Photo by Catherine Dennison

Written by Angela Hatcher

Today, the line is especially slow in Boulangerie to “build your own salad.” I wait patiently, staring absentmindedly at my scuffed up shoes, but my solace is interrupted by a cackle.

The girls in front of me are giggling and pointing to the salad bar with long, manicured fingers. I glance around their slender frames to see what all the fuss is about.

I immediately know what they are laughing at — who they are laughing at. It’s so obvious. The lady making the salads.

I watch her.

When people tell her what they want in their salad she points to an array of ingredients: chicken, green peppers, black beans. If they nod at one of them, she tosses it into their bowl.

She says nothing; only opening her mouth and shutting it as she becomes more and more frustrated. She works furiously, moving from customer to customer after customer.

Her coworkers avoid eye contact.

I walk up to the thick glass that is separating us, past all the outraged students in line and say, on a hunch, “Guapa, ¿Hablas español?

Her sullen brown eyes light up.

She takes a deep breath in, looks me in the eye and nods gratefully as she exhales, bobbing her head up and down.She has a smile playing around her lips as I tell her what I want in my salad.

She tells me how no one she works with speaks Spanish, they can’t understand her and she can barely understand them.

I tell her that she’s hard worker and that I admire her for doing this.

“It’s okay,” she says to me in Spanish, “I know I’m a hard worker.”

She puts chicken in my salad.

I tell her I didn’t pay the extra money to get a salad with protein.

She winks at me.

I tell her that I hope her day gets better, that I’ll be thinking of her. But she’s already back to her station, ready to help her next customer. He says to her in a voice dripping with sarcasm, “Ya don’t by any chance speak English too?” His best friend chokes on his Pepsi as his body shakes with half-suppressed laughter.

The dull light in her eyes disappears almost instantly.


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