My first memories are of dinner parties. People in fancy clothes, beehive hairdos, heavy rimmed glasses, clinking crystal, laughing between bites. Church potlucks – long wooden tables covered with flimsy white plastic laden with casseroles and gelatin salads and overcooked vegetables and potato salad and fried chicken and… And tables and tables of people laughing and joking and calling each other hon’ and darlin’ and sweet pea.
Food = social.
Except when you’re on a business trip by yourself in the off season in Africa.
The first several days I was here I couldn’t face the thought of going out to a restaurant by myself so I instead consumed the energy bars I had packed in my carry-on in case of hypoglycemia on the plane. It’s Day Four and I’ve run out of energy bars.
I looked out the window. The rain was sheeting against the window, causing the buildings in the distance to waver and sway. Could I just go to bed and wait until breakfast to eat? For some reason eating breakfast alone doesn’t bother me. Eating dinner alone does. I checked my cell phone. 18:54. Let’s see, subtract 12, 6:54. Oh, criminy. I can’t go to bed at 7 pm.
I bundle up, grab a book and my purse, and take the elevator downstairs. I stand in the doorway, mesmerized by the rain. I can’t do it.
I turn around and walk towards the hotel restaurant. I ask to see a menu and study it. Meat, meat, and more meat. I’m craving pasta, but craving warmth more. I ask to be seated. “How many?” She asks. I look over each shoulder. There’s no one else nearby. “Just one, thank you.”
I sit down and spread the white linen napkin in my lap. I look around the restaurant. There are seventeen open tables, me, and two older women with bleached hair and long red fingernails sharing a table in the corner.
My waiter approaches me with a wide, beautiful grin. “Hallo tonight. How are you?” I smiled, said I was well, and asked him how he was. “So well. So well. I’m Daddy and I will be helping you tonight.” I suppressed a smile, noticing that his name tag did indeed say “Daddy” and nodded. He offered to bring me water, while allowing me a few moments to look at the menu.
When he returned, I ordered the petite ostrich fillet with a side salad. “And for your starch, miss?”
No starch, just a side salad.”
“But you are having meat. Would you like mashed potatoes, potato wedges, or a baked potato?”
“I really don’t want potatoes.”
“You must order a starch. You are having meat. You cannot have meat without a starch.”
“But Daddy, I don’t want a starch.”
Did I really just say that?
Yes. I did.
Undeterred, he continued. “You must order a starch with the meat.” Realizing I would not win this one, I conceded. “Okay, Daddy, please bring me a baked potato.”
Satisfied, he jotted the order, grinned, and walked away.
A long while later, he brought my plate: ostrich fillet, salad, and baked potato. I chewed my ostrich then took a bite of baked potato, lightly salted. Mmmmm. That was good. Damn good. Thanks, Daddy, for insisting on the starch.