The restaurant's patio is nearly empty. An old couple sit shivering beneath a heater. They are the last of the early-dinner diners. When they finish their bowls of creamy eggplant stew and leave, the place will be empty. The sun is in its later stages of setting and that alone, accompanied by the swiftly blowing November winds, is enough to keep most potential diners away. The old man and woman get up and walk out, leaving a quarter and a dime as a tip. No one is left. The place is officially empty.
At exactly six thirty, two men approach the restaurant. Once they reach the foot of the entrance, they both step back one half step, waiting for the other to go in first. The first man, a thirty-something dressed casually in a sweater and black jogging pants, takes off his trendy sunglasses, and insists that his companion enter first. The second man, a slightly older version of the younger, looks much more serious than his companion. He places his hand on the back of the younger guy and says in a serious tone, “I insist Mohammad, you go ahead…”
The young man quickly steps in, his face is white, and has become suddenly serious. He keeps taking off his Oakland Raider's football cap and brushing his hand through his hair as he says, “My name is Mike…”
The older man laughs at this and as they walk towards the empty table in the back where the old people had been sitting, he says, “Father is turning in his grave right now… He gave you all the money you could ask for, a good education, a respectable name, and you change it to Mike? What does it mean, Mike? Does it even have a meaning?”
“Listen big brother, I didn't bring you here so you could raise your voice and embarrass me in front of…” Mike began to say but the older brother continued talking. The more he talked, the thicker his accent became and the redder turned his face.”
“In front of who? The dirty dishes? You are a disgrace to our family.”
Mike looked into his brother's serious eyes and chuckled. “Our family…”
“I bought two tickets home. I'll meet you tomorrow at two,” began the older brother. He was talking to Mike as if he were a child, incapable of making his own decisions.
“I told you, I am not going back there,” Mike replied, his voice without emotion. “You said it yourself, father is turning in his grave because of me, and so is mother.”
“Shut up!” his brother yelled at him, slamming his fist down against the wooden table that already looked ancient enough as to burst into dust if it were dealt another blow. “She's not dead!”
“Shhh!” said Mike, sinking down lower into his chair. “This is America, we have rules of civility here. Keep your voice down.”
“I do not give a damn what you people do or don't have,” his brother began again, his voice louder than the first time.
“Please, don't get your voice so loud,” Mike pleaded, putting his sunglasses back on, hoping no one he knew would notice him, hear his brother's heavy accent, wonder what it was they were talking about.
“She's… not… dead!” said his brother again, emphasizing every word.
“Yet…” whispered Mike, but then, he seemed to change his mind about what he was going to say because he bit his next words and said instead, “I am dead to her, aren't I?”
“You're supposed to be dead to all of us, but I'm here, aren't I?” said his brother, his eyes softening. He took an envelope out of his back pocket and placed it on the table, after shoving away the empty dishes.
“Why did we have to sit here? It's dirty,” said Mike, “'someone should come clean it first.”
“So that we can dirty it again? What would be the point? You shouldn't expect there to always be a waitress to clean up your mess.”
Mike began pouring salt into the empty bowl, then some pepper, then he grabbed the clean knife sitting on the table beside them and began chopping up the bread slices into little squares. He dropped them into the half-eaten bowl. There were a few drops of soda left in the can, so he added that to the bowl. Then he got his hands on some jam, strawberry flavored, and added a dash of that too.
His brother watched mesmerized. His eyes were glued to Mike's hands. He began to say, “You idiot, do you always waste everything?”
“You don't know anything about me. None of you do, least of all her.”
“If I call you Mike, will you listen to me?” asked his brother, hoping he would give in and stop being so stubborn. “Will you get on that plane?”
“Do you remember when she brought us home that puppy. Said the gardener had found it while trimming the roses and he'd been chasing around the fields trying to whack it with his scissors?” Mike was talking more to himself than to his brother. His tone was light and soft, it could barely be heard. The howling of the wind against his face also made it even more difficult to comprehend him. “She tied pink ribbons to its ears and made me walk it every day. And when it got sick, she made me walk all the way down to the doctor's and we'd visit it every day.”
“I remember…” his brother said. He didn't say anything else, just sat back in his chair and clasped his hands together, placing them beneath his chin as he listened.
“She took care of everyone. Even me.”
“I know. She even named you.”
“Who'll take care of her?”
“I thought you said she's dead.”
“Shut up!” yelled Mike, slamming his hands against the rickety old table. The dishes and spoons and knives began to jiggle and clink against each other as the table vibrated from his punch. “Don't you ever say that.”
His brother got up to leave and takes one look back at his younger sibling, “Too bad you're not coming home Mike, she'd love to see you.”
The silence that surrounded them was broken when a waitress came up to their table. She smiled at them both and said, “Hey Mike, it's been a while, who's your friend?”
“Oh, hi… Mike is one of our regulars. Loves the apple pie, says it reminds him of his hometown,” she said, not noticing that the older brother had left one of the tickets on the table and walked away. She put a pot of coffee on top of the ticket. “So Mike, apple pie?”
Mike grabbed the ticket from under the cup and tapped it against the table as he got up to go. “My name's not Mike, and apple pie is nothing like my home,” he said and walked away.