Thursday, December 30, 2004

Even more Sad...

One of our regular patrons is a young man who works at my favorite local Chinese restaurant. He's one the nicest and most polite regular patrons we have. Mostly he comes in for internet access, but always asks if there are any available before signing up. He always seems concerned that we not disturb someone who is already using it even if that person is out of time. (We disturb the out of time patron anyway, because it's usually Parka.)

Tonight the young man came in with a grave look on his face. He signed up for a computer without first asking if one was free. Then he looked up at me with a very odd and fearful expression and said, "I have to read the news." Only then did I realize that he meant "news of the tsunami" and that this likely meant his home country was in the path of those tidal waves.

"Oh, my... It hit... What... Your... ?" I stammered for a moment, then finally managed a complete sentence. "What country are you from?"


"Wow," I said, not really knowing what else to say.

No one was using any of the computers, so there was no waiting time in logging him on. He stayed on for half an hour and then returned to the desk to sign out. He still wore that same stunned and exhausted expression.

"Um... What did you hear?" I asked.

"Forty thousand," he said. At the time, this was the closest estimate of people dead in the wake of the tsunami. I was to learn later that the toll was actually over 100,000.

"Were any of your family there?"

At this he gave me a wan smile and said, "No. They live on the other coast. The other side." He gestured in the air, indicating an island with two coastlines. His family had been safe.

"Well, that's good. But still..."

He nodded, smiled and then left.

I felt awful for a long time afterwards. This wasn't a kind of situation like, "Oh, sorry your grandma died," or even "Oh, sorry your brother died." This was a "Sorry 40,000 of your countrymen died." It's not something the usual etiquette guidebooks cover.

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An employee of a small town "liberry" chronicles his quest to remain sane while dealing with patrons who could star in a short-lived David Lynch television series.