I saw her standing there, waiting in line for her skinny mocha, just like she does every day. She always comes in at the same time, dressed in her work clothes and looking impatient as the people in front of her dither over which drink they’ll have today.
I know her order, it’s always the same. I even hear her say those words in my dreams sometimes. I watch as she inches closer to the front of the queue, wishing that she’d turn round and see me. Just once.
It’s not asking for much, is it? For this beautiful woman, the girl of my dreams to turn around and make eye contact with me?
They never do.
I’m the kind of person that others will go out of their way not to look at. My face is the kind that small children’s nightmares are made of. I know that folks try their best to not even look in my general direction and I’ve learned to live with that and accept it for what it is.
It’s taken me years to even work up the courage to step foot outside me own front door. How can someone like me be afraid of going outside?
It was never like that before, not until I got blown up on a routine patrol, that is. My unit was patrolling a small village when one of our unit stepped on something he shouldn’t have. I tried my best to get to him in time but it was too late. The right side of my body, mainly my face, took the worst of the blast.
I don’t remember anything until I woke in a hospital in Germany. After that, it was just a vague blur of sights, sounds and smells until they flew me back home.
The first time I saw my reflection in a mirror, I reacted so badly that the doctors had to sedate me. Despite months of treatments and countless operations, I still look hideous.
I don’t know why I chose the coffee shop to spend my days, but it seemed as good a place as any. I used to come here before…..before half my face got blown away. I doubt anyone recognised me from the man I used to be.
I smile as she makes it to the front of the queue, feeling a frisson of excitement as I hear her make her order. I watch her from beneath the brim of my hat, pretending that I’m reading the paper instead. Suddenly, both my wildest dream and worst nightmare collide as she makes eye contact with me for just a second. I do my best to hide my face as she walks toward me, fully expecting her to shout something awful.
Her hand on my chin takes me by surprise as she lifts my head gently. Placing a kiss on my scarred face, she whispers. “Semper Fi, lieutenant. God bless you.”
Written in response to Thain in Vain’s Week 46 prompt: Study a stranger the next time you are in a coffee shop, on a bus or subway, in a queue. Write a story involving this stranger. You can make it a tragedy, comedy, horror, Sci-fi, mystery — whatever suits your style. Go!
Dedicated to every soldier from every war. We will remember you.