Rustling clothes, shuffling feet, glasses knocking into each other followed by loud cheers. A baby cries, grease pops in the kitchen. The restaurant is overwhelmingly loud, but I don't hear it. Not tonight. My head is down as I walk through the crowd. I duck around tables and chairs and people. No one notices me. No one would. I'm just the busboy. After tonight, they can clear their own shit from the table. I won't be around for them to not notice. I won't be around to care. Not that I cared in the first place. They didn't care.
I close my eyes as I place my right hand mechanically on the grimy bathroom door. I push twice before moving my hand to the other side where I feel the cold of a steel nail posing as a door handle. It's almost funny that of the four years I've been here, bussing tables, not once have I been inside the men's restroom. I smirk. The bathroom door creaks as it opens, telling me to get back to the floor. Tables need clearing. I talk quietly to the door, explaining that tonight the regulars, the elderly, the good-for-nothing rich kids get to clear their own damn tables. The door closes behind me with a muffled thud that I assume to be a laugh aimed towards mockery.
Hot air and the stale smell of urine hit me like a brick wall. I cough into my sleeve. Walking slowly, I glance at the ceiling. One broken light bulb stands next to his half-hearted brother. A few wires dangle innocently, convincing moths and other winged creatures with no expectations to hang themselves, holding the wire dear as their only lifeline to the false sun.The soft tapping of my shoes against concrete cause me to look down. Dead cockroaches, cigarette butts, and unidentifiable stains litter the floor. I grimace and move to the sink in the corner.
Resting my hands against the cool, pale porcelain, I look up into the mirror hanging crooked on the wall above. Words and drawings are scribbled across the glass. Ink and blood are jumbled together, fighting to see which one can cover the most of my reflection. Phone numbers and names that mean nothing to me are written between cracks in the glass. I spit into the sink and watch the saliva slide down towards the drain. It takes on the same sickly grey color that the rest of the men's restroom has.
I stop breathing for a moment. I close my eyes as I listen to the rest of the world. My heart rate slows slightly and continues beating steadily. I can barely hear the dull roar of the restaurant over the pounding of blood in my ears. But it's still there. I can still hear it. I can hear chair legs grazing over the floor, children squealing, babies crying. A toilet in the women's restroom flushes and a moment later I make out the silent thud of the door against the doorframe. She didn't wash her hands.
I know your secret, I tell her.
In my mind I see her walking back to her table, to her family. She doesn't seem to care. I frown and tell her about her contribution to this disgusting job. She is not aware of it. I tell her coldly of the thank you I will not receive from her for clearing her garbage from her table; for cleaning up after her family. And then she looks at me with tired eyes.
I begin breathing once again as I look up into the mirror. I stare passed the names and numbers into my own tired eyes. Four years and I have never been thanked for cleaning up other people's shit. My reflection stares back at me. Four years and I have never been in the men's restroom. But I am here now. I turn slowly from the sink and walk even slower to the door. I look carefully for the nail posing as a door handle and breathe deeply as I reach for it. I pull it towards me.
The sounds of a busy restaurant hit me at once. I breathe in the scents of greasy food and the sickening blend of perfumes and colognes. People rush around me, not noticing, not caring. I shove my hands in my pockets and hold my head high as I walk to the front door. A man holds it open for me and I walk right by him. Smiling as I walk away, I whisper a thank you into the wind, but I know he doesn't hear me.