For Starters

23 Oct

Her heart pounded wildly, foolishly as she sighted him making his way into the restaurant. She watched him look around for a free table, find one and settle himself in its chair. And as he let his slightly hooded eyes rove around the restaurant, as he always did, she took her gaze off him and trained it on the customer she had been attending to before his arrival. But she couldn’t concentrate anymore. She had already been distracted by the knowledge of his presence, as she always was. She barely took the customer’s order before making a quick exit into the kitchen. Or did she?

Safely in there, she heaved a sigh of relief. What was wrong with her? Why had her heartbeat suddenly gone into overdrive? Why had she lost her composure? Why did this man’s presence always have this effect on her every time she saw him?

He hadn’t made any advances towards her or tried to be friends with her. She wasn’t even certain he knew her name. If he did he had never used it. And what was more, he was yet to utter anything more than those pertinent to his meals. So why…why did his presence always manage to throw her off balance? Yeah, she knew why. It was his attitude that did the trick.

He had walked into the restaurant for lunch one hot afternoon three weeks earlier, and had kept coming back. She had noticed him because he had been an unfamiliar face, housing slightly hooded dark eyes that seemed to see a lot. The quiet, serene air around him was a refreshing change from the restaurant’s usual noisy clientele that consisted mainly of workers from the big construction company across the road. His lean frame and young visage had had her wondering which of the universities he attended. But when his visits to the restaurant became regular, she had begun to doubt her earlier conviction about him. She had been chanced once, when he had been in the process of paying for his meal, to see his identity card, and it had told her that he was no student but a worker!

He usually lunched alone. She could count the number of times he had had lunch with others on one hand. And even then, it had seemed like he had been alone for he had listened more than contributed to their conversations. Dressed perpetually in a pair of slim jeans that caressed his hips and thighs, he always appeared like one who could eat a horse but never got to the end of his meal. He hadn’t allowed anyone else wait on him since that first day their eyes had met. At first, she hadn’t thought it unusual, thinking that like every other worker, he was going to make passes at her. But with time, she discovered she might wait for eternity for those passes. For they were still to come – if they were ever coming at all.

With time the other girls began to tease her about him. They believed something was going on between the man and her. She smiled sadly. If only they knew that he barely did more than politely make his order, utter his thanks on delivery, and pay for his meal, leaving generous tips in his wake!

Everything about his attitude left her confused and impressed at the same time; he desired just her to wait on him; he was yet to make passes at her; he exhibited the qualities of a gentleman; and made out large amounts of tips to her, and he was yet to say a suggestive word to her! What kind…?

A thump on her back and a husky female voice sharply interrupted her musing. ‘Hey Didi, what are you doing here?’ It said as the chubby, friendly face of its owner came into view as she dropped a tray of empty plates on a nearby table. ‘Your man’s around. Has been for a while now. Don’t keep him waiting!’

‘I know, Naji.’ Didi’s voice was low-toned. ‘I’m just taking a little break.’

‘Or trying to get your act together maybe,’ Naji supplied slyly. She was the only one who knew the real situation between the customer and her colleague. ‘You need to have seen the way you bolted out of there a while ago.’

Didi let out a small, shy smile. ‘I didn’t want him to see me’.

Naji looked at her friend from under her lashes. ‘I’m sure you knew he had seen you already. Those eyes of his never miss a thing especially that frail form of yours. So get a move on!’

‘Why should I?’ Didi wanted to know. ‘I go through all these motions whenever I see him, and yet he hasn’t said a word to me!’

‘Maybe he’s the strong, silent type,’ Naji replied.

‘Strong, silent type my foot!’

‘Or he’s taking his time?’

‘It’s going to a month, Naji! I don’t intend to be here forever.’

Naji rolled her eyes. ‘We girls! A guy takes his time, we complain. If he doesn’t, we still complain. What do we really want from them?’ She carried the plates over to the sink where a boy was washing a huge stack of them. ‘Now move it, Didi. That man’s starving!’ She flung over her shoulders.

The other girl ran her fingers through her hair swiftly in an attempt to put her appearance in a bit of order. ‘How do I look?’ She wanted to know.

Her friend glanced briefly at her. ‘As always, smashing.’

‘Thanks. And before I forget, table 6 wants a plate of starch and fresh fish banga soup.’ With this she braced herself and pushed open the connecting door.

He didn’t see her approach for he was perusing a piece of paper before him. His oblivion was just what she needed. It gave her pleasure to witness the flicker of surprise that flashed through that young face when her low-toned voice greeted him and demanded for his order. Then those slightly hooded dark eyes were on her with a steady gaze, unsettling her, as he made out his order. Oh yes, his voice. Now that was something else that appealed to her. There was hardly anything fantastic about it – no huskiness, no baritone. But she liked it all the same. The way his words were produced as though they came from somewhere between his nostrils and his throat with a faint, faint hint of an accent.

