Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Lunchtime Dilemma-Part 1

They entered the hall and it was already filled with several employees at different stages of taking lunch. It was a big hall with two entrances that were immediately visible and available for the research institute worker. Some other much smaller doors and without the modern automatically opening and closing of the two doors were available for the cooks. Tim took the entrance closer too his department; well that's what the other mates whom he followed took. They went through the rituals of checking and putting money on their magnetic cards with which they would later pay for the lunch. There were three self-service machines installed to accomplish this and they weren't much different from the ones spotting the streets of Juelich except that these were not white and did not dispense cigarette.
Tim was going to panic. He did not so much like making a fool of himself; not that it's a crime to appear new in a new environment, but more than every other visiting scientists in the four-thousand staff-strong institute he had a right to be self-conscious. He was black.
"Just slow down," he told himself as he joined the queue his mates had joined, "and do what everyone is doing." He learnt that technique in England. But then there were no roadside cigarette dispensing robots in England and every other sign of civilisation he had come in contact there were mostly modern versions of the rudimentary ones he had been used to in Nigeria. Of course save for the vehicles driving on the left.
The queue dragged on, but then he noticed his card was different. Don't panic. He wondered why they wouldn't just take the damn cash from him. That's what's done in every civilised society. Apart from credit and debit cards.
"You'll have to buy a visitor's lunch card, it's £4."
"That's ok." He heaved a sigh and wish he could hug Claire for coming to his rescue. When they had all paid the five of them moved towards the inner hall past another file of people holding trays and ready to place them on a moving carrier.
"White sausage, interesting! We don't get this every day" Steffen walked past the sausages down the long table to inspect the displayed menu. The other members in the group were already busy discussing white sausages. Ohrft was saying something about cheese and in the same breath...barbaria. Tim doubted he heard correctly but he wasn't about to lose his mental focus on that. He suddenly felt like quitting, drop the tray he was holding and walked out. His stomach had stopped feeling hungry not with the different types of food on display. There were about thirty different types white rice and potato fry being redundant of each of the six long tables.
Rice. No stew or soup, not even gravvy he had come to relish in London especially Indian curry. Just plain rice, white and frightening. Apart from the rice and the fries every other thing was strange to him. Sausage? No way, someone had mentioned cheese and Tim was allergic to dairies.
The five had by now separated with everyone chasing different table. Claire was moving towards a table topped mostly with fries and red sausages and some sauce. When he saw what she was scooping onto the fries in her plate, he quickly changed his mind and followed Lee and started to imitate his choice without appearing too obvious. Remember, watch and do. He took some rice, some fish fillet pieces.
"You seem to like rice". He tried to open conversion with the diploma guy. He knew he was lying because the Chinese guy appeared out of his elements in the midst of the confusion on the tables.
Lee smiled and told him yes that they like rice a lot in China. He seemed to have mastered the dilemma of the lunch time after all he had been here a while. They chatted as they went through the treacherous process of deciding what could be real food for them. Neither of them voiced his thinking but they both understand what the other was going through. Lee said something about rice and having transparent noodles inside the soup but Tim wouldn't bother to rationalize why anyone would but noodles inside a soup. Perhaps it was something else he said but the chinese accent did not allow the English to sound like English. But Tim had heard the two words, rice and soup, very clearly.
He was already scooping a dangerously looking paste onto his rice before he realized his mistake. He notice he had also put fries on the rice. He looked at the plate on his tray and felt like crying. He also felt like punching Lee or at least giving him a knock on the head. His place was now looking terrible, worse than white rice alone. He looked at Lee and saw him look back as if to say, "that's the trick bro, you just have to pick at random". Lee's plate looked like he had nake his choice of food based on colour spectrun for all colours were represented. Except red.
Lee moved towards one of too small tables on which were positioned some manually operated pumps, about four per table. He squeezed one and a red paste flew onto his plate. Now it's complete. Tim thought to himself as he moved towards the small table to put ketchup on his plate too. He gathered salad from several options into a small bowl. Onion, cucumber, olive, tomato, some disgusting cream...Then he just picked and stopped thinking about what or why he picked it.
"I am now in trouble." He looked at his plate and and knew he had right to panic. The other three members of the group had finished picking theirs and were by now waiting for the two of them by a tall stainless table on which they put their trays. Both Tim and Lee took some soft drink and proceeded through the payment and collection of cutleries. Considering the spectrum of organic matter on the trays it made sense to pick spoon and fork and knife. You never know which one would be relevant.

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