The Delicatessen

July 4, 2020 Off By Alfred Nyagaka Nyamwange

images - 2020-07-04T211233.611

The waiters in their purple windbreakers, white shirts and black trousers and skirts busily hovered over the kitchen counter waiting for orders. A dozen round tables with lacy white coverings hemmed with purple fringes were laid with colourful serviette spread across the room as a form of social distancing courtesy of the coronavirus pandemic ravaging nations with overwhelming deaths. Each table enjoyed presence of two purple velvety bouncing seats artistically shaped out of metal.
Wooden and soapstone carved animal figures, sugar dishes, glass salt cellars set in celestial deep blue occupied strategic positions of each table. A colourful menu embossed in golden was propped next to sets of silver forks and knives and artificial bouquets squatted at each table. It was this array of colours, the handful of guests in their personal best, conversing in undertones as if afraid to ruffle the dining room’s cool ambience that completed the rainbow display.
In a moment, a bald headed man with some coarse tufts of hair about his ears burst on the entrance. His polio afflicted legs wobbled each time under him before he retained his balance. His ill-fitting brown corduroy suit and paunch that strained his belt give a too huge appearance. His blood shot eyes surveyed the whole room as if he was looking for the high table before he waved to his companion, a lithe dark woman with cute airs of martyrdom about her to move on. Taking the cue she weaved to a corner table.
The man loudly slapped his tummy as he lumbered after her and then stopped to face the counter.
“In fact, I can’t wait to eat my normal meal,” he spoke too loudly through his red face mask. Which normal man wore a red face mask?
“I even didn’t wait to come out of my mother’s womb. I was out two months earlier. This lockdown and social distancing and being sat on, hahaha, isn’t it so Druscilla?”
He was pointing at his companion comfortably coiled in a corner seat as if everybody else here had the virus.
Nobody laughed even when he cracked into a body rippling laughter that sounded like a backfiring engine.
“Sir, a minute. All the dinner is ordered out for the president who is dropping in a moment’s time.” The head waiter announced with relish to every sundry who should hear their classy rating.
Hahaha! “I don’t care who comes here. I am voter number 629,000 and would take this opportunity to ask him a few questions on the potholes in my village…” He laughed. “Remember this guy locked us up for five months over a mere flu. Now that we are coming out why don’t you allow us to enjoy, dance and thank the sir of the skies for life?” Hahaha.
Someone uneasily coughed.
“Tom!” it was Druscilla with powerful vocals for a woman her size. “Drop that kid’s stuff and come over. They said they are going to serve us!”
“Oh sure.” He hobbled to the seat opposite her still craning his head towards the counter, a look of self-satisfaction on his face as he loudly smacked his lips.
Just then his humorous eyes settled on a woman in a green dress, a matching handbag and a black coat whose edges she kept tugging close to her body and seated to his left. She had two fine temples on a hard set mouth and high cheeks that accentuated her beautiful set of eyes and nose. Her hair was cropped short black waves. She gave him one nervous look and kept her eyes safely cast over everybody’s head. Occasionally, her eyes darted to the door and with every such a look her face kept darkening and losing vigour.
She had crept up behind this brazen faced beast called Tom while he was making loud overtures over food. She had known the likes having grown up all her life in a male dominated family as a child before she ended up an orphan. Her parents had died in some freak road accident and all her brothers split out by malicious relatives who eyed their land and property. Here began a journey to eke for themselves survival within the mean calculated traps and two brothers were already dead. One rotted in jail and another’s whereabouts were unkown. She was abandoned to her wiles, hurtled from one home to the next, abused, overworked, demonised, demoralised and marked. But then she never died despite deep scars of her tumultuous existence and continuous turmoil in uncertainty. She knew the real meaning of the word hustling, not in pronouncements but living it as it was. And she was here hopefully waiting for a definite answer that could make her future change forever.
Her right hand crawled inside her coat pocket. The coins there couldn’t pay even for water here, as the menu pronounced, let alone the fare ‘home’. She was quietly cursing herself for accepting to have a rendezvous in this high class hotel when she found the Beast’s eyes feasting on her. What was wrong with this baboon? Didn’t he have her companion to finger… She heard herself laugh quietly. Her hurt life had made her seek revenge on men and she easily read their thoughts and turned the hunter to prey. How many men had been lost in the sea of her innocent face, boat, rowing gear and sails? Don’t joke man, I am not a baby… Neither am I a whore…She wished she would tell this oggling baboon all that. Charm, yes…
Then her fingers slightly suffered a tremor and her lips when she imagined the man she was waiting for was somebody she met online. She had spilled all the bottled anger, struggles, fears, beliefs and hopes to a complete stranger. They had never made before. Only pics and nice exchanges and here she was on a date. Wasn’t this impractical and crazy? What if nobody came and the ever suspicious management demanded she pay for the air she was now breathing… With the virus in town, every seat occupation was important…And to imagine he wass the one who proposed the meeting place…She should have been in more control of this relationship as she had always done before, but she didn’t understand what happened. Was she getting old or a part of her was clamouring settlement and permanence?
