Today I invited my 21 year old neighbor to lunch, but first I had to stop by the bank. The “American” bank (never mind that it is British) is located at the only “mall” in San Ramon. Now, when we think of “malls” in the United States we think of many stores, and perhaps two levels, and restaurants, and parking for a million cars, and air conditioning, right?….well, actually no, the San Ramon “mall” has a bank, a supermarket, a handful of stores, a movie theatre, no air conditioning, and……THE FOOD COURT……and it is important to capitalize this to stress the importance of this food court, this is no ordinary food court, no siree, this food court has…………..drum roll………….a Burger King, a McDonalds, a Taco Bell, a Kentucky Fried Chicken and, oh yes, as an afterthought, a Tico fast food place. This food court is THE place to be seen, this is where half the population of San Ramon is at at any given time. This is where romances start, where first kisses are shared, where hearts are broken, dreams are made, business are sealed with a handshake, it is where you wear your Sunday best, and it is definitely where you hang out if you are COOL.
While I go to the bank, my young friend waits for me at this very food court and when i come out and ask her “okay, where would you like to eat?” I already see us sitting at a table with a checkerboard tablecloth and ordering exotic native food like “chayote” and “Flor de Itabo” and drinking tamarind juice or perhaps fresh pineaple juice and then I look at her and she is looking towards the McDonals with the same longing in her eyes as that of a man dying of thirst looking at a water fountain in the distance and I swallow hard and ask her “would you like to eat at McDonalds?” and she says “if you want” but what she really is saying is YES, YES, YES, CAN WE??? PRETTY PLEASE!!!!????
When it is finally our turn to order, I turn around and ask her “what would you like?” and this girl, this girl who has never used a computer, who has never driven a car and most likely never will, who fixes lunch for her father everyday, who washes her clothes everyother day otherwise she would not have any clothes to wear, who gets up at 3:00 am on Saturdays and Sundays so that she can cook, get ready and be on a bus by 5:00 am to visit her jailed husband, says to me ” I would like una Cajita Feliz”…..and it takes a moment for my brain to register that she is asking me for a happy meal and I say “but you know those are for kids” and she simply said, “yes, but I always see them and they look so good
And with those words the mother in me wanted to protect her from all the evil in the world, and I wanted to pay for her university so she could have a career, and take her shopping and buy her lots of clothes, and pay an attorney to defend her injustly jailed husband. But at the end, I just sat there and watched her eat her happy meal and my “responsible, mature brain” wanted to remind me about the mutant chickens, and the egg farms, and the slaughter houses, and how the acid in a Coke is strong enough to clean a toilet with, but at the end I kicked my annoying brain in the butt and basked in the glory of being able to bring a little bit of happiness to someone so deserving.