Hard to gain perspective in these winter months, isn’t it?
Constant drone of incubated thoughts clogged in my hypothalamus. It can’t be time to clean the bathroom floor again, can it?
There is no food in tesco express.
I’d pick up the phone and call my friends, if my face would recover from its lockjaw. I might make the effort to go out and see interesting unsigned bands, if I could fit into my jeans and stand comfortably, without fear of parasites from the past cheerfully tapping me on my hunched shoulders.
The exception – a birthday invite.
‘Any ideas where we can go?’ said the text. I irritatedly rush out a reply. ‘Thai. Bring your own. Cheap. Good.’
She books it, so I have no excuse not to attend. Although set on drinking water, having quaffed several carafes with a Neanderthal the night before, it’s all gone to pot by seven thirty.
I’m still in bull-mode, and grab a bootleg bottle of white in the booze-shop. Birthday girl has gone ahead to the restaurant and I am now stampeding through town with her husband and brother.
I charge into the thai sanctuary and upset its calm by rambunctiously serving a medley of Sean Paul’s Dutty Rock, Shake that Thing, and Oh Carolina to my table.
The birthday girl, who is seven months pregnant, at first squawks, then looks aghast, as a romantic table near the door have had their evening interrupted by my thick-throated expressings.
At being told to stop, I crack, ‘this is a cheap restaurant. If you want cheap food, expect cheap company.’
You get the picture. Hardly humble, and no safeguard on the vino. There is bootleg to spare.
The starters, of which I have ordered none, arrive.
The boy serving them looks gaunt and quite frankly, afraid. He doesn’t even say what they are – it’s only prawn toast for gawd’s sake. I bawdily direct the plates in a confused direction, as we all cross our arms and huff at the service.
‘He needs to be directed’, I gloat, within his earshot. After nabbing a few hors d’oeuvres and spitting the grease into my serviette, I decide I need a break.
Drunk, I stagger over various belongings to get to the door. I decide that whilst I wait for my ‘I’m not splitting the bill’ starter-main, I should fill my lungs with noxious fumes in order to make a better person of myself.
For some reason, as I dragged myself from my apartment earlier that night, I omitted to sling any rolling papers or filters into my bag. And the nearest shop is at least a road away.
No one is making their own. Even in a bring your own. Astounding.
In the street now, the cold air hits me, and I definitely won’t make it down the street to stock up on supplies.
I look about for someone to accost. The only human is the waiter, hiding against the wall.
I advance upon him and ask him for a rizla. He has none, but offers me one of his ten-pack of extremely cheap snouts.
I accept, which shifts the power-balance some.
So I begrudgingly make conversation, still holding against him his meek attempt at waiting our table earlier.
‘So,’ *sigh* ‘How long have you worked here, then?’
‘A week an’ a half’, he says.
Then, he tells me his story:
“Yeah, well, I’ve just moved down from Manchester. Things weren’t right there. Me sister, me sister got me into trouble – house burglaries, y’know? Stashing the stuff in my flat. I’ve got cystic fibrosis as well.
I don’t know why I chose Brighton. I’m staying in a hostel round the corner. Do you know it?”
I do, having a background in social housing. It’s the last place you’d want to stay, being full of long-term homeless people with substance abuse problems.
“But I’ve put a deposit down on a flat – I saved up my wages. It’s a shared flat near the clocktower, with students.
“I went to London, but after three hours couldn’t hack it. I might go back there and study my nvq 3 in catering.”
I warn him that London can be harsher than Brighton when you have no money.
“I haven’t got any friends here. But work are really nice.”
Yes, this thai restaurant is a mecca for him – they are friendly and understanding. He gets a free meal once a night.
I look deep into him, shake his hand, offer him any friendship I can. I tell him he’s a survivor.
We look at the full moon together – clouds swarming over its yolky eye with premonition of what’s to come.
I return to my table.
“Nice cigarette?” Asks my friends husband.
I can’t talk. I have experienced the ultimate humbling experience. No more will I jibe the timid but determined young man who serves my spicy beef salad.
Or take it for granted that my family supports me. Heck:- my sister and my relationship ain’t exactly a rosegarden, but she hasn’t stolen the keys to my flat and stashed a load of loot there.
The last thing I do before leaving the restaurant is roll him a ciggie and present it to him, (ignorantly feeding a habit that could make his condition worse).
“Are you sure?” He says.
We take from those who have nothing, but are willing to give anything they do have, be it a cigarette or their life story.
Taking anything we can – such is the nature of those of us who sit obliviously on socially-advantaged judge’s chairs, snarling at bad service.
It’s time to give something back. A little understanding, a hand reaching out in companionship. Awareness.
And while I ache for prozac in my bricks-and-mortar tower, I should thank my cloudy stars that I can digest the food I am served. That I have friends I take for granted to take me out on a Saturday night.
That my problems are insignificant lava-dust in comparison to less fortunate creatures’ mountainous challenges……
Give a little:
(but not cigarettes, CF affects the lungs and shortens life expectancy dramatically – my new friend may not see 40)
Give to the Japan tsunami aid effort here: www.shelterbox.org