“Can I have two cups of coffee?” Gary asks.
“I can give you one, and when you’re done, you can get another one if there is still some available,” I answer, pouring the hot, dark liquid into a cup.
“But I always get two cups,” he protests.
“Well, we’ll see. Just enjoy this one for now, okay?”
“But I always get two cups!”
“I know, but for now you get one.”
“That’s not right, I get two cups,” he grunts, grabbing his one cup of coffee.
He comes back three minutes later, right after I poured the last cup of coffee for someone else.
“Hey,” he shouts, “she stole my cup of coffee!” pointing at the lady who had the last cup.
“Well, it wasn’t really yours. She just got the last one. There’ll be more tomorrow when you come back for lunch.”
“But I always get two cups!” he yells. And at that moment, I am so glad his eyes aren’t weapons.
“I’m sorry,” I say, “but everybody gets to have some. That’s the way it goes.”
“She stole my cup,” he repeats, shaking his head like a lost puppy.
I go back to cleaning up the dishes from lunch, wondering if I did the right thing. I could have avoided the conflict and served him two cups to begin with, but that’s not how life works, I tell myself. Yet Gary doesn’t get that. He only knows that I denied him what he thought was his. That I stole from him.
I happen to be serving the coffee two weeks later. Gary comes over, and I quickly check the level in the coffee pot–only about two cups left. I cringe.
“Can I have a cup of coffee?” he asks. “And then, when I’m done, can I have another one if there is still some in there?” he adds.
“Yes, Gary, I would love to give you a cup of coffee, and then another if I have it,” I answer while pouring his cup.
“Hey Gary,” I say, handing it over to him, “I am really proud of you today.”
His face lights up like never before.
“Yeah,” he says.
And I can’t stop smiling.