What if this Tom was that man using photo shopped pics on his profile? She waited for something inside her body to click but nothing happened.
No way. There was something class about her date, sharp eyes, artistic masculine face as if sculpted on stone; handsomeness. But all in a picture…Oh foolish me…
She felt like her breathing was laborious and decided to forget it; yank the thoughts out of her mind. She calmed herself and waited. Surprisingly, nobody was coming to demand her order or ask her to leave.
“You can have any food and I’ll pay,” the message was too clear in Tom’s hazel eyes. What a impudence!
She whirled round and almost knocked over a loaded waiter making for the Beast’s table. Her nerves were on the edge and she felt misplaced. She would have dashed for the door but managed to calm herself and hoped for the best.
A few tables to her right was a couple of lovers eating from the same spoon, tray and drinking from the same container. It was obvious they had dragged their seats close together regardless of social distancing procedures. An empty tray beside them indicated they had piled its contents to the one before them to give them a more romantic flavour of oneness. These could be new lovers who had just discovered love, its sweetness, its delicatessen and were still living the dream. They were still atop the mountain- mark timing on the rosy top yet to see the other side of it.
The eyes of the customers and waiters could not be torn from the lover’s antics with renewed pleasure. The boy was all biceps and clean shaven and wore a T-shirt inscribed: I LUV U. The girl, a petite thing with tear lines on her face, big white eyes, big lips and curly hair, appeared grafted to the man’s looks. She had a tattoo on the cleft of her big boobs and on one arm that looked like a rose flower. She fed him. He fed her. She sucked his lips. He sucked her lips. To them, they had one world, their own world. A world free of viruses, scaremongering…
The Beast who had by now started gobbling his food discovered them amidst mouthfuls of his gratification. He gave them a long studious look that brought a glitter to his roving eyes.
” Social distancing, that’s government policy and we have to obey…” he spoke between mouthfuls and to nobody in particular.
There was a tense moment when the lovers stopped and stared back. ” I am not addressing anybody… This is my wife Druscilla and I am keeping 1.5 metres. Druscilla, don’t I love you?”
The lover man stood up so abruptly his biceps twitched.
An activity at the door and sudden movements attracted his attention. Men in dark blue suits breezed into the room followed by the president in his trade mark flowing open shirt smiling and waving at everybody. Mr biceps and his date moved very quickly and sandwiched Tom and Druscilla between them ready to shepherd them out of the way. The manner they synchronized their moves with the Blue Suits indicated the two were the president’s security.
” To the kitchen, you wanted to eat man… ”
Tom hobbled up so fast and the president caught his eye.
” Tom, you’re here too, ” the latter said and gave him a thumbs up. Tom flashed his card at the dates and they relaxed and moved to unattended spaces. The threat of terrorism and usually agitated country politics gave no room to slackness in the president’s functions. Some of the waiters metastasized to part of his security from their next moves.
Then she saw her date was the man who was very close to president. His eyes were peering around at her, his face the same way it was in those media pics. Something clicked deep inside her to say yes…She was tempted to get out her phone from her hand bag and peep at the pic but her nerves were strung up. She waited, restraining the urge to run into his arms with joy he had made it, kept the date, like a small kid before her mama.
“Grace,” the president suddenly called and turned to her. She felt her head getting lighter,as if its contents had suddenly melted away leaving everything hollow there. The president no… I can’t date the president, this is a mistake…
She couldn’t even remember muttering sir or something closer to that.
” I am the man who uses Peter’s handle,” he pointed at the man next to him as he pulled to the seat opposite her, keeping a favourable distance.
” I have listened to your plight. Now Grace, can you relax and tell me what I can do for you.” His face was gentle like of a father addressing his little daughter.
She remembered the story where Jesus had asked a blind man what he wanted.
” Waiter,get her something to eat. Ladies and gentlemen, you can also get something for yourselves on my bill.” She heard the president utter those words. He laughed heartily and there was a flurry of activities. Grace’s eyes were fixed on Peter. The man would be forty something years; his face was firm but jovial as in the account profile. His neat hands were respectfully placed before him like those of an obedient school boy.
She turned to the president. Her hands were trembling. And in a quivering voice she said.
” I am shocked beyond words, sit…but I need so many things sir. Let’s talk. ”
She relaxed and as several types of food were placed on her table, she found her voice. Before the president and Peter who kept a respectful distance she spoke crisply and in a short way she knew best, systematically laying out her plans. It’s like she had for the whole of her life been waiting for this moment to unveil herself to the world. The president noted and his respect for her grew.
” Don’t forget your lunch, Grace.”
She laughed charmingly, threw her head backwards and selected the right cutlery for the delicatessen.