then there is an announcement about a conference, “Christians and Marijuana use”. I find this particularly amusing timing because I am sure the very young woman behind the til is high as a kite. Her eyes have that completely stoned glaze, her sparkly pink eye shadow highlighting the lack of sparkle in her pupils. She is concentrating very very very hard on my order and she is not at all Caribbean. Neither is the menu. I ask for the soup of the day and a grilled panino (spelled panini of course) and just before she tosses it into the toaster I ask what’s inside. She moves sloth-like to a singular wrapped sandwich in the case and starts to unwrap a corner of the withered pale offering and investigate…”Um…cheddar…um…bacon…um…lettuce…um…maybe…turkey.”

That’s not a panino. That’s a lame turkey club in a long ass bun.

“I’ll have the chicken samosa instead.”

Long silence. She stares at me. “The…so…the soup and…combo…samosa…not…cuz…that’s not a sandwich.”

“That’s okay. Just charge me one soup, one samosa.”

She says nothing and walks off out of sight.

She returns with cold soup in an old ice-cream bucket and pours it into a smaller container. Then she places plastic wrap over the container, seals it, then stabs the plastic rather heartlessly and ragged with a knife three times. This is the first time I’ve seen her move quickly. Then she microwaves the hell out of my thai chicken rice and heads to microwave number two with my poor specimen of a samosa. I am highly suspicious of microwaves: bent molecules, uneven cooking temperatures and the destruction of texture and all..so I cry out:

“Please, it’s okay, don’t microwave the samosa.”

Long pause. She holds it up in the air, captured by long tongs.

“But…it’s…like…really…cold. I- ”

She does not finish her sentence.

“Can you toast it? In the sandwich press?”

She looks at me as though I am the second rising action point of her life’s screenplay: the “ordeal”. She can either figure out how to put a triangular bread object into the sandwich press instead of a rectangular one, or she can walk past me, very slowly, past the window of children, past the information booth, through the glass doors to the pool and walk straight off the edge fully clothed into the deep end and wait for rescue.

She decides on the sandwich press. The samosa fits in there just fine. We both stand silently and watch the microwave countdown and I am sure the melting plastic wrap is going to give me some terrible form of cancer but I don’t want to be rude or cause her more distress so I just let it go. It’s only my life. Twenty nine, twenty eight, twenty seven…

I am momentarily distracted by the Christian radio station’s ad for an insurance company that has “good Christian values.” I wonder how that translates into insurance policies? “in case of flood, build an arc, wait forty days…” or “in case of theft, turn the other cheek”. Or, “in case of death,  “the treasures you lay up in heaven shall not be included in the estate…”

Bing! Toxic soup is done. As she carries the soup over to the other side of the cafe kitchen, she stops with a new thought. She turns very slowly to me, a white bun now in her long tongs. She has hit the third rising action point: sacrifice. It hurts her to ask.

“The soup…comes with a bun…but…you…have a samo- do – you…there are…I should have…do you…which one do you…do you want both? The bun is free.”

I don’t really need two carbs but I don’t want to give her anything more to figure out.

“I’ll take the bun, thank you.”

She adds the samosa to the side of my soup with a pat of butter and some extra crackers: carb number three.

At risk of blowing her mind, I gently hand back the butter and crackers. “I don’t need these, thanks.”

She stares at them a while.

“How…would you…like to…pay.”


I make my way under the grassy roof to sit by the juicing side of the operation, quiet at present. My plastic soup is served in a styrofoam bowl with a plastic spoon and my samosa (cold in the middle) is on a small styrofoam plate. Who uses styrofoam anymore? I cringe when I toss it in the garbage bin but surely there’s a place to recycle the paper napkin and the plastic cutlery at least? I see nothing. And I look. Shoot. I’m going to have to wake the dead head again.

“Excuse me, where’s the recycling?”

Oh, what have I done? This is the climax of her story tonight. She looks up with something that is perhaps akin to self hate.

“There is no. We just. We just throw it all into the trash.”

The song now playing is about giving all to Jesus. I think many things in that split second. I think about giving my styrofoam plate and bowl to Jesus. I think about my views of marijuana. I wonder if maybe this woman is not high? Perhaps she is socially challenged, painfully shy or crushed with grief? Even if she is stoned, who comes to work stoned on a Tuesday evening during family swim to run blenders microwaves and toaster ovens? Someone who is probably not very happy and could use my compassion. But what compassion can I give in this moment?

I make eye contact. I smile warmly. I wave it all off as no big deal and wrap my plastic utensils in my napkin and shove it into the side pocket of my purse.

“This is actually great” I say. “I’ll take these home and use them in my kid’s lunches.”

She isn’t listening. She’s on her phone now, scrolling.

Escape. Escape. Escape the little. grass. hut.

I walk back to the theatre in the rain. What else is new. Vancouver weather lately is just one long Scandinavian crime series. I could use a real little Caribbean getaway right now.

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