His deep-set eyes fell on so many businessmen and students rushing through the crowded sidewalk to arrive at just another meeting or classroom, any space cooler than the sweat drenched concrete of a Philadelphia summer. The blistering sun was getting to Garrett, even as he sat in the air-conditioned café. The tepid musk floating inside those walls was reminder enough.
His hours spent amidst the tan walls and hipster do-nothing regulars were meant to normalize him. To keep him distant from the knowledge he was doing nothing with his life. None of them could understand the funk their armpits and unwashed clothes could bring on Garrett. He looked back to the unforgiving pavement, and the remorseless feet that stomped along it. They were all the same, he thought. None of them could change, and none of them had any idea they weren’t going to.
Garrett climbed from the table to leave with a last look through the dried film on the window. He saw the father first. A man, who at twenty, looked as though he’d already seen a thousand different kinds of pain, and each one he brought upon himself. He wore tattoos like they were clothes, his arms and neck covered in the different color dye, deflecting a shame he knew was his. His painted hand held the tiny palm of a girl’s not older than ten.
She struggled to keep up. His hurry barely noticed when her beaten up Reebok caught a crack in the sidewalk, and she had to use that uninterested, decorated hand to keep her balance. A balance the man did his best to forget. One that was hers to make behind him. She found it entering Sami's swinging door.
Garrett watched as the pair made their way to the counter. He tried to remain discreet as he watched them, opening the book he carried in for appearances. The man couldn’t have cared less, didn’t notice Garrett was alive. The girl though, in the midst of being dragged, witnessed Garrett’s interest. Her hand in someone else's, she would have waved had it been free.
“Do you want something?” The man asked looking down.
She nodded her head and smiled a grin free from understanding. Garrett wondered if it was intrisic. If she, like her father, had the inclination toward deluding self-destruction. If she had the type of numbing narcissism her father most obviously had. He guessed that she did; it was a symptom of the cafe.
“Peach, please,” she said, motioning toward the house of iced-teas behind the counter.
He fished two crumpled dollars from his dirty jeans and handed them to the Mohawk-clad cashier, braless and pierced like a pin-cushion.
“Look, I need to make a call.” He said to the cashier. “Could you watch her while I use the payphone?”
She shrugged and turned to replace a dirty pot of coffee with a clean one.
The man made his way downstairs without a word to the girl. She had a seat at the empty table next to Garrett’s. Content with her iced-tea, she shook it up and twisted the cap until its seal popped. She took a casual sip, blending in well with the patrons around her.
Garrett suddenly remembered that children made him very uncomfortable. He didn’t know what to do around them, never had, even as a child himself. He figured it best to ignore them, to focus on anything but their tactless manner of dealing with others. But this girl didn’t seem anything like that. She couldn’t have been younger than Garrett’s impression of ‘child’ but about her there was nothing insulting. She seemed sincere, and she gazed out the filmy window just like Garrett had when he spotted her.
He kept himself from glancing at the girl, requiring every bit of restraint within him. Had she been the normal fare inside of Sami’s, he would have been content saying nothing. To the little girl’s credit, she could very well have been. A bit taller, with hips and breasts wider, Garrett could have assumed her rent was late, that she’d called out of work because of a hangover, and somewhere on her body a tattoo was waiting to be revealed after a six pack of Pabst and as many shots of Jameson. She had the mentality, it was waiting for cultivation. This was what drove the compulsion for Garrett to tell her to try business school; this life she’s so well suited for is one of circles. How he wanted to tell her the distant, uncaring man she came in with was a result of this life - of drug-addled insignificance and fantasy indulgences without real intent or substance. Then again, Garrett guessed this girl loved him unconditionally, and no amount of truthful observation could change her mind. He only wanted to tell her the iced-tea would be better enjoyed on a picnic with another lawyer, anywhere but within those deaf, unsympathetic walls.
Instead, he kept his nose in the book and read the same sentence for the fifth time.
‘Let be what cannot go undecided.’
The man she’d entered with leapt up the stairs leading from the bathrooms and payphone. He’d grown squirrelly in the past five minutes and hurried toward the little girl. Squatting to put her at eye-level, he smiled and took her hands in his own.
“Listen, baby-girl.” He said. “I’ve gotta go for a little bit, but I’ll be back. Daddy needs some help right now. Just wait here.”
She did her best to keep a wrinkled frown at bay, but there it was below a shaking lip.
“How long?”
“I promise not long. Just wait here.”
The man rose to his feet. He caught the glare Garrett leveled from the corner of his eye. He snarled at the sympath and strode from the café. Garrett watched through the window as the man hailed a cab quickly, jumped in, and peeled off down the street.
The little girl’s happy fixation on the window had evaporated. Now she looked only at the bottle in front of her, and the stained mosaic table that supported it. She was trying to keep the emotions inside, the unbelievable feeling of abandonment, the terror he might never come back.
Garrett could smell the shame on her shoulders. Through the funk of armpits and unwashed clothes, he didn’t need to look to see her emotion.