I felt the cup give way as I walked toward the gate. The tips of my fingers had grown uncomfortably hot, despite the cardboard sleeve, and I silently cursed myself for not washing out my commuter mug and setting the timer on the coffee machine last night.
Driving to the airport before dawn, parking the car, getting through the TSA line—everything went smoothly as I imagined myself sitting at the gate, alone with my thoughts and my sixteen ounces of Joe.
As I wondered whether I could I make it just a few more steps, the lid popped up and steamed milk ran over my fingers. I wheeled my bag to the right, and propped it against the wall as I reattached the lid.
Arriving at the gate, I was surprised to find only two empty seats, in a row designated for disabled passengers. An elderly woman with a cane sat at one end and a younger, still-grandmotherly type sat at the other, her left foot sporting a walking cast. I won’t sit more than a minute, I thought. I needed to dig some tissues from my purse to wipe my hand.
After sitting and placing the purse at my feet, I leaned down slowly. I held the cup gingerly by its rim, careful not to squeeze. Its base hovered no more than an inch from the floor. When the lid popped up this time, the cup fell from my hand.
I managed to salvage about half of the coffee. Not yet caffeinated, I found my reaction time slowed and my ability to direct the spill away from my bags diminished. The elderly woman leaned forward on her cane, sighed loudly and pushed herself upright. Scowling, she walked away.
I exhaled and fought back tears. I was saving them for later.
I noticed that the other woman was shaking her head and smiling sympathetically at me.
“It’s not going to be a good day, is it?”
“Maybe not,” she agreed.
“I just wanted to sit and drink a cup of coffee before this funeral. I just…” I trailed off, searching for my sense of humor. “I just need to clean up this mess. I can handle messes. I have kids.”
“I’m going home from a funeral, so I know exactly how you feel. My brother died.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry for your loss.”
We looked into each other’s eyes as we held our grief together for a silent moment. Suddenly, I remembered the spilled coffee, which was spreading across the floor at my feet. I looked down to survey the damage.
“I’m sure he has something to help you,” she said, as she gestured to a man pushing a cart a few feet away. There was a mop in a bucket attached to his cart.
It was only as I grabbed my purse and stood that I realized my sleeve was dripping coffee. I wondered if the smell would energize me during the funeral. Maybe the day would not be as bad as I’d feared.
“Do you mind watching my bags?” I called to her over my shoulder as I broke into a slow jog.
I didn’t wait for her to refuse. This was a minor transgression of airport protocol, but I was desperate to catch the man with the mop.