After drinking at a bar with friends yesterday, I went to a fast food store to buy a hideously unsuitable dinner for my son, who I had left home alone.
(Please feel free to nominate me for the Mother of the Year Award.)
When my husband and I pulled up to the Golden Arched venue, I could see a few bodies standing around the door.
An Asian woman in workout gear and flip-flops, a young kid with a lime green skateboard and a man, in his builders uniform of boots, shorts, and a t-shirt displaying the constellation of the Southern Cross.
The man in the astronomy t-shirt was holding the door open, his face passive. I could see a look of encouragement on the woman’s face, and worry on the small boy’s features.
Perhaps he was concerned about the frozen coke machine, which has been known to go on strike during long stretches of heat, I thought as I neared the group.
But then I saw the woman in the electric scooter, trying to make a three-point turn through the doors.
I’m not sure if you mastered one of these when you learned to drive, but a three-point turn was one of the more difficult maneuvers for me, and I felt her pain as I watched her make the incremental changes in her steering to be able to navigate the way through the doors.
Finally she did it, and we all walked through the door behind her, relieved and somewhat proud, I thought. Or was that only me?
The scooter was swift to move as she guided it to the counter, and stopped it with a soft skidding sound.
The teenage girl at the counter whith the name badge reading Trainee, looked up at me with a friendly smile, but I gestured at the woman in the scooter.
‘She was first,’ I said and Trainee looked at the woman with both fear and sympathy.
Trainee spoke too loudly in her welcome and it as clear that this was the first time she had been this close to anyone with such a severe disability, asking the woman several times what she would like to order.
The woman awkwardly managed to get out of her seat and picked up a bag with her clenched fist and threw it on the counter.
Trainee seemed relieved as she unzipped the bag. She knew what she was doing now; perhaps they had covered this in training.
She opened the bag and then stared at the green keyboard inside it.
‘Um, does anyone know how to turn this on?’ Trainee called to her co-workers. A few glanced over but they ignored her and the woman in the scooter; both trying to understand each other.
Perhaps they didn’t know how to turn it on? Or perhaps it was part of her training to work it out herself, but then the woman sighed and pressed the on button with her curled finger.
She typed slowly, but I noticed, still faster than my husband, who seems to use his thumb as his main typing digits, then she twisted the keyboard to the girl.
‘One McFlurry and a large coke,’ Trainee said, the happiness at understanding the order evident in her voice and then she froze.
“Um, what flavour McFlurry do you want?’ she asked, her voice quavering.
The woman pointed at the poster on the register, advertising the pavlova flavoured McFlurry.
Relief came over Trainee’s face again and she finished the order.
The money for the order was in a zip lock bag with the keyboard, and Trainee treated the woman’s money and keyboard with respect, showing her everything she was doing as she went through the process. I liked her for this, the girl called Trainee.
Carefully placing the change into the zip lock bag and zipping up the keyboard again, she placed it into the woman’s basket at the front of her scooter.
And then came the time for the woman to back out of the space and find a decent table, which Trainee had deduced was where the woman wanted to have her treat.
If the three-point turn at the front of the building was tough, the one inside was made more difficult in the busy space. A man tried to push past her at his own peril, because this woman in the scooter wasn’t taking any chances her McFlurry might melt, and she nearly ran him over.
The man then waited, understanding that what might take him a second will take her thirty. He has time.
Now there was a group of people watching, hoping she could make it happen, urging her to find the right lock on the scooter, to get the right angle.
I heard a laugh behind me and I turned to see a gangly teen boy with erupting skin make a quiet joke that was found to be wanting, and he was soon silenced by the stares of the cheerleaders, sending the woman ESP messages of support.
She managed to make the turn and Trainee, carrying the drink and dessert, followed her proudly.
‘Here? Here?’ she asked at each table until she found the desired location which was indicated with a nod of the woman’s head and a finger point.
The table the woman chose was next to a group of surfer type boys, all eating the same items from the menu that she had ordered.
The boys excluded tanned health and blonde confidence and I could see by the way they glanced at her, they were momentarily uneasy with their luck in life.
But she paid them no attention and when Trainee put the items down on the table, tenderly slipping a straw into the drink and positioning it on the table for her, the woman climbed from the scooter walking with an unsteady gait to the table, and made a sign with her hand to the girl.
Bringing her fingers up to her mouth, she then kissed them with a flourish, like a chef crying out ‘Bellissimo’ for his perfect desert invention.
Trainee laughed and so did the surfers, but not at her, with her, and I smiled as I watched. Humour makes people relax. I liked this woman for celebrating the McFlurry in such a way.
She sat down at the table dragging the desert towards her with her fists, seemingly content to watch the highway passing by outside the window.
The surfer boys soon went back to their conversation, and the kid with the lime skateboard got his frozen coke, no doubt relieved that the machine had pulled through for him on such a hot afternoon.
As I walked towards the door, the man with the Southern Cross t-shirt opened the door for myself and the Asian workout woman, and we all smiled at each other.
And for a brief moment, under the shadow of the Golden Arches, humanity was lifted and I understood that everyone wanted this woman to have what any one of us deserved; decent service, a table with a view and something sweet and cool with which to pass a hot Saturday afternoon.