In front of me there was a plate of “food”.
Next to me the seats were empty. Next to me sat no one. Not far from me there were people. One was the most beautiful man in the world, the other, the most ugly man in the world, the other, someone of nondescript appearance and demeanor, the rest of them, I will never forget. They were all there for the same different reasons, they all had cigarettes – and nothing else.
The room was the most drab cafeteria I have ever seen. Through green and yellow, yellowed stained glass, was a place where this “food” was created. There was a printed out sign on bleach white paper with pitch black words describing some instructions in German that I will never understand (the place was full of these types of signage that we had no choice but to follow – these orders). After a while, and after many cigarettes, and after many hopeless thoughts of what to do or not to do next, I noticed what the routine was. I had to knock for my “food”.
The walls were beige. Not beige. Not white. Not brown. Perhaps the color of sand over-kissed by the sun. No. Not that. The color was not a color at all, but the hue resembled the color of bones. Coincidentally this color was the bare bones of the whole room itself. There were varying frequencies of this bone colored color throughout, melding horribly with the faded brown wood of the long tables and primary school chairs. I sat on the long bench that ran the length of the room, all connected by benches of considerable length. The long bench(es) resembled a pew, and in fact may have been rescued and/or donated by a church. That mixed with the soul-sucking gray of the cold, concrete floor, and the yellowed glass of the confessional “food” booth, I started to feel like I, amongst all the others, might be praying for the first time in our lives, again since long ago, or more than we ever have before. I sat alone.
The food was definitely beige. It was one amorphous, coagulated mess of substance, and after noticing the others’ routine, I followed suit and held my head in my hands for a moment, looking down at it, this “food”, puzzled by what it could possibly be and also frightened by discovering what it was. My hand was shaking when I took the fork in my hand, it was metal, and not quite sharp enough to stick through my heart. I recognized the potatoes, they were that blanched color, and bared the most texture of this beige plate special. The protein was long(ish) and thin(ish) and covered in a sauce that could have doubled for semen, except it was a lot less appetizing. There were curls of something. I was scared. I went for the potatoes first, to allow my mouth the preview of memory, for what it was about to experience would be the farthest from nostalgia.
It was fish.
This “food” was bitter and mushy and crunchy and sour and salty and disgusting. The fish was not salmon or mahi mahi or tuna or sea bass or the precious sea fruit my palate has become accustomed to. It tasted like it was fished out of a pond not far from this desolate place, or perhaps a donation/rescue from a pet store – if so, this fish arrived surely dead. I finished the potatoes, I was not in the mood to vomit.
I watched the others attempt to eat the “food” and I watched the somber face of the priestess behind the yellowed stain glass, proudly and sadly presenting the “food” to the more than less fortunate. This happened over and over again, cigarette after cigarette. The coffee looked okay but I didn’t dare to drink it for fear of staying awake. That was the last thing I needed.
In the other room, this bone colored room, there were three beds. One of them was mine, and from the look of it it had been many others. There was this rosy pink blanket, mocking me with its dated brightness. There was not happiness in this place. I gave an obligatory hello to this man and he returned the same and our eyes never met. He was reading a book, surely one of the donated books on the shelf next to the main office – those kinds of books that should be burned rather than read: those blasphemous offenses to literature.
He was naked? I saw milky pink white skin that mirrored the dated rosy blanket. His chest and head was filled with dark wavy hair. I suppressed my regressed sexuality, a man was the last thing I wanted, but again, the first thing I needed.
I organized what was left of my life. The two bags remaining. In them nothing was important except my notebook and pen and my computer, my precious computer. All else I could leave behind. I didn’t want to cry so I curled up in the ugly rosy blanket and it took me a while to fall asleep to the lullaby of my neighbor’s snoring and farting. I was closer to nothing, which could only mean I could have everything. As long as I would never have to deal with “food” again.