The other night we went out, as you do, to catch up with some friends for a meal at a popular spot, one that didn't require a lot of um-ing and ah-ing. We'd been there before... we knew we'd get a good feed for a fair price. And it was true. What we didn't count on was the colorful and entertaining service.
One waiter in particular captured my attention. It was partly because he walked so very fast. The doors from the kitchen swung open and he launched like a whippet, out of the gates. His movements were sudden and frantic. His face was as thin and drawn as the weasel from "The Wind In The Willows", but he was neither dark nor deceptive. He was friendly, openly helpful in fact, delivering extra cutlery and menu advice without request.
When it came to dessert, we stood, eyes glazed at the glass wall of cakes, reading the little signposts that named the streets on the road to gluttony. While the waiter-whippet assisted by differentiating between three decadent and equally enticing chocolate towers called Mars, Mousse and Death By, I noticed his tattoo.
If you have instantly conjured an ink-laden image in your mind, you would be incorrect. The tattoo in question was not an image at all. It was in fact, a sentence complete with full-stop. Down the inside left of his forearm this man made a bold statement about himself to the world.
It said simply, I am pure will.
For the remainder of the evening, stories ran rampant through my head as to what would motivate a person to brand themselves with those particular words, and in a bodily space that was so deliberately public. I was bemused and fascinated.
I considered that perhaps he was fighting an addiction. Each time he looked down at his arm and the veins that itched and ached, it would speak to him about his strength and his courage. A fire would rise within him, almighty. You have come this far. It was like a permanent post-it to re-assert his self-belief, an affirmation of hope in order to stick with the program. Then, in a blur he whirred past me... if I am right, it may not be working, I thought.
I wondered did he suffer depression? Did he wake with a groan and lie in until late, staring past his TV to the beige of his wall as 'The Circle' made over yet another weight-loss achiever? Blinds down, but flipped upward, so the light could never touch the pasty skin of his toothpick arms. I am fragile, he would think, and wrap himself tighter in the layers of his doona, cocooned, a parcel for the postman to pick up and take anywhere. Anywhere but here. At three, he would wake instinctively, knowing the time had come, and only by reading his arm would he make it to the shower.
Maybe he just wanted to tell people about who he is and he found the regular labels dull. He was not just a father, a brother, a son. He was not just a waiter-whippet. He was will. And not just any will. Blatant. Uncompromising. Indomitable, Pure Will. Or at least, that's the label he puts on his jar. Inside he could be crunchy or smooth. Or both.
His label keeps me guessing. Whether he is an addict or an egotist, I will never know. None of us are one dimensional and none of us are singularly anything. After a few days' reflection, I think the man's tattoo says: Don't tell me who I am, let me tell you who I am.
It's just one example of the attempts we make as humans to define ourselves, to piece together our identities before others do it for us. To assert some control over our own story and how it is interpreted when transmuted through the social spectrum to strangers in restaurants.
Reading people is fun, especially when they have sentences on their limbs. But you can only perceive so much from the jar. You find out more from the list of ingredients.