|Courtesy of Debspoons - |
Tuesday, 9 September 2014
A table for one
Last Saturday afternoon, I attended a beer festival in a neighbouring town and, as it was a pleasantly warm evening, decided to walk the four miles home rather than order a taxi. As is often the case, my five pints of fine cask ale had induced a mellow mood and I welcomed the opportunity for reflection during the homeward hike.
When I reached the half-way point on my journey, around 7.30 pm, I passed an Indian restaurant. The sweet smell of chicken tikka masala caressed my nostrils and triggered a hollow, burning sensation in the pit of my stomach, so I decided I was in urgent need of a curry.
Despite the restaurant seeming less than half full, several minutes elapsed before the manager greeted me.
“Good evening, sir”, he said, while glancing over my shoulder, as if searching for my dining companion. “How can I help you?”
This struck me as a bizarre question; I resisted the urge to say that I’d like to buy two litres of matt emulsion and hog-hair brush.
“A table for one, please.”
“Have you booked?”
“No, I’ve dropped in on the off-chance” I said, while scanning the empty tables around us.
The manager seated me near to the exit, directly across from the ladies’ restroom. A swift swoop of his hand cleared away one set of utensils, leaving the undersized table set for one diner.
As I read the menu, I could not help but notice the reactions of other customers to me, Billy-no-mates, sitting alone. Two young women exiting the toilet seemed to stare at me as if I was a reincarnated version of Ted Bundy. A couple entering the restaurant looked, and looked again, as if they had observed something ghoulish. I reassured myself that I must be succumbing to paranoia, and that it was all in my imagination.
Once the food arrived, the process of eating only amplified my self-consciousness. The crunch as I bit into my poppadoms seemed to reverberate around the restaurant. Despite my best efforts, my lamb bhuna insistently dribbled out of the corner of my mouth. After all, eating out is a social activity, where food intake should be punctuated by conversation and the exchange of pleasantries; but without anyone opposite me, to distract andshield, I felt exposed.
Towards the end of my meal, two children, a boy and a girl both aged about 6, appeared in front of me. I nodded and smiled; thankfully they smiled too. Suddenly, their mother appeared, glanced suspiciously in my direction and, without any word or gesture of recognition to me, grasped their hands and led them quickly away. I felt like the child-catcher from Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang intent on snatching children off the streets of Vulgaria! I stifled an impulse to scream, “Come along my little ones; come and get your lollipops.”
It is rare for me to eat out alone in a restaurant, particularly in the evening. My impromptu stop at the Jewel of Bombay provided me with empathy of how single people might feel when in the same position. I wont be repeating the experience in a hurry; thank goodness for Mrs Jones!