Encounter

She totters more than walks, her bike between her legs as she push-glides down the pavement of a strip mall. Her dirty blonde hair is pulled back, harnessed in a hair tie, but fighting to get free in bits and pieces all around her neck, frizzy chunks of it framing her face. She is freckled from days of sunlight, her nose and eyes shaded by a brown trucker hat the color of a UPS truck. It is branded in goldenrod letters too small for me to make out. She opens a grey recycling bin, reaches in with her slender bare arms, then closes it in disappointment and push-glides over to a large stone trash receptacle. Her thin brown tank top slides back from bright orange bra straps as she pulls out a clear plastic Starbucks cup that is not quite empty. Success.┬áIt hasn’t been there long, there are still ice cubes floating in what looks like watered-down lemonade. She pulls out the jungle green straw, peels off the lid, and dumps the contents back into the trash. Push-gliding some more, she makes her way to the glass door entrance, dismounts her bike and leans it against the tall wall of windows.

She enters, her dark grey boots tromping past shelves of discount mugs and artisan coffee beans, their pink laces swaying as she heads to the coffee bar where she grabs a stack of brown paper napkins and begins to wipe out the cup. She walks up to the pastry case and gets in line behind a tiny clean blond in jeans and a blue long-sleeve t-shirt. She swirls into the milieu of shaggy hair, topknots, suits, studs, and yoga pants. I lose sight of her from my high-top stool on the other side of the room, the other side of the bar where I can see all–the earth-toned syrups, hot and cold drink lids, whipped cream canisters, brew pitchers, stacks and stacks of green-stamped cups, the tools of the trade.

She pulls out a phone and updates her life as she waits for the barista, a camouflage backpack slung on one of her shoulder, a bright purple folder creeping from the open pocket beneath the top flap. Her cup comes back to her, filled with ice and dark brown liquid. She takes it to the coffee bar, where she sprinkles on cinnamon and pours in half and half before capping it with a clean lid and sticking in another jungle green straw.

She walks out the glass doors, past the growing line of caffeine addicts and high school students, adjusts her backpack, mounts her bike and sucks on the straw as she rides down the pavement.

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