Miss Brill is Here

I first saw her at the cafeteria. Her hair was completely white and her face a little bit deformed on the left side–her nose slightly damaged and this also deformed her eyes. She was short and bent; when she walked, she sort of wobbled from left to right, as if walking was something she just learned to do. She was very fair and her body a little bit rounded by age.

My schedule usually prevents me from going out for lunch so I had to bear the routine food in the cafeteria everyday. And she would be there, sitting alone in a table in the farthest corner, always by herself. She carries around a big tote bag the contents of which I am increasingly becoming curious about. I thought at first that she knew someone in the university but after a few months, I concluded that she was just there to eat. I also noticed that nobody paid any attention to her but she seemed always interested in everything around her and seemed to enjoy the hot, crowded, noisy place. I arrived at the cafeteria later than usual one day and couldn’t find a seat. Looking around, I saw her alone at her table [as usual]. I was starving so I had no choice but to ask her to share the table. She acknowledged me with a cheerful nod and pointed at one of the chairs. She immediately began a conversation about the food. I cringed inwardly at the topic. Great. Now I have to talk about it too, I thought. To avoid having to share a word of appreciation about the menu, I pretended absorption with my lunch by chewing diligently. Thank God she changed the topic after a while. I listened attentively to her opinions about how things are being run in the campus, what improvements are being made, even a word or two about the president. I didn’t want to talk about the school either but it was better than the subject at hand.   She also told me she attends the daily noon mass at the Cathedral across the street. I was dying to know about her at this point but I lacked the time. So I excused myself.

I also see her at other places in the city, usually at well-known fast food chains. There seems to be something really common between us: we were both fast food junkies. Last night I ate at a Chinese dimsum house. I saw her but the place was empty so I occupied another table. She didn’t recognize me though. She was staring at the night traffic; after sometime, she leaned her head on her arms resting on the table, all the while looking outside. It was then I realized how lonely she was. I recalled that in the many times I saw her, she had always been alone. I felt my heart twist painfully as I watched her, as I watched people move around her as if she did not exist. I struggled against the impulse to go to her and offer some form of comfort or solace, though I didn’t really know what to say to her at all. I was about to lose the battle when she stood up abruptly and went to the counter to order some food.

A mixture of emotions haunted me as I rode home that night. I felt regret and remorse because I twice passed on the chance to reach out to her. But I was also thinking I could have been too presumptuous to think that she would welcome me; I have my own issues to deal with also but I doubt I would bare my soul to a passing acquaintance [if I could even call her that at all].


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