The air is heavy with that trademark spice. Dishes clatter as patrons gather their utensils from the corner. Forks, spoons, knives, hot to the touch from a recent run through the dishwasher.
Friends laugh in pairs at small square tables. Silver-haired women, old friends, chuckle at a shared memory.
“If you take yourself too seriously, it’s terrible,” says one.
“So true, so true,” says the other.
The line slowly moves forward, and customers take their time studying the bright orange board behind the counter. The register dings.
Outside, wind blows parking lot trees to a 45 degree angle. A collection of crumbs on the red tile floor dance whenever the front door opens.
As dinner time approaches, the spacious room fills, and small lights hanging intimately over each table click on. Despite the crowd, conversations are hushed, tempered. In the corner next to the potted plant, a lone woman drinks deeply from a black mug, her eyes closed. Around her are scattered receipts, a checkbook and a small green backpack. The room is relatively warm, but she wears a purple winter coat nonetheless. She sighs heavily and scribbles notes on a scrap of paper. The dying light from outside the window, filtered through grey clouds, reflects off her round spectacles. She grips the mug like a lifeline.
Across the room, two college students, women, discuss the weekend over matching bowls of rice, beans and cilantro—it’s the specialty.
“You know how some people are addicted to alcohol? I’m addicted to milk. I’m a milkaholic.”
“I just can’t say no. I get sick every time, but I love it.” They laugh together. The topic is random, without context, but it fits the easygoing atmosphere their table emits.
Above the conversation, a water cooler hums. On their way out, patrons stack plastic cups and bowls in a black tub by the door. When it fills, a server emerged from the kitchen, gathers it up and returns. Rock music is softly muffled when the kitchen door closes.
The dinner rush files out at 6 p.m. Traffic picks up outside. Two women kiss on each cheek and separate in the parking lot, eyes and gestures expressing promises of future meetings.
One more to-go order gets packaged and delivered, brown bag crinkling as it changes hands and the restaurant is nearly empty. Only stragglers remain, one-person parties intent to enjoy their meals in peace.
Two hours until closing.