I worked the late shift at Francisco’s Cafe making donuts for the next morning. It was a lonely job. Gary, the cutter, would only be there for the first couple of hours. There were no breaks, so I never really got bored and the pay was pretty good compared to the part-time day jobs I could use to work my way through college. But still, it was lonely. I treasured company.
Sometimes Gary hung around to chat me up, probably because I was the only single female available at 2:00 am when his shift ended. Every once in a while, Don from Don’s Donuts would borrow or return supplies in the middle of the night, and a few of Corrie’s friends liked to pretend they were mine on Friday or Saturday shifts, but this was a Tuesday. Another lonely Tuesday.
Working graveyard is a little scary at first when you’re a girl, and scarier when you’re a girl my size. Francisco’s rules were simple. Don’t open the door, and if someone breaks in anyway, he made it pretty clear…
“You’re working next to a lethal weapon, Doll. I don’t care how big he is. You hit him in the face with that shit, the only thing he’s taking out of here is an ambulance.”
Guys can fight off pepper spray and stuff, but after I burned myself a few times on the 375 degree shortening, I started to believe him.
2:14 a.m: The kitchen clock sat right above my picture window view of the cafe. It’s hard to forget that image of the clock in my head.
Gary didn’t stay that night and I was frying my second set of donuts, waiting for Gary’s cut to proof. There was an odd sensation that someone was watching me. I looked over my shoulder and across the cafe there was a guy outside in the dark, pounding on the window next to the front door. He was saying something too, but I couldn’t even hear the pounding over the roar of the exhaust hood. I shrugged, pointed to my work and ignored him. Two minutes, and a screen of old-fashioned donuts later, he was gone.
He didn’t stay gone. There was some pounding on my back door, which I also ignored, and then another minute later, he was back around in front, waving frantically at me and holding up a piece of cardboard with some writing on it. I finished my screen of donuts and ignored him as before, but this time he was still there. I tossed some glaze on the donuts and walked out into the cafe where I could see his sign.
PLEASE TALK TO ME
He was haggard. Blond hair and beard, unshaven for a couple of days, and very dirty looking, otherwise he would have been kind of cute. Judging by his clothes, he was extremely poor, too poor to buy a gun, and anyway if he had one, he probably would have used it already. I looked at the clock. It was a small workload being a Tuesday. I had a minute to spare. I motioned to the door where we could hear each other through the crack.
“Thank you! Thank you!” His voice sounded genuinely grateful.
“How can I help you?” I asked.
“Just hear me out please. I know you’ve probably heard this a million times, but I promise, this time it’s different. I just need five more dollars for bus fare to get to Seattle, but wait, wait, wait…”
He turned the cardboard around to reveal that the other side read: SEATTLE
“I don’t need the whole five dollars. It’s really important. Whatever you can give… two dollars, a dollar, anything… Oh wait. You’re wondering why this time it’s different. You see… I’m Jesus Christ, and I’m on an important mission. Someone in Seattle really needs my help… only… I can’t tell you about them, because… well, because I’m Jesus Christ and you’re supposed to just have faith.”
“I’m sorry,” I mouthed quietly. I raised my hands and started to back away.
“You believe in Jesus Christ, don’t you?”
“It’s not important what I believe. I don’t have five dollars.” I said backing away further. It felt a little awkward lying to someone who just said he was Jesus.
“But you have two dollars?!”
“I don’t keep any money with me, I’m sorry,” I apologized and I started to walk away. It was sort of the truth. I kept my purse and stuff in the office while I worked.
“You disappoint me,” he said. “I thought I read you as someone who cared.”
It sent a twinge of guilt through me that made me turn. “I have work to do,” I said. “The only thing I have to offer is coffee and donuts. I’m sorry.” And I went back to my job.
It was impossible to get the guy out of my mind. Jesus Christ or not, he would have cleaned up real nice. And he wasn’t forceful, or mean, or vulgar or… He was articulate, polite, imploring… The more I thought about him, the guiltier I felt about not helping him.
3:06 a.m.: He was back.
This time, he was just standing in front of the cafe waiting for me to notice him like a lost puppy with a wagging tail. I should probably have been terrified, but instead I was relieved. I said it was a lonely job, right? I was filled with self-doubt, like God finally answered my loneliness prayers and I’d spit in his face. I made a break in my donuts and walked out where I could talk to him again.
There was a pause where neither of us said anything. When I started to get annoyed at the waste of time, he spoke.
“I decided to take you up on the coffee and donuts.”
“Jesus Christ,” I said, shaking my head mentally at my choice of words. “I only said that trying to explain… I can’t… You understand I can’t just let you in.”
“Yes you can, you have a key,” he said, all matter of fact. “Come on, I didn’t ask for seventeen dollars. I only asked for what you can afford.”
My head spun and my stomach churned. That was one hell of a coincidence. Seventeen dollars was the exact amount of money I’d lied about when I said I had none.
“I’m sorry!” he quickly apologized. “I know you only meant you couldn’t spare it… I went away didn’t I?”
His face looked pathetic… and really kind of cute.
