Humility

Author’s Note: Another great prompt from Bonnie Neubauer’s Take Ten For Writers. I chose number ­­3 and used the words in bold. It went further afield that I thought it would, but guess this stuff has been on my mind lately.

Paper or Plastic? Go through the list and choose your preferences. Then use all the words you didn’t choose in a story. Pick a number from 1 to 10 and use that line to start your piece.

Paper/plastic

Cats/dogs

Coke/Pepsi

Early bird/night owl

Vanilla/chocolate

Fast/slow

Half full/half empty

Jump right in/baby steps

Hot/cold

Ketchup/mustard

Foreign/domestic

Left/right

Neon/pastel                

Well done/rare

Coffee/tea

Hardwood/carpet

Starting line: In only seven minutes, or eight at the most…

In only seven minutes, or eight at the most, I found myself in the middle of a surreal and dangerous situation, one that was quickly escalating beyond what I ever thought I would experience. One moment, I was my early-bird self, reading a book and sipping a hot vanilla chai tea outside Reynaldo’s, and the next, I was surrounded by at least a dozen angry protestors armed with placards, and homemade weapons. With a multitude of angry voices, they were protesting the raping and pillaging of Mother Earth while chugging Red Bull and Coke from plastic bottles and aluminum cans. They covered themselves with ketchup to simulate bloody animal abuse while wearing leather shoes and railed about misogyny and the trendy causes of the day, never realizing that their bandanas and face masks gave them the appearance of domestic terrorists. As I rose to leave, someone threw a paper cup at me, and I was disgusted to realize it was half-full of urine. What the hell had I done? I was just enjoying a mid-morning drink and all of a sudden I was public enemy number one. The throng was growing and I knew I needed to move fast to keep from getting more involved than I already was, so I pushed my way through the crowd, knocking over my chair as I ran into the café.  Reynaldo was waiting for me and pulled me inside before locking the door and pushing a table under the handle to prevent anyone from forcing their way in.

“Do you want me to call the police?” I asked.

“I just did. Hopefully these people won’t attack the building but I’ve seen footage of other protests so I don’t want to take any chances.”

“Good thinking. What are they so pissed about?” I couldn’t imagine Mr. Reynaldo doing or saying anything that would incite a riot – I’d been visiting his café for years and knew him as well as I knew my father or favorite uncle. He was a good man, the son of an immigrant who was following in his father’s footsteps by turning the restaurant into a community social hub and while I missed his father, Mr. Reynaldo and I had become good friends.

Mr. Reynaldo sighed. “I spoke out at a town hall last night. They didn’t like what I had to say.” We settled in and watched the chaos from the picture window at the front of the restaurant. I was strangely drawn to the violence now that I knew the pastel paint, shag carpet and kitschy décor stood between me and the mob. I never understood what makes people switch their minds off and behave like rabid dogs, but I found that when watching in real time, I understood it even less than I realized. I didn’t even necessarily disagree with some of their causes, but how do you reason with a group that is so convinced they’re right that they’re willing to destroy people’s livelihoods to prove a point? As the police arrived, the mob turned away from us and attacked the police, throwing rocks and bottles as they chanted and screamed. To their credit, the police stood their ground, refusing to make any sudden moves that could incite violence, but I wondered how long it would take before we’d end up in the national news cycle.

“Looks like we’re here for the long haul.” Mr. Reynaldo shook his head and put his apron on, walking toward the kitchen. “I better fire up the grill. If they’re here for a while, they’re going to need some lunch and so are we. Maybe if we offer them something, they’ll break it off.” I have to admit, at first I thought he was crazy to consider heading out the front door into that chaos, but Mr. Reynaldo was the rare kind of person who would jump right in and look past people’s faults to do the right thing, even when nobody else would.  I didn’t want to reward their bad behavior with a free meal, but what if just one heart was turned because of his act of kindness? Would that be enough to make a difference? Humbled, I rose from my seat and went to the kitchen to help him, determined to learn from his humility and make the world a better place, even if nobody noticed.

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