The Human Comedy: The Afghani Waiter
Mark and Dana had never tried Afghani cuisine before. They weren’t sure they’d ever try it again, but their friends had recommended the place, which felt exactly like they supposed an Afghani restaurant was supposed to feel, with cultural artwork and decor arranged in just the right places to seem like someone’s dining room.
The waiter came over and handed them the menus. A thin man of about 45 years, with thinning black hair and skin the color of weathered parchment, he smiled graciously and backed away into the kitchen.
“They’ve got lamb, Honey,” Mark said to his wife.
“Ooh, yes. I didn’t see that.”
They ordered, and they ate. The food tasted as if it had been prepared in someone’s kitchen. The waiter popped back every so often to fill their waters. Mark and Dana commented to him about how lovely the soup tasted, how delicately the meat was cooked, how pleasantly surprised they were. “Thank you,” the waiter would say, and, “Yes, yes. Good.” And that was about it.
As it often did, the couple’s dinner conversation turned to politics. They discussed Israel, and the United States’ drone program, and a number of other divisive topics before Mark remembered where they were.
“I hope we didn’t offend him,” he said.
“Our server? Why would he be offended?”
“Well …” Mark looked over his shoulder to ensure that no eaves were being dropped, “here we are, talking about American and Israeli foreign policy, and this man, I assume, is from Afghanistan. First-generation American, most likely.”
Dana’s fork paused halfway to her mouth. “You think he’s anti-Semitic?”
“That’s not what I’m saying. ”
“He could be.”
“Sure. But my point is that we’re talking about issues that might be sensitive to him – painful, even. And this is his restaurant.”
“What – when I go to Chipotle, I can’t talk about Mexico?”
“This isn’t Chipotle, and we’re not talking about Mexico.”
Out of nowhere the waiter resurfaced, his demeanor as polite and detached as before.
“I can’t eat another bite!” Dana told him. “It was wonderful.”
“Very good, Miss.”
Mark watched him disappear with the plates. “It must be hard.”
“What must be hard, Sweetie?”
“Living in a country that goes to war with your homeland. How do you reconcile that?”
Dana scooted to the front of her chair. “I’m not sure he feels all that American, so I’m guessing he feels pretty bad about it. I imagine he has family in Afghanistan.”
“How can he not feel American, though? Here he is, working and residing, providing for a family, perhaps. This is his home now.”
“Certainly,” Dana said, “he’s not the first immigrant who’s had to deal with this. We’ve sent troops to quite a few peoples’ homelands.”
“Imagine if the US were at war with Israel. How would we feel?”
“I’d rather not think about that,” Dana said.
“That’s what I’m saying!” Mark’s hand found his chin. “It must be hard.”
The waiter returned. “Anything else for you?”
“Just the check,” said Mark.
“Can I ask you something?”
“Honey, don’t ask him that.”
“It’s fine.” Dana shooed her husband away with her wrist. “Do you consider yourself Afghani, or American, or both? And is it difficult for you to see the US at war in Afghanistan?”
Across the table, Mark hid his face in his shame and peeked through his fingers to see what level of offense the server had taken. And yet – the man’s face was unchanged.
“My dear,” the waiter said to Dana, “I do not consider myself Afghani or American. I consider myself human. And it is difficult for me to see any country at war in any other.”
With that, he left them. Dana and Mark looked at each other, unsure for the first time all evening what to say. “Well,” Mark muttered after a moment, “he knows how to get a good tip.”
all stories: The Human Comedy
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