The barista in the LAX airport got to his shop at 5:00 a.m. and opened at 6:00. He did this so he could catch the early tide of people that usually came in at that hour. He would smile and give coffee to all of the tired, angry travelers that came through terminal seven. Their baggy eyes and solemn expressions spoke more than their halting words of thanks. He was the only barista who came at that hour and it usually paid off (along with the fact that his was the only coffee shop at terminal seven). His cafe was usually the first place people went when they arrived or were picking up people from a flight. He usually walked away with $200 in his pocket.
At the end of the day, he would have to walk through the entire airport. Because he started off as a pickpocket himself, he knew how to avoid them. They were usually the people who slunk in the back or to the sides of the walkway, and they usually preyed on the tired passengers changing planes when all they could do is try to bully their brains into thinking straight.
From his coffee shop, the barista could see everything. He saw a tired father watching his sons with tired eyes and a wife sleeping on the man’s shoulder. He saw nervous, impatient people with bags, waiting in a security line for their bags to be checked, their minds rapidly going through all the things they had packed. A security guard was telling a young boy, “This three-cell flashlight is too big. You can check it or throw it away.” The boy looked sullen as his father got the flashlight checked. Flight attendants looking like packs of wolves on the prowl clustered as they were. The barista was the benevolent watcher, seeing all, but not affected by all, the one who served with a smile and who walked through the airport like it was his own personal castle.
One evening leaving work, the barista’s watching eyes saw a little boy no more than six, his tiny fist clenched on a small teddy bear until a hurried yank from an oblivious father made him drop it. The barista rushed over and tried to get the father’s attention, but the man kept walking, powering through the crowd with long strides. As he searched the walkway he realized he had no chance of catching him. The barista walked backed to his little coffee shop, the little boy’s distraught face still etched in his mind.
A month later, the barista arrived at his shop one day at exactly six o’clock. He opened the door and saw the little toy bear. He didn’t know why he didn’t throw it away. He picked it up and stared at the little brown body which had held such relevance to that little boy. He opened the trash can and was about to throw it away when he heard the counter bell ring and a muffled “hey.” He turned around to see the boy’s father whose eyes were fixed on the bear.
“That is my son’s,” the man said.
The barista quickly handed over the bear and heard a happy scream of delight. He looked over the counter and saw the little boy hug the bear tightly to his chest.
“We’ve found Baloo,” the boy said in a voice of shrill excitement.
The boy’s father, obviously relieved, turned and shook the barista’s hand. He said, “Thank you. We have looked everywhere since we got back.” He turned back to the boy and said, “Do you want a hot chocolate?” The boy, still ecstatic, nodded eagerly. The father ordered two hot chocolates, paid the barista, and clasping his son’s hand tightly, walked away into the tide of people. The boy held his bear tighter than ever. They were both happy.
The barista watched them walk away then wiped down the empty counter. They had forgotten to leave a tip.