The Waif



Waif: a person, especially a child, who has no home or friends.


Flat-chested and thin, her cocktail waitress outfit hangs on her like she is a child in a woman’s dress. Her hair is pulled back, what there is of it and she wears no makeup, not even lipstick. As I watch her from a distance, she serves up free drinks to the customers, the gamblers and gets pocket change as tips. 

I have seen her before and we have talked and she is a nice girl, a sad girl, living a tough life.

She makes her way along one row of gamblers and then another until finally she sees me and comes straight to me. A smile forms on her thin, pale face and we greet each other like old friends.  It has been a while since I have seen her and I ask the usual about her life, her son and her on-again, off-again, boyfriend.  She has been ill she says, missed a lot of work and there is talk of letting her go and she does not know what she would do if she lost this job. I think of asking about her illness but then think better of it. Since she has not volunteered details, I not sure I want to know.

Married and pregnant right out of high school, she only lived with her husband for 6 months before he ran away with another girl.  Now, 22 or 23, she lives with her parents and tries to save money for a place of her own but says she doubts it will ever happen. As she speaks, her faces slips out of the smile she first had and is now filled with anguish and even paler up close and her eyes are tired, really tired.

I glance down at my feet or just away from her and listen to her talk and feel guilty at having such a wonderful life and she such a terrible, hopeless one. In the past, I have given her ridiculously large tips and I am sure that is why she is here with me now; looking for a tip and not ashamed to be talking and even flirting to get it.  I know she is here for the tip and accept it.  I am an old man and she just a girl.

I ask more questions and she shifts on her feet holding the large tray of drinks in one hand at her shoulder and smiles again at my interest in her and answers in a matter-of-fact voice: car stolen, son in trouble in school and boy friend sleeping around on her. 

I sense from her that she does not think she has much of a future: not much to look forward to. She will live with her parents; work at the casino for years more if she is lucky and that is it. As she says, between work and taking care of her son, not much time for a boyfriend and not many men want a woman who already has a child. Sad.

Finally, I stop asking questions, which is my signal I want to get back to gambling but she stands there, waiting. So I ask for a drink, which will initiate the tip and she hands me one and I reach in my pocket and give her several large bills. She protests likes she always does and then thanks me with a coy smile and walks away.

I will see here again later, I know, as she knows I am good for another large tip.  I am too easy I guess but she is such a waif.


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