For me the simple act, such as swirling a tortilla chip in a bowl of salsa, has a power greater than any other source of energy existing naturally or manufactured. The process of transporting my mind to a comforting time and place in which a similar set of conditions occurred does not require a large complex machine, but rather a fried triangle of pressed corn dipped into a recipe of crushed tomatoes, cilantro, and water.
Of course, I was a different person back then and would not be necessarily dining alone in a restaurant offering this ethnicity of food. I was grateful to be in the presence of the young woman sitting across from me and now long to repeat any one of days or at least be able to experience one more meal with her in the present.
I temporarily relive my fantasy of not only sharing that basket of chips, but also the friendly conversation associated with it. It was that period of anticipation after we had received our drinks and were awaiting our main courses that I looked forward to the most. We would be asking one another how our day was at that point among other topics related to the store. After running out of topics affiliated with it, I’d introduce something new for debate or discussion such as an event in the news or an idea that I had recently heard and knew she would find interesting. After mentioning it, her response would automatically be an opinion followed by commentary defending it by citing personal experiences, other people’s thoughts, and self-created theories. One of the most intriguing traits I admired about her was the ability she possessed of almost always successfully defending her position without hardly any time to prepare or research. Upon completing her initial statement, I would normally agree with everything she had said, but if I was in a playful mood, I would disagree with everything she had communicated and discount all of her facts and evidence. I had to be careful though, because I did not want to upset my companion, which would probably result in her remaining silent during the rest of our meal, or worse, abandoning the table and leaving. Thankfully that never occurred and we were able to enjoy one another’s company every time.
I rarely become fascinated with anything someone says, but during almost all of our coinciding lunches, she had always mentioned something that had caused me to pause and contemplate briefly. Perhaps that is how she would gain the “advantage” in any one of our discussions; by providing me with a fact that originated from a source I was unaware of or had never considered she was able to distract me enough for her to press her point further until I was forced to yield and surrender to her position. Normally I would rather not appear vulnerable to anyone, but in her presence I didn’t mind submitting to her and losing to such a wonderful individual, especially one of such beauty, whit, and charm.
At this point we would be about halfway through our chips signaling for us to cease, so that we would have an appetite for our main dishes that were due to arrive soon. Realizing this, a nonverbal signal would be sent to one another meaning that we’d indulge in one more chip and thus ending this segment of our temporary relief from the stresses of our shared workplace. During almost every occurrence of this moment, we would both reach into the basket at the same time and awkwardly place our fingers on the exact chip. Upon realizing our mistake, laughter would erupt not only due to the strange coincidence but to relieve our shared embarrassment. Strangely I anticipate that action because it meant that we, who were similar people, had another thing in common which reaffirmed my affection for her. Additionally, it allowed me to view that beautiful smile, that upon its formation, caused the freckles on her cheeks to ascend upward toward her eyes who gaze alone could calm the fiercest storm and illuminate the deepest, darkest, and saddest regions of any man’s soul, especially those belonging to this author. Being a gentleman, I yielded it to her, am rewarded with a vocal response of gratitude, and while she maneuvers it over to the bowl between us strategically placed by me, dips it into the substance, brings it toward her mouth, and bites into it creating a sound that echoes throughout the dining area. I am briefly jealous of that chip due to its destination across the threshold from which her harmonious voice emerges and will have the fortune of discovering where is originates. I stare at those lips, as if I am transfixed by them and cannot remove my gaze no matter with how much effort I try. Her eyes are reflected in mine along with some of her curiosity as to the reason I’m immersing myself in her otherwise trivial act while her soft cheeks expand and contract during the process. Involuntarily the muscles of my face begin to awaken causing a smirk to mysteriously appear, replacing the serious expression that had been displayed since our arrival and discussion. Noticing it, as if my look of pleasure was a surprise, the delicate bud that is her lips responds to it by blooming and blossoming into a rose of the brightest shade of red, coincidentally matching the exact color that is painted on her mouth. Having been acquainted with her for several years, I realize that there are very few situations that elicit such a reaction from her. After briefly reflecting on this, my smirk curls upward forming a smile and hurting the underutilized facial muscles due to this spontaneous act. I allow myself the luxury to enjoy this perfect culmination of circumstances and embrace it with my entire self, never wanting to release it.
As we continue to look at one another in silence across the flat wooden barrier between us, my eyes descend from her face, the curve of her neck, across her shoulder, and down the length of her arm terminating to the soft and gentle hand resting on the table. I consider reaching for that hand, grasping it with my tired fingers, and closing them around hers in reaffirming assurance and conveying through the pulse in my hand, “I want to tell you the truth about how I really feel about you.” But as I’m about to act on this suggested by my heart, the engagement ring on her finger catches the light and shines brightly in my eyes, blinding me to the possibility that she would not permit herself to accept and return my gesture of affection and feelings for her.
I remain locked on my side of the booth now shifting my eyes to the circles of water surrounding the half-empty glass containing my beverage. A camarero passes by, and upon noticing the emptiness of my cup, inquires by saying, “More sweet tea, amigo?” causing my gaze to meet with his out of common courtesy and respond with a nod of agreement. He replenishes my drink with the pitcher he is carrying and as soon as the container is filled, replaces it on the table. The sound of the plastic meeting the wood reflexively results in me expressing my gratitude as he quickly walks away to another table, causing me to doubt that it went unheard. I then enthusiastically return my head where it had previously been before the interruption and continuing the conversation with my lovely guest . Sadly, my thoughts remind me that this is the present where I am alone and that in fact I have been staring at the cushion of the empty seat facing me for a moment. I continue to satisfy my hunger before the arrival of my entree with the items in front of me, to be consumed by a solitary man in an empty restaurant.