The restaurant was packed with the after-church crowd on Sunday. The boy halfway wondered if he should have chosen a different place for lunch, but he had a hankering for a steak today.
The waitress took a long time getting to him for his order; he suspected it might take forever before his food actually arrived. Well, I’m really in no hurry, he told himself. That steak better be good, though.
The noise got to him a bit. Clinking glass at tables where busboys hurried, a screaming toddler, the hum of conversations, bursts of laughter, too-loud music. Why do restaurants continually raise the volume of the music above the volume of conversation? thought the boy. People are just about shouting to each other!
The host passed his table, followed by an elderly woman with a walker who gingerly navigated the tables and chairs to be seated a short distance away from the boy. He sipped his sweet tea, wondering if he should make it last, as a refill any time soon did not seem like a remote possibility. The restaurant must be short-staffed today, or something.
The woman with the walker was alone. I wonder why? mused the boy. Is she a widow? Maybe she doesn’t have children. Maybe her husband is in the hospital. Or maybe a nursing home. It’s Sunday; maybe she’s been to see him, or maybe she’s going to see him after lunch.
It bothered him that this woman was alone.
It did not bother him that he was alone. Sometimes he ate with friends after church and sometimes he just enjoyed solitude. I am young, though, he thought. She is old. She should be with someone.
Maybe someone is meeting her here.
No one did.
The woman’s long wait jangled his nerves. He forgot that he, too, was receiving terrible service today; this old woman deserved better treatment.
His steak eventually arrived. It was good. He savored every bite. When the bill came, he asked the waitress:
“Do you see that woman over there, by herself?”
“The one with the walker?”
“Yes. Bring me her bill, too, please. I am buying her lunch today.”
And so he did. He left the restaurant feeling peaceful inside, before the woman knew her lunch was paid for.
His story brought tears to my eyes. The boy is just nineteen, a college student, working his first steady part-time job.
“You have one of the best hearts of anyone I’ve ever known,” I told him. “You truly do.”
He half-smiled like my father used to, sometimes.
“It was the only thing I could do for her, Mom.”
And, sated with steak, he went upstairs to the quiet sanctuary of his room, humming his favorite tune, the first one he ever learned.