Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Look Up


I haven’t told my husband yet, but I am in love with another man.  It has been a couple of years now that I have found myself repeatedly returning to him for servings of the joy he brings me.  I supposed I should feel guilty, as he is about the same age as my sons, but instead I feel only pure affection.  To be clear, my love for him is strictly platonic and we rarely see each other for more than a few minutes at a time, but without fail, each time I walk away with a smile on my face that lasts all day. 

Not long ago, a noodle shop opened down the street from my office.  For most of my colleagues, the novelty of a new lunch spot wore off within a few weeks, but for me the significance of this commercial expansion was far more important.  The truth is...

I have a deeply entrenched noodle addiction.

I know Cosmopolitan magazine and Bridget Jones have the world convinced that eating ice cream out of the tub is every woman’s go-to “feel-better” activity, but in times of stress, sadness, anxiety, loneliness, shame, boredom, credit card overdraft, bad hair days etc. for me there is no quicker fix than a steaming takeout box of rice noodles slurped through disposable chopsticks so cheap that avoiding a splinter becomes the entertainment part of “dinner and a show”.  I don’t even really know why, but the simplicity of that perfect blend of steamy, sweet and spicy always brings me comfort.

Noodle boy’s sunny disposition confused me the first time we met. He looked up and met my eyes as I walked up to the cash. He smiled warmly, his focus never wavering. 

“Hi.  What can I get you today, Ma’am?”

Scanning the endless possibilities on the massive billboard, I wondered how I would ever decide.  Choose your protein, choose your sauce, choose your garnish.  Is it just me, or has takeout become exponentially complicated?  All I wanted were some hot sticky noodles. 

My breath got shallow and I started to feel anxious.  I heard the smartly dressed business man behind me breathing down the back of my neck.  He shuffled his Italian leather shoes impatiently at my indecision.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw him masturbating the screen of his smart phone absentmindedly with his thumb, like he might an old girlfriend he was growing tired of.

Noodle boy was unperturbed. He flashed me another smile. “Ma’am?  Have you made your choice?” He whispered gently.

            “Umm….a veggie pad thai please.

            “Spicy?”  His eyes twinkled, windows to his warm, calm heart.

Mr. Italian leather cleared his throat behind me.  His General Tao Special seemed sure to be the only thing standing between him and solving the Middle Eastern crisis. 

             “Maybe just a little.”

And so go our interactions.  There is little variation.  On occasion I’ll feel adventurous and try something else on the menu, maybe even ask a couple questions but mostly, our meetings are, on the surface, completely insignificant- money exchanged, few words spoken.  He doesn’t even know my name but somehow, our brief encounters stay with me.

There used to be an intimate apparel store in our local mall called Moments Intimes.  I laughed when a friend once misunderstood the chic French title and referred to it as Moments in Time.  But maybe she was right, that really, there is nothing more intimate than those little moments in time when we are truly present, whether with a lover or a complete stranger at our favorite takeout joint. With so much talk about BFFs and soul mates, maybe we underestimate those little connections we make when we just look up to truly see the person in front of us.

Today once again I found myself craving noodles and so decided to run into the grocery store on my way home.

Ten minutes later I get in line to pay.  I sigh as I see that the young woman working the cash seems to have time-warped into an alternate universe of slow motion. She struggles to identify the most basic of fruits and vegetables and after finally scanning each item, pauses to categorize its dimensions before carefully bagging it with bomb squad precision so as not to bruise or crush any fruit or baked good.  The line continues to grow behind me both in length and impatience.

I find myself feeling grumpier by the second so I pull out my phone to pass the time.  Facebook, the cyber-crack of checkout lines.  I swipe away, images spinning faster and faster in my palm.  Pictures of pizza muffins and the amazing healing properties of kale, interspersed with status updates of “7 easy steps to spiritual enlightenment,” and “Look what I just ate for lunch!” (Aside: has anyone else noticed that since the advent of Facebook, elephants have become increasingly artistically inclined?) My thumb scrolls faster and faster. The information overload only increases my angst.

Finally it’s my turn.  I am obsessively replaying a “pig nursing orphan kittens” video in disbelief.

And then I look up at the cashier. She can’t be twenty, this young woman with the fabulous afro and intricately air-brushed nails. I meet her eyes.  They are the deepest of dark browns. She gives me a pained smile and I can’t help but smile back.  We look at each other for a moment, I at her beauty and she, I fear, to see if I am about to give her a hard time. No way.  I drop my phone in my pocket and reach out to grab the package of vermicelli she has just passed over the scanner.

“Here, why don’t you pass them to me and I’ll bag,” I suggest.  She nods and her smile softens.

Yup, I think I’m in love again.

I toss the snow peas and mushrooms into the bag.  They will be perfect in tonight’s stir-fry. A dish that’s just the right blend of steamy, sweet, spicy comfort.

A dish I won’t be posting on Facebook.

*Some details have been altered to protect the privacy of those involved but remain true to the essence of the events.