It was the third time I saw this lady at the McDonald’s that’s close to our house. Just like the last two times, she sat down next to me and faulted the tray liner to an origami litter box after she had finished her meal.
First time she did her crafting trick I watched her from the beginning till the end. When our eyes met I looked at her with a broad smile like a little child that witnessed a magician pull a rabbit out of his ... her hat. She gave me a friendly but tired look, leaned over to my table and took my tray liner without a word. In less than a minute I had my own origami litter box.
Shortly after that she left without even really gesturing goodbye.
Although today was our third encounter within the time span of three weeks and I was sure she remembered my face, I could feel that she was not really interested in socializing, and since I wasn’t really in the mood for small talk myself I welcomed her manner.
On the outside with her curly wet looking shoulder-length hair, hand knitted top and mismatching pants she looked like she was trapped in the 80s. Apart from that, I thought, if she wore the right uniform she would be perfect for the part of a stone-faced, sincere but deep inside warmhearted housekeeper of a 19th century English household.
Judging by her looks she was in her late 50s.
There was something mysterious and serious but still heartwarming about this lady.
I couldn’t help but unleash my imagination about her. My mind went off coloring out imaginative parts of her life.
It went like this: Something terrible had happened to her when she was a young girl. Something so profoundly frightful that she decided not to open up about it to anyone and to never speak and use her voice again.
The only thing that gave her real pleasure was doing crafty things – from knitting and sewing to doing origami. Hanging on to ritual-like activities, like coming to McDonald’s, ordering the same food and sitting around the same place each time, made her feel safe.
She didn’t want anyone to interrupt her in her rituals and with her whole attitude she made sure no one entered her private little world. She was far from unkind, although sometimes people mistook her for being cold as ice. All she wanted was being able to exist in this world without having to be a part of it.
Once I was done with my speculations based on pure emotions and no facts at all, I was ready to step out of the imagination-bubble, which I had lost myself in for a couple of minutes.
As I reached for my coffee a tiny giggle escaped me.
The old lady wasn’t the only one with rituals.
The only reason I knew about her Monday morning McDonald’s meal time was because I had started coming here on a regular basis myself. "Regular" as in "before a monthly English business class with nine stoic Japanese men.
Teaching English business there always makes me feel so nervous that a couple months ago I decided to calm myself down by doing the same thing each time before having to face that class, namely ordering my pancake-salad-coffee set at McDonald’s and reading a book. Although I created a superstitious dependency to this habit (what if I can’t have my pancake set? Will I fail the class on that day!!?? AHHH!), for now it’s what helps me not to freak out about teaching the nine samurai, as I call them!
I wonder what funny rituals other people have. Feel free to write them in the comment part, if you have any. I'd love to hear from you.