There’s a light mist falling this morning on the island of Yap. I stumble down three flights of stairs to the outdoor dining room. A thatched roof covers a spread of a dozen tables, all unoccupied. A waitress looks up from something she’s doing behind the tiny bar, gives a smile and asks, “Breakfast?” She seems to wish I’d answer, “No just taking a walk.”
I hope this place is serious about opening at 7:30 a.m. I arrived last night after about 18 hours on various airplanes and I don’t even want to know what time it is back home. My body is telling me I’m on a different planet. What I need is coffee.
By the time I decide where to sit,several people from my group have arrived. The young waitress brings us menus. I can hardly read this; the type is some wiggly font in sky blue ink on a light blue background, the morning sky is dark and there’s no artificial lighting. We all decide it’s not our eyes, it’s the brain that’s not working. If only we can just get some coffee. With a general consensus, we all ask for coffee with varying degrees of desperation.
She seems to turn this request over in her mind. “We don’t have coffee made,” she finally replies.
I think, “That’s a bit odd for a restaurant, but, okay, how long can that take?”
The waitress asks what we want to eat and goes on to take our orders. She vanishes and we watch the rain fall, wondering if it will put a damper on our activities. We make small talk, subdued, only half alive. More people come. The waitress hands them menus. They request coffee.
Without any awareness that this might be received badly, she declares, “The coffee, it is locked in the closet and only the owner has the key. He’s still at home.”
Looks are exchanged. She continues, “We called him. He’s coming.”
I feel the brittle veneer of collective tolerance beginning to crack. Five minutes pass. Ten. Then a male appears with food trays. Some people are making do with juice. I pick at my plate of eggs and slices of exotic, unknown plant life but mostly, I’m craning my neck trying to see if anyone’s making/bringing the coffee.
Suddenly, a scowling middle-aged man zooms in, his flip-flops slapping like they’re punishing the ground. He’s got a key in his hand! He opens what we imagine to be the closet of ambrosia. Applause breaks out. He doesn’t seem to appreciate this token of our appreciation.
Ten more minutes. Ah hah! Could this be it? The waitress appears carrying a tray with a porcelain carafe on it. With her comes the waiter, who carries a tray of cups. We can’t wait for him to set out the cups and put that pot on the table. But this is not to be. They set both of these trays on stands about five feet from each other and a good 20 feet from our table.
The waitress slowly takes one cup and one saucer and carries it from the dish tray to the carafe tray. She then pours one cup of coffee. She brings the cup to the table and sets it down in front of the person on my right. I have to restrain myself from lunging at it. He asks for sugar. I want to strangle him. Maybe she’ll go grind some sugar cane or something…this could delay my cup of coffee for another hour! Fortunately, her co-worker has that task. He smiles and says “Okay,” and disappears into what must be the kitchen while she walks back to the tray of cups and repeats the process one cup at a time. What is this, some sort of Yapese coffee ceremony?
Five minutes later, I’ve got my coffee, which thankfully, I drink black. The sugar and cream haven’t shown up yet. Somehow, everyone remains polite. Maybe it’s the jet lag, or maybe our amazement at the way things are done. We’ve heard of “island time,” but we’ve now been through the initiation.
Mickey is the author of the mystery novel, School of Lies, published by Second Wind Publishing.
visit her at http://www.mickeyhoffman.com