In A Cafeteria
written by: Nachi Keta
Sitting in a cafeteria, I look for the loneliest one, the person most into himself… the least animated. Lost. Into himself. Like I am.
There are a few who are typing on their laptops, lost in the words floating on their screens. Few are attending lectures. Few are chatting with each other — animatedly, extremely aware of their surroundings, as if they are more interested in orchestrating their conversation to others rather than talking.
And a few, like me, are eating alone, trying to merge in with the world, become invisible. And failing.
“… But there are no lonely people around. Though they are all lonely. I am sitting in a cafeteria. I am living my life. Living life is not so different from sitting in a cafeteria. Perhaps that is why we are so fond of them. In a cafeteria, we get to watch ourselves living. Sitting in the cafeteria means I am alive. Even though I have nothing to say. Even though I have a lot of words to write. I need…”
I stop writing. I delete it. Another one of those pieces of amateur writers, too much into themselves to see how shallow they are, by being too deep into themselves. I put my e-scratchpad into my bag and start looking around. In search of something worldly to shift my attention.
There is an old woman. A feather boa hat and long skirt. Lips purging into each other. Her skin is paper thin, a pale yellow, translucent… as if she is a ghost. The only person in the cafeteria old enough to be my grandmother.
I decide to have a brief chat with her. I know I am going to be disappointed. But I get up and start walking towards her.
She tells me she has to come to meet her granddaughter.
“She works in the University Hospital. Has always been a little crazy. People are saying she cut her wrist. But I think she didn’t. And yet she did.”
I don’t understand.
“I mean to say,” the old woman continues, “an impulse, an unnecessary invitation of the demons within forced her.”
“So you are trying to say that she was not responsible for her action?”
“No. She was, definitely. I mean, even if she was, we shouldn’t hold her responsible. We should give her another chance.”
“Yes,” I sigh.
“But you know there was a time…”
“Are you talking about the corona pandemic of 2020? You must have been a teenager.”
“Yes. That very time. I was sixteen then. Sweet sixteen. I am a deathhorn-survivor.”
I get curious. I have never met a deathhorn-survivor, i.e., someone from the corona pandemic of 2020, after which, they say, nothing was ever the same. I lost my grandparents to it.
“Maybe I shouldn’t relate my story.”
“Because I was sixteen then. You know how sixteen is. We get fidgety. And I had discovered that I was infected. And no hospital would admit me. They didn’t have any ventilators then; except for those who were rich. Money was everything. Almost everyone was infected. So only those were in quarantine, who were yet to be attacked by the coronavirus, which you today call the deathhorn. You know it. So, I need not go into details.”
She pauses. I say nothing.
“I was deranged. I thought I would take charge of my life. Even when I was living in quarantine amongst the negatives, I had decided that I won’t live even one day if I get the virus. So, when one of the routine check-ups revealed that I was positive, and they threw me out, I first met my parents and then jumped from the third floor of the hotel where they were staying.”
Another pause. This one longer.
“And here I am today. Sitting with you. In the post-pandemic world. Telling you that the girl whom I pushed to suicide is my granddaughter. And the world is back to being beautiful.”
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- In A Cafeteria - March 4, 2021