Five summers ago, I was waitressing at a tiny cafe in downtown Wichita.
The place was imperfect but charming, the passion project of two retired sisters: Linda, a once-Kindergarten teacher, and Connie, a once-high school art teacher. Connie also managed a portrait photography business, which she operated from her darkroom and office space at the back of the store. Regular customers included Jack, the owner of the custom hat shop a few doors down; Mark, the restless student impatient to transfer to a liberal arts college in Vermont; and the guy with the twitchy eye who’d stumble in asking for the wifi password because “I need to download some porn.”
As I rushed (likely late) to the building one June morning, I was surprised to find the darkroom door—my typical point of entry—locked. This development really wasn’t helping my punctuality problem, so I made my way to the front of the store in a huff, tossed on an apron and briskly began tackling the breakfast dishes. From my place at the sink, I heard an unfamiliar voice call to Connie, “Hey, I think someone was just trying to break into the store through your darkroom.”
“That was me,” I yelled to the stranger. I rounded the corner to explain the situation, drying my soapy hands on my apron. “I work here, and I usually come in through that—“
I trailed off in surprise, having come face to face with someone who was not, as I’d expected, here to fix Connie’s internet connection for the millionth time or to inspect the slowly crumbling building, but who instead was roughly my age and whose sharp features smelled strongly of photographic chemicals.