This is not about food.
So, as you might remember, I put the chicken sandwich back, got up from my comfy chair, picked up my shoulder bag and the suite case from the floor, took my coffee cup in the only free hand left, sighed, and stepped outside the coffee shop, wondering what the future of the next 15 minutes was holding for me.
You know how you go shoe shopping and you can’t find any shoes, but keep stumbling into jeans and t-shirts you went shopping for last time, but couldn’t find any? A week before this “adventure” I wanted to by a jacket, but kept running into food places. Well, this time there were jackets everywhere, but no food. Like at all. There were some schickimicki restaurants around, but I had neither nerve nor time for that. Otherwise – nothing eatable. Only jackets. Also jeans, t-shirts, and shoes.
I’d been walking for two blocks already, tired, hungry and in pain. The 15 minutes I’d negotiated with myself were slowly running out. I decided to cross one more street and to call it a day, because my shoe started to feel moist, and my vivid imagination was already picturing my foot bleeding out.
But the moment I was ready to give up I spotted a shabby sandwich place, one of the local fish chains. My stomach tried to raise its voice of disapproval, as it does not enjoy fish in general, but all other body parts told it to shut the hell up and play along. I bought myself two fish burgers –one wouldn’t have been enough in that situation – and dropped my exhausted body on a chair at one of the two tables outside on a side walk.
The whole ambiance was much less pleasant that the one of the coffee shop. Metal chairs, table with the traces of the food from the previous customers, and a smoking neighbor. “Definitely not my day”, I thought.
The burgers tasted worse than they looked, plain and dry, as if that fish they were made of was really old and really unhappy. This is what you get for having principles. Old and depressed fish for dinner.
But my problems were not all solved yet. I still had a perfectly fresh sandwich that needed to be taken care of. I couldn’t just throw it away. As I was a child – and most of this kind of stuff can be traced to some childhood trauma – I spent some time with my grand grandma. Although she died when I was very little, I still remember her teaching me that one should never ever throw away good food. Especially bread. She grew up during WWII and knew hunger not only from the history books. Dear parents, grandmas and grand grandmas! Please watch your words while talking to your children, grand and grand-grand children! You never know what will stick with them for life, and you really don’t want to be responsible for this kind of a mess afterwards.
So there I was, chewing on my old depressed fished, meanwhile trying to figure out what to do. To summarize it for you: In my bag, there was a perfect fresh chicken sandwich that I could neither eat nor throw away. Yes, I know what you are thinking and no, I’m not going to trade my problems for yours, as yours are most probably real.
Well, I still could take out the chicken pieces and eat the rest. Or, I could carry this sandwich in my bag for some time till it gets bad, won’t qualify as “good food” anymore and, thus, successfully leave the category of the food not to be thrown out. Or I could give it to somebody. Yes! I could give it to somebody! A beggar! I saw people doing it in movies. However, I also saw these beggars throwing the food back at those people, as this is not what a beggar expects to get, and I would definitely get hit, as I wouldn’t be able to run fast enough with two bags and on one foot. Still, I looked around to see whether there were any beggars at sight, to decide whether I should proceed developing my “getting rid of the sandwich” strategy in this direction. I couldn’t see any beggars around. Where are all these guys when one needs them?
Deep in my thoughts, I proceeded to chew on my fish, with my mind still occupied with that sandwich, constantly coming back to the beggar idea. Suddenly, a woman appeared right in front of me. I’m sure she gradually approached my table from somewhere and not just fell down from the sky or sprang out of the ground, but as I was staring at one point occupied with my thoughts I noticed her only when she was there, right in front of my face. A gypsy grandma asking for spare change. A beggar.
I was still in my thoughts when I started opening my wallet to get a coin when I realized: A beggar! I glanced at her again to evaluate the chances of the sandwich to be thrown back at me, and decided to take the risk. Along with a coin, I handed her the paper bag. “It’s new”, I said to her in English, and repeated again to make sure she doesn’t think I’m giving her some left overs, “It’s new”. I always say weird stuff when taken by surprise.
The gypsy grandma looked a bit surprised, but thanked me and took my “new” sandwich with her. I was too tired at that time to think about the weird (and somewhat creepy) direction the story suddenly took. I just felt relieved that my sandwich problem got resolved and just kept watching the grandma and the sandwich walking away. I thought she would probably throw it away. These beggars all belong to some beggar mafia and already begged themselves enough for a villa and an awesome car. They are probably richer than many of us. Or so I’ve been told.
I saw the gypsy grandma carefully unwrapping the paper, looking inside with a hint of suspicion and taking a careful first bite. It must have tasted good, as she started to take bigger and hastier bites. She was… hungry? She didn’t have a villa. She was not going to throw the food back at me. She was hungry.
After a while she came back to my table. To thank me again… and to ask for some cola. “Cola! Cola!”, kept she repeating, pointing at the refrigerator. I got up from my chair, gave her a nod, and bought her a bottle of Coca-Cola along with three more sandwiches. Now, when I’m writing this down it seems like a ridiculous situation. I give somebody free food and they come back to me to ask for a beverage. But at that moment I didn’t find it ridiculous at all. It felt as if everything that was going on after I left that coffee shop was exactly how it was supposed to happen, and I was just playing my part in a bigger story. Or maybe I was just too tired to think straight, I don’t know.
The gypsy grandma thanked me and our ways parted, this time for good. I picked up my bags and started my journey back to the concert hall to meet my friend. If it were a movie you would see a long shopping street and a person with a suitcase and a shoulder bag, slowly hobbling towards the horizon.
When I thought about this little adventure the next day with a fresh head and a full stomach on a comfy couch, I still couldn’t get rid of the feeling that I was just playing a part in some story somebody else written. They say one is supposed to feel happy and proud after doing something nice for another person. I didn’t feel happy. Or proud. Or anything like that. I felt grateful. Grateful to the gypsy grandma for solving my dilemma of that chicken sandwich. Grateful in general that I neither was nor ever have been on another side of this story. Also, I was wondering whether I should have bought her more and better sandwiches.
I was also thinking about why she came back to ask me for the soda. One can think she decided to take advantage of a naïve person who was already giving money and food away. But I would like to think that she was really thirsty, and after hearing so many “no”s and seeing so many head shakes she found somebody whom she could trust enough not to reject her even if she asked for the second time. Although what do I know. It could have been anything. I don’t care even if she used me. My full stomach, my comfy couch and I, we can take it.
The End (for real this time).
Related articles: “Pay It Forward” by Matt, who Must Be This Tall To Ride.
To yuktakher: Sorry I kept you waiting a bit longer than planned.