It was Didi’s turn to be surprised when she realised there was a deviation from his usual lunch. She wondered what had brought about the change. When he was through, she made to go but he stopped her. Thinking he was finally going to say something different to her, she turned towards him expectantly, her big, brown eyes twinkling. ‘Yes?’

‘And could I have a bottle of water before my meal, please?’ He inquired.

Disappointed, she nodded and managed to mutter ‘Okay’ before walking away.

For most of the time he was around, Didi stayed put in the kitchen, looking for odd jobs to keep her mind from dwelling on the man. She couldn’t understand what was going on. He had suddenly altered his ways. Was he going through a change or what? There had been the different meal which he had finished! For the very first time! Then the bottled water he had asked for – where had that come from? She had even seen him talking to Naji! What had he told her? And why had he not talked to her instead? Why Naji? The kitchen door swung open then, and she looked up. Thankfully it was the person she wanted to see – Naji!

‘What did he say to you?’ She inquired, moving closer to the other girl.

‘Who?’ Her friend dropped the tray she had been bearing and began to clear it of the plates.

‘Him! The man!’ Didi replied, beginning to grow impatient.

‘What man? There are lots of them out there,’ Naji stalled, piling the plates up.

‘You know who I’m talking about, Naji!’ An edge now in Didi’s voice, her impatience almost getting the better of her.

Naji raised both her hands up in mock horror. ‘Ok, ok, no need to get worked up. He just wanted to know what time the restaurant closes. That’s all.’

‘He didn’t say anything about me?’

‘Of course, he did. He said to call you so that he could pay for his meal. So move it, girl!’

‘Great!’ Didi said sarcastically, turning and making slowly for the connecting door.

‘These were his exact words, Didi.’ Her friend’s voice reached her as she got to the door. ‘Quote: “Could you please tell Didi that I’d like to leave now?” Unquote.’

Didi practically flew through the door. He knew her name! He knew it! He had even used it! Definitely, this was a sign for the change of things in a positive direction, she thought. She hoped. Everything that he had done today pointed in that direction. So there was hope. Huge hope!

A smile played on her lips as she counted the money he had handed over to her. As usual, there was a generous tip for her. ‘Thank you, sir,’ she said gratefully. ‘Please come again.’ Then she paused.

He nodded in response, no sound coming from him as the slightly hooded eyes glanced at her fleetingly before he turned and walked out of the restaurant.

Didi’s smile slowly died on her lips as she watched him gradually disappear from her line of vision. She was certain that everyone had witnessed the scene but they all seemed to be going about their affairs undisturbed.

Disappointed yet again, she didn’t bother extracting her tip but dumped the entire amount of money into the drawer meant for the day’s sales.

For the rest of the day, Didi went about her duties mechanically, throwing in odd jobs to keep her mind clouded. She had reached the reluctant conclusion that he was never going to talk to her. She was beneath him – a mere restaurant girl! No, a waitress. What could he possibly want with someone like her? After all, he spent all day surrounded by smart, well- dressed career girls who smelled and looked heavenly. She was a far cry from them! What with her ever slightly tousled hair, persistent smoke-covered clothing and her ever-durable apron – she didn’t stand a chance! What had she been thinking about all the while? She should be grateful he noticed her at all! Get real, Didi, she told herself as she sighed a trifle sadly, you’re not in his league.

Her spirits had lifted considerably by 5p.m. when her shift was over. She was laughing and making jokes easily with Naji as they both touched up their hair and faces in preparation to leave the restaurant. Naji had to see a sick relative in a nearby hospital and Didi, not feeling like it, was soon left alone on the road, waiting for a bus. When none seemed to be in sight, she decided to walk towards the nearest bus stop in hope that she would see one before she got there for it was quite a walk.

Just then a metallic grey BMW slowly cruised by and halted a little way ahead of her. Then it began to reverse slowly towards her.

Didi was in no mood for a ride. Inasmuch as she would have welcomed it, she was going to have to politely refuse it. She didn’t feel up to feigning smiles and making small talk because some man was doing her a favour. She wanted to be left alone with her thoughts.

The car levelled up with her as the window on the passenger’s side slid down. With a plastic smile and a rehearsed polite refusal, Didi bent her head to address the person behind the wheel. Dark slightly hooded eyes bored into her face. ‘Can I give you a ride?’ There was that faint hint of an accent in the voice.

Didi went from surprise to a bundle of nerves. Not trusting her voice, she simply nodded. Her heart had begun to pound wildly, foolishly. Again.

Hello world!

30 Mar

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