Heinrich, no longer the young bicycle racer zipping through the hills of sleepy Danish towns, is discovering that he is an old man. He rubs at the jet lag hazing around his eyes and red face, trying to fathom the unusually large portions of food he is being served during his American business trips. At least he’s not in Hong Kong anymore, where he couldn’t find fried eggs, toast and a round of plain yogurt to save his life. He is annoyed, however, that he will have to go outside to smoke. His old bicyclist knees do not take well to the cold rain.
“Would you like ketchup or hot sauce?” The waitress serves him a couple of plates, startling him awake. He looks at her face—young, flushed, and a little distant in the eyes. He imagines that she too hates this city with its rain and ridiculous smoking laws.
“This will do.” He manages a weak smile.
What an old man I am, he thinks and hangs a paper napkin from the collar of his wool sweater like a bib. He watches the waitress go back and forth with plates of food. She drops a fork and bends fluidly at the knees to retrieve it, a plate in the other hand still balanced on the tip of five fingers. Heinrich feels a twinge of jealousy at her physical ease, which he believes is wasted on serving oversized portions of hash browns and hotcakes to already overfed Americans. Halfway through his meal, she comes back to fill his glass with water. No ice, he reminds her. She nods.
Heinrich looks briefly at the curve of her waist cinched tight by a crisp white apron, then at the sweat gathering under her arms. She looks like the girls from his younger days, with hair slightly frayed by wind and work. He is stirred by the thought that they still grew the same—these girls with cheeks, lips and breasts all blazing with youth.
The waitress cocks her eyebrow and juts out an abiding hip. “Everything was fine?”
“It was okay,” he says.
“Just okay?” She picks up a near-empty plate before him.
“It’s too much oil,” he says, “too much food. I don’t need that much.”
“We try to be generous.” She clears the table of utensils and used napkins. “Though I suppose that results in wasting food and extra pounds for some people.” She nods over to another table—a family of plump diners working over their meal in silence. To Heinrich, she gives a wink and a toothy smile.
He thinks he likes her sensibilities and the way she carries dirty plates without apprehension. He admires how her hips work, like gears to give her legs momentum. When did I turn into an old man, he asks of the sky behind the skinny gray buildings outside the diner window. It responds in the form of rain and clouds. He curses God and empties a small package of dissolvable vitamin and fiber solution into the glass of water. He reaches into his attaché case for his billfold.
The waitress returns with the check. “Is there anything else I can get for you?” she asks.
Yes, he thinks, you can get me some new knees, a new body, maybe a life without this god awful traveling. You can give me a night with you. We can pretend I am not old.
“No thank you.” Heinrich tosses a bill on the table. “This will do.” After finishing his drink, he wraps himself up like a baby in preparation for his cigarette in the rain.