01 October, 2009

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the loneliest of us all?

There is something terrible about eating alone in a public place. It seems improper and is astoundingly tragic. I saw her open the menu card, she had an air about her which wished she already done with this one meal. Although I noticed her decide what she wanted right away, her eyes lazily ran over the printed words, hoping for them to provide some solace, for them to start a conversation, entertain her, occupy her in any way possible. Resignedly she ordered, just a nod of her head beckoning the waiter to her in a familiarity that was almost amusing if not pathetic. Now came the waiting and she did it with subdued impatience. She fidgeted with her phone, feigning deep involvement in every little button it had, but she couldn’t fool me. She looked at the couple sitting on the next table and studied their conversation with an interest she thought she concealed well, but then I am after all, a fanatic observer. The couple couldn’t understand the misspelt chomin or sandwitch on the menu and engaged a whole waiter for a whole 10 minutes understanding what each item meant. I saw her lips curl upwards in amusement, or was it scorn? With her you couldn’t really tell. I told you I had been studying her long. I knew the way her features moved, in that intimate way a lover knows each frown, each smile.

Just when the silence was deafening, there arrived a gaggle of people, each competing with the other for being ostentatious and obnoxious. They brought with them a fur clad perfumed spaniel pup. I saw her eyes widening as she saw the little puppy, she almost choked on the water which she had been sipping for well over a minute. There were four of them with one woman, fat in a shapely way, a voice louder than the words she spoke, impeccable English with an authoritative air. She sniffed at the water and asked for mineral water, petted her spaniel with affection and laughed heartily. My object of observation frowned as she watched this ridiculous display of garrulousness, and looked sympathetically at the three men around the table. One had a nervous twitch, so noticeable, it made me want to twitch. The other fellow nearly collapsed in relief when the waiter permitted him to smoke inside the restaurant. The third was one of those people who have nothing specific, they are a face, like any other, listless, without character, the kind of face you wouldn’t want to hear talk, the kind my mind has no use of. the verbose lady carried out pompously discussing everything from cheap hotels to unending journeys, pets and politics.

But coming back to her. Today she is wearing blue. Heightened against her dark skin. Her hair has been left loose. I can make out she hasn’t brushed it and the dishevelment becomes her. She started as her food came and she rolled up her sleeves, as if it were an unpleasant task to be done. Slowly she chomped through the chapattis, taking big mouthfuls and washing them down systematically with water. She cocked her head slightly and I knew she was eavesdropping. I could tell by the way her expressions tattled. There was a frown. Sometimes a grin. She rolled her eyes at times and almost chuckled when the dog peed on the carpet. I played along her emotions, wondering if she saw me sitting beside her table. I had ordered what she had and matched her movements. Break a piece. Make a bite. Put in mouth. Chew a bit. Just a bit and swallow.

She carried on till the dishes were empty. The cheeky waiter, a boy at best, cleared away her dishes. She rose now and I with her, but I left abruptly so I wouldn’t be too obvious. She stood near the counter, picking at the saunf and smiling at the manager. Her knee was bent, she toyed with the tassels of her shawl. It was a balmy night and I hated to say goodbye.

4 comments:

  1. Good One. Very poetic and yet straightforward. And like all ur postings, this one also displays a strong descriptive quality. Was missing ur writing for long, and happy to see u writing again.

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  2. Raja: Now that we both know who I was writing about, the story doesn't seem half as interesting eh?

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  3. I have been eating alone for the better part of the last six months now. I even wrote to you about it. But it is a part of the letter which might never be mailed. I have consciously shirked company during my meals. I have come to notice so much about people I would have conveniently ignored. I have also come to realise that the I still dread eating alone. But I come to do it anyway. Everyday.

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  4. I have realised now that I enjoy eating alone if I am truly alone, not in a restaurant-full of people, eating alone. Alone in my room, I enjoy my food, munching through it at my own pace. But being alone and surrounded by people makes me fidgety.

    But put me in a tea stall, a coffee shop, accompanied by paper and pencil. I think its something to do with beverages hmm?

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