“She’s sleeping,” the security guard said on her walkie talkie as she edged closer. “I’m gonna wake her-“
With that, the woman slouched over the table began to rouse. Sleepy but not sleeping, and resentful for being denied the chance, she lifted her earbud-dangled head, cocked it and blinked angrily at the security guard.
“She’s awake,” the security guard said into her walkie talkie, wheeling around to walk the other way. “She’s not sleeping.”
Along Michigan Avenue, where the rich don’t shop (because who does that in person nowadays, darling?) there is a fancy pants mall with a fancy pants escalator that goes up four fancy flights, some of which sell pants, to a fancy pants food court mostly inhabited by lunching young women who work at the stores.
And past the common area, where tables lay scattered amid downward escalators and Coast Burgers mingle with Panda Expresses and Jimmys John, there’s a darkened offshoot.
The room to the side looks like it should be for a restaurant, but isn’t. It’s more common area, filled with tables for people who took the extra second to look before grabbing a jostling spot by the Habanero Fresh Mexican Grill or Potbelly.
It’s quieter there. An old man reads a newspaper. Two young women chatter. Art on the walls portrays Chicago scenes, but it’s a darker, lonelier place where a woman with earbuds can almost take a nap and I can steal free WiFi for many, many hours.
It’s a place for the wealthy where no one’s rich. It’s a backwater eddy on this river of commerce where people can sit in a food court, hiding the fact they bought no food. It’s a place to sneak away, to slip between the cracks and get resentful when your hiding becomes so obvious security is called.
The sleeping-not-sleeping woman was mid-40s, either Latina or white and very, very tired. We had been sitting facing each other, me on my laptop and she listening to an iPod as her tired head kept bobbing, bobbing, bobbing down.
She glared angrily at the retreating guard, then wryly at me. It was a simple look, the “what the hell was that did you see that what the hell was that” we’ve all shot a stranger at one point in our lives.
The moment lasted too long. She stared me in the eyes. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Waiting for validation. Validation from a man who had no more connection than also wanting to hide for free.
She had been caught sneaking away from the world and she wanted a stranger to tell her it was OK.
I smiled and shrugged to break the standoff. She smiled back and rested her head in her hands. Her head bobbed, bobbed, bobbed down.