The man was in a hurry, stopping for a fresh sandwich on his way to a physical therapy appointment. After that he would scoot to his regular therapist. Both outer and inner pain needed attending.
The store he chose for lunch hires those who are often unemployable elsewhere. The philosophy was admirable; the sandwiches were delicious; and the location was convenient. As a man who often ran late, his timing was, again, down to the wire.
He noticed the woman behind the counter seemed overwhelmingly OCD. Her movements and actions were precise and often repeated, aiming for some invisible adjustment or perfection. He gave an internal nod to the store for hiring her and waited for her to complete the order ahead of him.
When he stepped up to the counter he looked at his watch and felt his irritation.
“Turkey, Swiss, spinach, tomato and mustard on rye, please.”
She began, smoothing each piece of bread with Dijon. The knife stroked the slices over and over.
The man closed his eyes and breathed in slowly and deeply. He was careful to control his exhale so it didn’t make an audible sigh. He now had less than 10 minutes until his first appointment and the walk, at an average pace, would take 12 minutes.
She selected turkey slices, one at a time, slowly folding them into accordion thirds as she lined the bread. Four slices, then gentle nudging with her latex-clad fingers to add a fifth slice. She considered it, then carefully moved each piece a hair to the left and added a sixth slice.
The man gave her a tight smile then looked at his watch again.
The woman looked over his shoulder. Her hands hovered motionless over the cheese slices as she took in the four people standing behind the man.
“Swiss would be great,” the man suggested, hoping he sounded friendly rather than out of patience.
She methodically and precisely overlapped three slices of cheese on top of the six slices of turkey. Moving on to the bin of tomatoes she studied the sizes, picking through the options. She found one that perfectly covered the left half of the sandwich. She picked and searched for a second slice and was coming up short. She placed two smaller circles on the right half, then took them off and placed them in the trash, returning to the remaining tomatoes.
The man rolled his eyes and sighed audibly. He hoped it at least sounded sympathetic, but he was beginning to seethe.
“Any size is fine.”
She kept looking until she found a near match and placed it on the empty half.
The line had grown to six people and the woman’s hands began shaking slightly.
She added spinach to the sandwich. Not a handful, but leaf by leaf. Then she began rearranging the leaves, searching for some pattern or coverage that would be satisfactory. It seemed to those in line that the woman was like a stuck record, repeating the same actions over and over. A leaf moved to the right, then back to the left. A new leaf added, leaves adjusted to make room, and again repositioned.
Someone farther back in line called out, “Lady, we haven’t got all day!” The customer next in line groaned, cursed, and left. The woman kept her eyes riveted to the sandwich in front of her while her hands continued making adjustments.
The man knew his appointment would be truncated as his lateness was now unavoidable. He couldn’t walk fast enough, much less eat as he walked.
He gazed at the sandwich maker, pulling out his credit card to make payment at the register quicker. A feeling washed through him, stilling his hands and diverting his irritation.
“You know,” he said gently, “that’s the most beautiful sandwich anyone’s ever made for me.”
The woman’s eyes filled as she gazed back at him. Her smile almost broke the man’s heart as she placed the second slice of mustard-covered-rye on top, sliced, and wrapped his lunch.
Ellen Judith Reich/August 18, 2018