by Eman

I wrote this in a restaurant today. I don’t like restaurants. Or, more accurately, I don’t like who I become in restaurants.

Going to a restaurant is an actual experience no matter which restaurant you go to. I mean, you go through so many emotions in the time between entering and exiting, it’s almost profound. It begins with that gnawing emptiness that you get when you are first shown to your table, the sudden hunger that attacks you from behind as your nose struggles to absorb the onslaught of aromas wafting from the kitchen. Then, as you read the menu, your mind paints flavors onto your taste buds and they wet themselves in anticipation.

Then comes the most difficult part, the agonizing exercise in patience. This usually involves furious but tentative sips of orange juice punctuated with forced small talk and reluctant nibbling of bread. By the time you’ve discussed how relatively warm it has been the past few days the glass has been halved in quantity (half empty, as your starved outlook sees it) and the bread has gone stale. You drum your fingers on the table and smile at the waiters. It is not the warm or friendly smile you would share with a friend or close acquaintance, nor is it the noncommittal smile that you would allow another member of the service sector. No, it is a multi-layered smile, a dangerous smile, a baring of teeth. Your hollow eyes follow plates of food, steaming plates of nutrition, plates of decadent goodness carried on the shoulders of cherubs… but they never come your way. Sometimes they appear to come close, oh and how your heart flies. No other sensation can amount to the feeling of seeing that plate of food flying towards you, magically appearing from where? Where do the plates come from anyway? Who makes them? What are you doing here? Why is it so cold? Oh, the room is spinning…

The suddenly, without any prior warning and adhering to no fixed law, your plate appears in front of you. There it is, not exactly like you had imagined an eternity ago when you had first looked in the menu, but here nevertheless. Here and yours! Distress is replaced with elation which is replaced with determined concentration as you attempt to fit as much food into your mouth and down your throat without embarrassing yourself or choking too badly. It only takes four mouthfuls and two declarations of ‘oh my god this is so good’ before your stomach has had enough and everything begins to taste like grit and chicken feed. The music becomes terrible, the waiters are suddenly less attractive and godammit why are these chairs so uncomfortable? The condensation from your glass has dribbled all over the table and you have been inadvertently mopping it up with your elbow. It is too hot. You wave your arms around to signal for a cheque. It takes a few attempts but just as you are pondering the morality of dining and dashing (is it still wrong if you have to wait ten minutes for the cheque?) a waiter materializes with one of those lovely leather receipt holders and a smile as genuine as mother-in-law’s hug. The transaction is done, the experience is over and you leave dragging your engorged gut and whatever is left of your self worth behind you.