Customers

Puerto Ricans tend to be pretty simple when it comes to breakfast. Toast and coffee is usually enough. Not the thinly sliced toast Americans usually have, though. We tend to have pan de agua or pan sobao. It’s like if you were to combine American white toast and french bread and bring out the best of both, then slather it in butter. Sometimes we’ll have eggs or oatmeal too. And if you can down it all with some pineapple juice? God. It’s so good.

“Hello?” the person in front of me waves, irritated.

Fuck. Aw fuck, dammit, I did it again. Focus, dammit, focus! I should..ah. That’s it, isn’t it. I forgot to eat breakfast while I was getting the shop ready. I’ll...fix it when I get to, I guess.

“Toast, eggs, and ham, please??” the lady says, exasperated.

“Si señora, right away,” I respond. I type up the order, print the receipt, and get the order going. José is tied up right now, so I’ll hand it to Yanelis. I take a few more orders, and I notice this dude at the back of the line. He keeps squinting. What’s he looking at? I take a few more orders. Hm, I’ll need to make another batch of coffee soon. What is that dude looking at? I glance back. Oh. Sigh, okay. I know where this is going. He’s staring at Sergio. He’s next. He leans in a bit and asks me in a low voice but not low enough not to be heard by the people around him, “So uh, is she a lady or a man or what?”

“Sir,” I start. “If you need to know the genitals of the person who is serving you in order to enjoy yourself, I think you might be in the wrong place.”

The dude is taken aback, waves his hands in a back-pedaling motion, blushes, then steams. He’s about to say something when one of my regulars, a man twice his muscle mass with bags under his eyes, glares at him and slowly cracks his knuckles. The dude stops briefly, glances at me, and then storms off. “Oatmeal, toast, pineapple juice, and a coffee on the way out, yes?” I ask the regular. He nods, breaking a small smile. How do people maintain the energy to care about that stuff, anyway? It’s so much work.

I hear glass shatter from the back, and a small “whoah, whoops.” I ignore it, it happens. Then I hear the oven door slam open a startled yelp. “¡Fuego, yow!” I hear.

“¡José! ¿!What’s the matter, what’s going on!?” Sergio yells.

I keep hearing the oven door slamming open and closed. I look. The oven is blowing sparks! Oh dear.

“I don't know! The oven is freaking out! I just dropped a measuring cup and after that it just started going out of control!” José blurts out.

I look closely at the oven. Open close open kind of closed then kind of open all the way open then quivering closed. I grab two oven mitts and head to the oven.

The staff all interject, asking me to back away from the oven. The customers are craning their necks to see what’s going on. I go and pat the stove top gently.

“Oh there, there,” I say, calmly. “That was quite a fright, wasn’t it? It’s just glass, we’ll clean it up. It’s alright.” I keep sliding my oven mitt across the stove top, back and forth. The sparks stop. The oven door slows down. “Give them about half an hour to rest, then warm them back up,” I say.

José and Yanelis look at me funny. Sergio shakes their head, astounded. “I don’t really understand it Rami, but thank you,” Sergio says. “We’ll give the oven a break.”

Yanelis speaks up. “Are you serious, Sergio? It’s an oven! It glitched, it’s over. That’s all it was.” Yanelis stops short of saying “Let’s just turn it back on and keep going,” I can see on her lips. She won’t say it, though. She’s been proven wrong often enough. It’s hard to understand creatures that are so familiar, yet at the same time so foreign to us. I get that.

“Look, I don’t understand it anymore than you do. I just know that it works. That’s what matters. José, clean up the mess, would you?” Sergio looks back at the customers and waves a towel at them like they’re trying to clear up a bad smell.

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