My offbeat adventure of eating solo in a restaurant

It was an adventure today. I broke my resolve not to eat by myself in a restaurant, since my husband passed. My exemption – some fast-food restaurants in grocery stores. The reason for my resolve — dining in a public place with no company would both be awkward and a bore. Besides, I don’t want to be perceived as trying to “pick up”. Very silly, isn’t it? Whenever I say this to friends, they laugh at me. It’s all in my head, and nothing wrong and extraordinary with eating solo, they argue. I am compelled to quibble some more when this bickering happens. But then, I console myself, they won’t understand; they’re not me. I leer at them and dramatically order: hey, just let me be.

Today was different. What happened to my resolve, I don’t know. I decided to pat myself on the back with food after a regular medical checkup that showed a good blood pressure result. Perhaps that was excuse to yield to a craving ignored for so long. It was 2:30 in the afternoon, and hunger had started to creep in. I practically flew out of the clinic, walked fast to a Chinese restaurant nearby. Only two lady customers were in the room, with a male waiter standing by. Great! Good time to eat by myself, I thought. If my friends could see me now, they would laugh, and they would tease.

Without looking at the menu, I quickly ordered my favorites: wor wonton soup and house special chow mein, with a can of diet coke. Hmmm … the doctor may frown at this, but it was the best late lunch I had in a long time. And eating by myself, too! To my surprise, none of the awkwardness, and none of the discomfort I thought I’d experience in solo eating. Without hesitation, I ravaged the soup and chow mein. Customers were coming in for their pick-up orders, stared a bit at me, but that did not bother me. My gorging slowed down when my stomach gastronomically hinted I was getting full, and fast. So I figured, I could sit back to rest somewhat, and preoccupy my thoughts about my next blogs.

Then my gaze rested on the two lady customers in front of me, speaking in Tagalog. I usually am not one to eavesdrop, but the conversation was loud. Nosy, you might say, but not having company of my own was starting to get dull, especially when my stomach and mouth were trying to rest. Spank me a bit, for I indulged in a little listening. The older friend was complaining. She sacrificed to support a niece to college. One day, she visited the young niece, and was shocked to find her pregnant. I wanted to stop listening, though didn’t try hard enough. Remember, the conversation was loud. But the story got more interesting. Recently, the niece gave birth to a boy who was introduced to the auntie with a Japanese surname. So, the auntie happily exclaimed, “Your husband’s Japanese!”. “No,” the niece answered, “the father’s Japanese.”

At this juncture of the storytelling, the auntie began to bewail the observation of why young people these days choose not to get married, and woe especially when children are involved. She conjectured that perhaps, the baby’s father was a student, like her niece, without the financial adequacy to support a family. I felt the urge to interject that most young married couples start poor; but somehow, they make it work. Then I realized, I was no part of the conversation. Besides, the ladies were talking like they had the whole world to themselves. I wasn’t in that world. Best to shift my engrossment elsewhere.

It was 3:30 in the afternoon, and more customers walked in to pick up their orders. The female cook came out to chat with the waiter who was carefully folding napkins on the table. They spoke Chinese, so I couldn’t eavesdrop. Too bad, I couldn’t understand their merry conversation, perhaps jokes I might have enjoyed. It was break time for the cook before the rush of evening diners. I surmised by the ease of their camaraderie they must be husband and wife, and they own the restaurant business. But wait a minute, aren’t (Chinese) restaurant chefs usually male? This here was the reverse.

The two lady customers argued over paying the bill, each insisting to cover the charge. A familiar scene with my family whenever we go out to dine. This was followed by each lady pushing the other to take all the leftovers home, and the leftovers were far from scanty. Again, a familiar scene with my family. The leftovers could make a generous meal for a big family. My strange curiosity for odd details – I wonder who really took them home. As they sauntered off, I heard the auntie complain about having trouble with leg pains. But she keeps working, a fine way of warding off the pains, she reasoned, as though expecting her friend to advise that she stop working. The friend expressed barely audible sighs of sympathy. I figure, the women must be in their early 60’s. Momentarily, I shook myself, literally — what was I doing! Eavesdropping and feeding my curiosity and making strange assumptions and enjoying the storytelling not meant for my ears. Hmmm … that’s what I get for eating alone in the restaurant.

Quickly I gobbled a few more spoonful of the noodles, asked for my bill and to-go containers, paid with a generous tip. Then, I walked out of the restaurant, feeling quite full – and, shamefully I admit, very entertained.

Will I break my resolve again? I don’t know …

Linda P. Jacob

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