Jasmine People

By: Emma Olinger

On a Friday in the middle of January at about 12:30 in the afternoon, a little less than 10 people occupy the Chinese Cuisine. Among the nail salon, the boutique, and the FedEx office, it waits for customers. Everyone has been there at least once, but no one has really noticed the significance of this place. I sat alone at a table, knowing I should return to school, yet also being intrigued by the small restaurant. I wanted to see normal people having a normal lunch at a normal restaurant. The waitress hovered over my table, waiting for me to order. I knew what I wanted, but I also knew I couldn’t sit there with nothing more than six crab rangoons stuffed onto a small plate. So I ordered something as a lunch special and waited. I was intrigued by my phone, but more intrigued by the people who sat around me.

When I entered, I noticed a man sitting alone, watching the political commentary show on the flatscreen that hung diagonal from where I sat. He appeared as if he were waiting for someone. His mannerisms dictated that he was worried. I watched his foot peer out from underneath the table, tapping quietly on the ground. His hands were folded. The show took the worries off his mind, I suppose. After a few minutes, a waitress walked to his table with a check, and the uncomfortable look on his face was swept away. They stumbled through a conversation due to the lack of the waitress’s English knowledge. However, they still talked like normal people, and I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. She asked where he worked, he told her. He asked if she liked her job, she replied. They shared a couple jokes and smiled at each other. As he exited, the waitress went back into the kitchen, and chattering, exited the bright room. I leaned back in my seat and glanced up to the television that sat in the corner of the room, pursing my lips as I watched the headlines scratch across the screen. Bored with the program, I started to notice people talking around me. A conversation that brewed behind me was that of two middle-aged women. I made up their back-stories in my head. One lived south of the restaurant on three acres with her husband and daughter, who attended my school. The other was her friend who was visiting from out of town. They talked about the program on the television, praising the same conservative ideals I despised. As I listened, I felt a wave of discomfort come over me. They complained about immigration, called president Trump an “articulate man,” and insulted the restaurant unknowingly. I wanted to turn around and say something; anything. I wanted to tell them to stop their conversation and continue it in the privacy of their homes. I wanted to educate them on their perceived ignorance. But while I read these options off in my head, I realized I was just as ignorant to them as they were to me. The waitress returned and sat a small bowl of sweet-and-sour soup before me. I thanked her and began eating.

Suddenly, a familiar tune came to my ear as I heard two people, one man and one woman, singing happy birthday to a hefty man that sat across from them. He chuckled and waved his hands at them, wanting them to stop. Much to his dismay, they persisted. At the end, he smiled and clapped for them, deciding that the opinions of those who sat in the restaurant did not matter. It was his day. After listening to their conversation, I assumed they were co-workers for some company that stuffed them in cubicles. They could have taken their food back to the office with them but decided they could miss an extra hour from their lunch break for the man’s birthday. He wiped his scruffy chin with a napkin and set it back on the table, drumming his fingers on the glossy wood. I thought of how his birthday dinner would look; I saw his wife standing behind him, his two kids at each side, aiding him in blowing out his candles. I also saw him sitting alone in a dusty apartment, eating a bowl of ice cream while watching TLC on his television.

I handed the waitress my money and stood to leave, making sure to grab my wallet and my phone. I peered back to the table and noticed a single fortune cookie sitting ominously, it’s plastic casing just as glossy as the wood it sat upon. Swiftly, I picked it up and took it with me to my car. Back at the restaurant, I imagined the man who sat alone at a table hoping his fortune would give him some clue as to how to approach a relationship with the waitress. I saw the two women open their fortune cookies to find something that gave them a little more perspective on the world. I witnessed the man with his co-workers crack his cookie open and find a slip of paper that contained winning lottery numbers. As I drove away from the Chinese restaurant, I watched it disappear from my rear-view mirror. I wondered what the Jasmine People would find in their fortunes, and I wondered what I would find in mine.

Sitting at a red light, I decided it fit to open my cookie. I was hoping to find some meaning to that lunch, some meaning to the stories I heard, to the time I spent with people I had learned to know but who would never know me. I felt the cookie crack in my hand, and glanced down to find my fortune. What did I find?