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Short stories

Table for one, please

Being a social person, the idea of eating alone at a restaurant was daunting to me. I didn’t know what I would do while I waited for my food to arrive and I could already imagine the judgmental looks from people. Being alone was not something I was scared of though, being alone in a room full of people where no one was by themselves was what intimidated me. But I decided to give it a try.

Wearing my favourite blue T shirt and cargo shorts, with my playlist and Salingers’ ‘The Catcher In the Rye’ as my armour against boredom, I entered Dakshinayan Restaurant, located at Gulbai Tekra. As soon as I entered, a waiter came up to me and asked “Yes, Madam. Kya hua?” Perplexed, I answered, “Kuch bhi toh nai.” After stealing a glance at the fellow waiters, he asked me again, “Aap.. Khana.. Khane?” signalling an eating motion with his hands. I quickly realised that I shouldn’t have worn the cargo shorts to the restaurant. I replied with a nod and a smile. His tone changed in an instant. He apologised, turned to his colleague and said, “Wo corner wala table batao. Madam akeli hai.” The last sentence hit me like a truck.

I followed the waiter to the table. The moment I looked at the cabin, I knew I didn’t want to sit in that one. It was the smallest cabin in the restaurant with two small couches placed adjacent to each other, with a small table in the centre. This was also the cabin I had lunch in with my boyfriend two years ago. It dawned on me how truly alone I was at that moment. I somehow mustered up the courage and sat down at the table. For quite some time, I didn’t move until the waiter brought the menu card.

Choosing what to eat from the menu card was the best part of the entire adventure. I didn’t have to ask anyone what they wanted to eat and adjust accordingly. I didn’t have to worry about them ordering something expensive. I could eat what I wanted to with no compromise. If you’re wondering what I ordered, I asked for a Thayirwada (Dahi wada) for starters and a plate of Sambhar Rice. I plugged in my earphones and got busy reading the book after giving the order.

While I was waiting for my food to arrive, I realised how suspiciously the waiters were staring at me. People in the neighbouring cabins had doubtful looks. An elderly couple even offered me to join them. I declined politely. After the waiter got me my food, he stood just beside the counter as if he was giving me some sort of company. Without uttering a single word, I raised my eyebrows at him, asking why he was standing there. He shrugged his shoulders and left me alone.

I ate my food without any further interruptions. The empty couch in front of me was a bit intimidating. I could hear people laughing in the neighbouring cabins and I wouldn’t lie, it sort of hurt making me realise my ‘single status’ in the restaurant. I concentrated on my food which was mouth-watering.

While eating, I discovered that every time I’ve been alone – on my way back and forth to the college, in the grocery store, while working out – I didn’t feel lonely because of the plugged in earphones. The music in my ears kept me focused on the work and made me feel ‘belonged’ to some faraway place. But at the restaurant, where I was alone in a room full of people, I ate silently with my phone switched off and my book closed. I wanted to that feeling of being alone to sink in. After I was done, I paid the bill and walked my way home and this time, I didn’t plug in my earphones.

This entire solitary adventure taught me two things: First, never wear cargo shorts to a restaurant. Second, you don’t have to be embarrassed to be alone at certain places. You don’t have to fill that void with music or books. It’s okay to sit with yourself and enjoy a good meal. That day I actually spent time with myself – something I never knew I needed. The experience was rejuvenating and I felt way more comfortable with my own company than I did before. Since that day, I’ve been to the many restaurants, parks, libraries and on long morning walks with myself, not alone.

-Anandha Lekshmi Nair

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