Every day: lunch at noon sharp
At peace eating alone
This curious woman at the nearby market makes a purposeful effort to isolate herself from everybody - both customers and vendors - only the server is barely spared. Careful to protect her privacy, she hides the small stools scattered around deep underneath the low table. She also spreads out her food and condiments in an arrangement that screams: do not think of approaching. These few precious moments alone belong to her - she guards them well.
There is no way I might easily mistake somebody else for her, although many of the workers wear an identical uniform. Several distinct details are dead giveaways: the hole in her sparkly black hairnet covering a loosely twisted bun, the dark brown stain on the right shoulder strap of her orange and white polka-dot apron, and the faux rhinestone flip-flops are too big for her tiny feet.
This exceedingly strange and private person intrigues me. I watch how she awkwardly holds her plate - amazed that not one morsel of food drops on her lap or the sticky floor. There are ants and other insects everywhere. While I may be aghast, she remains oblivious to them crossing the table and climbing over her filthy feet. They persist undeterred by the obstacle courses she creates. Eating robotically, I cannot determine if she is enjoying lunch or not - I observe in silence.
The cashew vendor likes to practice her broken English with anybody. She loves to gossip - spreading unfounded suspicions about total strangers. Shoppers gather to her counter, forming a long chaotic line. She slips in details about the mystery lady. I now know she comes every day at noon, sits in the same place on a grungy yellow stool, and her meal arrives without exchanging words. Yes, the same spicy dish followed by a tall glass of traditional Thai tea.
Anxious to make my purchase and leave, I look at the large clock mounted on the wall: 12:25 pm. I notice the sphinxlike woman gracefully stand clutching numerous assorted plastic bags close to her chest. She sneaks away, disappearing into the crowd. Immensely secretive, even after ten years, nobody knows her name: she sits, she eats, she leaves. The server cleans her area and pulls the hidden stools out from under the table. People rush to the empty seats, eager to order. Life at the market continues.