“It’s just getting really cold out here and the coffee sounded nice.” He held out a hand to show he was shivering. “I’ll give you the shirt off my back.” He stretched it out. It was full of holes and probably not doing him much good anyway.
I held up my hand with one outstretched finger and walked away. Was I crazy? I thought it over one more time while I dropped a screen of bars into the fryer, and then made up my mind. I ran to the door. He was gone, but I unlocked it anyway and ran back to the safety of my lethal weapon.
3:18 a.m.: I finished the screen of bars, dropped another and… well, still nothing, so I went out and locked the door again.
3:42 a.m.: I was frying the first screen of apple fritters when I heard his voice.
“I couldn’t figure out how to make the coffee, so I was going to leave, but you locked me in.”
I nearly fell in the fryer. How the hell had he just disappeared? He was standing right behind me, calmly. My cup was right there… douse him with the hot shortening, call him an ambulance… but he’d been in the shop more than twenty minutes and done nothing more than try to figure out the coffee maker.
I held up a finger to silence him, and when I had a moment I ran out and pushed the single button to start the coffee I’d prepped when I came in. “It’s pretty complicated,” I said, pointing to where the letters said: PUSH TO START. “The coffee only takes a minute.”
My heart was pounding and my mind was pudding by the time he came back with his coffee.
“You never asked why Jesus needed to get to Seattle so badly,” he said. “I expected you to ask.”
“We all need to get to Seattle, don’t we?” I looked at him. He didn’t understand my question, and for the first time I noticed he had a hideous scar hiding under his hair in the middle of his forehead. It was like someone had shot him point blank with a very large caliber weapon and it had magically healed.
“I’m a healer,” he continued. “I touch people and it heals them. There’s a little boy named Jack up in Seattle who is afflicted with cystic fibrosis… I can’t save everyone, but Jack’s family needs a miracle. Thing is, Jack’s taken a turn for the worse, and he’s going to die if I can’t get there in time.”
I had to give him credit. Riding the bus to work every day, I’d heard my share of stories. This one was pretty original.
“I can prove it. Got anything you need healed? All I have to do is lay hands on you.”
“No, I’m good!” I assured him.
“The coffee’s really good here,” he said after a minute, holding his cup firmly between both hands to show me. “I really appreciate it.”
“You didn’t drink any yet,” I observed. “You need to hurry up. Star’s going to be in to open up pretty soon.” It was another lie. She wouldn’t really be in until just before 6:00.
“You’re probably wondering how I knew you had seventeen dollars.”
“Not really,” I lied again.
“I told you, I’m Jesus Christ.”
No matter how many times you hear that, you really just don’t know how to take it.
“Five dollars? For Jack?”
I ignored him.
“Please? I’ll give you anything. I’ll give you the shirt off my back.”
When I turned around, my eyes popped wide and I almost choked. He was half naked, holding the shirt out.
“It doesn’t keep you very warm, I admit,” he said apologetically. “That’s the problem with being Jesus.” He poked two fingers through one of the holes. “What do you say? Five dollars for a holy shirt?”
I couldn’t help laughing. “Sir, please put your shirt back on!” I turned away while he did.
He watched me work for a while in silence. I could hear him sipping his coffee. Several minutes went by, long enough for me to get lost in my thoughts again. Finally, he finished his cup, and I began to worry if he would actually leave when I told him to.
“That’s what the problem is,” he said. “You don’t believe I’m Jesus, do you?”
“Not really,” I answered.
“I can prove it,” he said confidently. Where do you think I got these scars?” He held out the palms of his hands.
Not many things truly shock me in life. This did. His hands had huge scars in the middle of them! He turned them over front and back a few times to evidence the through and through. I stared in disbelief, wondering how I’d missed them when I looked at his hands before.
“I can show you my feet too,” he bent down to remove his shoes.
“No! No! No!” I begged. “I’ve seen enough undressing!”
He stood back up and the oddest look came over his face. He seemed honestly confused that I still didn’t believe him. Then it was like a light bulb went on.
“I get it!” He pulled his hair away from his forehead where I could see the scar there clearly, a gnarly cyclops eye of flesh. “You’re trying to figure out how I got this one, aren’t you?”
“Not really,” I winced. “I’m guessing you’re gonna tell me anyway.”
“You know they crucified me, right? You know The Story?” He made air quotes.
“Well, most people know the story. Whatever. When they crucify you, they hang you way up high so everyone can see. I don’t like heights. After a while, I got kind of sick of being up that high and I changed my mind about the whole crucifixion thing. So I’m hanging up there…”
He stepped out where he had room to gesture and stretched himself out into a crucifixion pose.
“First I pulled one hand free,” he struggled and ripped one nailed hand from the imaginary cross.
“Then I pulled the other one free,” he repeated the antics with his other hand.
“Then I thought, ‘Oh shit! My feet!'” he pretended to fall forward, flailing his arms wildly. “Bam! Right on the cross!”
I burst out laughing. After I calmed down, I ran back to the office to get five dollars and brought it back to him, still giggling at the picture of him hanging upside down on the cross.
“You believe me now, don’t you?” he grinned, taking the five dollars.
“Not really,” I laughed. “But someday that story is going to be worth the five bucks.”
© 2012 Anne Schilde