Ilse sat quietly gazing out of the window on to Main Street, waiting for the girl to bring her chicken with mashed potatoes.
“Is there anything else you need?” she asked.
“Mustard and pickles,” Ilse replied gruffly, in her thick, guttural accent.
She had not intended to sound gruff.
English syllables challenged her tongue. She was born in Talinn, Estonia, spent holidays with her children in Ukraine, and lived through terrifying times as a Jewess during the Second World War. She endured Soviet occupation of her homeland in 1940, was separated from her family and deported to Russia in 1941, and found herself pincered between opposing troops when the Germans invaded Russia. A hasty marriage of convenience gave her the necessary papers to escape to the Black Sea. She was a survivor, but most Canadians did not understand her well.
She had not wanted to dine alone. She had called three acquaintances, but each had an evasive reply.
Ilse scraped the last of her apple pie with ice cream off her plate, drank the rest of her coffee, covered her mouth with the napkin and picked the remnants of her meal out her teeth with a toothpick.
She made her way to the counter to pay her bill.
“There’s nothing to pay,” she was told.
Ilse was confused, thought she hadn’t understood and pulled out a twenty dollarbill.
“No, no!” insisted the woman behind the counter. “The person who left a few minutes ago paid your bill.”
Ilse was astonished. “Who was it?” she asked.
“The previous customer. The one sitting two tables from you.”
“But who is he?” persisted Ilse.
“I don’t know him,” replied the waitress. “I haven’t seen him before.”
When Ilse told me this, she no longer wore her glaring, protective guard. No tears were present in those eyes that had seen and endured so much pain, but they displayed a gentleness of gratitude and wonder at God’s love shown to her through another human.
by Andrea Kidd