The Restaurant

This is a rather unusual story of a specifically unusual girl and what happened to her on a very hungry Tuesday afternoon, as most Tuesday afternoons tend to be, if one tended to work in London on Tuesdays in the afternoon. Before we get into the details of what and how, I must compel the reader to open their eyes to the possibility of unusual things happening in London. I must also urge the reader to reserve any questions they might have because otherwise a very elemental feature of this narrative would forever be buried in the most undeserved on-the-wayside manner.

Coming back to our unusual girl on a Tuesday afternoon, we must know that that particular week had been quite difficult for her. On Saturday, our lady was on her bike riding the length of the Thames and hadn’t realized until later that the clicking sound she’d heard whilst riding was the key to her apartment, falling out of her pocket, down to the ground, at a non-descript location. And, because the fitters of locks and doors and other important things never work weekends, she looked to an ex-boyfriend for help, support and sex. Now, this particular ex-boyfriend is the sort of ex-boyfriend you don’t want to have a) as an ex-boyfriend, b) as a boyfriend, c) as even an acquaintance. You would barely be ok with even sharing the same tube with him, leave alone the same coach. Because there are some people who really ought to come with a user manual or a ‘don’t come near’ sign- this ex-boyfriend came with neither, but, badly ought to have with both.

For the readers who at this point want to know about why our girl would choose this particular ex-boyfriend, when she had several other more eligible, less stay-away-from exes, I deflect them to the previously mentioned disclaimer of reserving questions for a greater cause. Another question on the horizon I anticipate is why she would stay with him until Tuesday when fitters of locks work like clockwork, if that happens to be their disposition, on Monday mornings, when clocks strike 9.

In a manner of way, the crucial elements that will let us get along on our narrative is that our Miss is experiencing a Tuesday; is hungry, and; our logic can thus dictate that she is search of food.

Now, let us spend a couple of minutes to understand where in London our lady finds herself. In order to fully understand the events that unfold, assuming it is of utmost importance to do so, let us be reminded of the Docklands in the southeast parts of London. But, not the rich parts of Docklands, because then these particular events wouldn’t unfold, but, the poorer, shabbier, dirtier, therefore the one with more character, therefore the one that would make the girl in question, the ex-boyfriend, the readers and above all, the writer slightly more ‘set in reality’, and therefore more desirable than the have-it-alls.

Well, to be exact, it wasn’t really the Docklands with its bigger than thy neighbor’s boats, but, rather the underbelly of the city where the immigrant population bred like rabbits when they weren’t selling Asian or African groceries. She left her temporary office on the main road and onto the streets, the smell of curries hit her nostrils, at first pleasantly, but soon proceeded to assault first her throat, then her stomach and then her head. She decided she didn’t want curry.

It should be a Murphy’s law that when you are ravenous, the last thing you want to eat a lot of is the first thing you smell a lot of. She walked a little down the road, having a taken a right, into a smaller alley where the afternoon sun disappeared further behind the old buildings, casting shadows upon shadows and generally rendering the whole place rather cold and dark.

It should be a murphy’s law that when one needs a fish and chips shop, one will find it not. Except, she did find it. She saw a neon board, after walking past the broken boats that probably had proud owners when immigration was yet to be discovered in its full glory, when a trip abroad and colonizing the entire country meant one and same thing; those much too shortsighted colonizers should have realized that there will come a hungry Tuesday when immigrants will take over the far end of the Docklands and command boat owners into shambles. They will also go on to build dirty curry houses and steal the joy of owning and running sweet little fish and chips shops from naïve little natives.

She however did admit to noticing that the neon sign was slightly more neglected than the curry house signs, but that was probably because they were more focused on maintaining the delicate flavor of fried fish than assaulting passersby with the insistent frying of garam masala. Who needed 5 curry houses in a row in a street full of office goers anyway; the lunchtime rush in these curry houses, of course, smelt of a different story, a one that is of interest to an economist should be they interested in the profitability of curry houses in the Docklands; not to us, immediately, however.

The neon sign said fish and chips, and did its job, it thought, with no arrows, or a pointy fish fin showing patrons any indication whatsoever the direction they needed to tread on for where the fish or the chips might be. She stood right under it and the vision of a plate of an oily deep fried fish, a small pot of helpful mayo, a pile of chips, hot and steamy- a vision that now threatened to become an unattainable goal, made her think that it was in fact the best idea she’d had since losing her keys. She luckily had about 50 bucks on her, but, in case this nomadism had to be played out for a few days longer than she’d hoped for, she’d be better off with some money than without, no matter how tempting the idea of being the teller of a story later, after the whole episode would blow past be, with little or no money at all.

From an economic point of view, fish and chips made absolute sense. Also, given that she seldom fully ate what she ordered, she planned to eat the fish at the restaurant and take the chips in a paper bag for eating later in the day, perhaps with the instant noodles.

While these thoughts moved through her mind, like wok fried noodles frying in a wok, a man whose skin was brown and who wore an apron, approached her and looked in the same direction as her, as if to wait until she finished her present line of thought, not wanting the be the perpetrator of any epiphanies not being had.

Having fully acquired her attention, he introduced himself as The Spot, the owner of the fish and chips shop, the board of which she had been standing under and looking at. At this point, she thought the best course of action would be to introduce herself and then mention her business of fish and chips with mayo and tartar, lest she seem too hungry, an oddly inappropriate thing for a woman to be, almost right up there with horny or hairy, of the not so holy trinity, but rather the horribly hellish three ‘H’s a woman can ever be.

She said her name was Janice, but her friends called her J, not knowing why exactly she divulged that piece of information. He started to walk back in the direction he came from without a word. But for the few instances of when sense, precaution and general overall smartness didn’t feature in her judgment, she had been usually sensible, precautious and generally overall rather smart, she looked to the man with the apron for guidelines and decided that the only thing a hungry patron should do in a situation of this manner is follow him.

She followed The Spot down a narrow alley between the walls of two buildings being too close to each other. He turned right into a narrower alley and she continued to follow him, now second guessing and not being entirely sure if following him was the best way to ascertain that she was without guilt hungry. Suddenly, curry didn’t seem like a very bad idea, after all. Yet, the thought of tracing her hungry steps back through the two narrow alleys seemed like an odd thing to do, especially behind a person who had just recently bared his soul and had introduced himself as The Spot. Also, the temptation of fish and chips had in fact made her stand under the neon sign and let her thoughts meander in the lofty unknown terrains of the economic viability of curry houses in post colonial London. She considered the possibility of this being her last temptation, although presently she wasn’t entirely sure if the temptation to run or the temptation to stay outranked the other in the race to being the more tempting option; but still as the last temptation, this was undebatably more challenging than the last temptation of Christ, for there is no record of Christ claiming to be temporarily on the verge of borderline insanity egged on by spasmodic pangs of hunger whilst actively rejecting the easy possibility of resigning to a regulation curry and insisting that the angry Roman soldiers bring him fish and chips with tartar and mayo dips; What would Jesus do? Succumb to the temptation of giving up entirely and letting his physical needs of hungry and his worldly desires of fish and chips with tartar and mayo dips — a classic for The Devil to invest his time in messing about with — a counter trinity of sorts — fish, chips and dips or, follow through with what The Devil planted in him, urging the Roman soldiers, perhaps even saying ‘I’d like some fries with that…’ And, then probably taking a nice big bite out of the fillet and chewing it and saying ‘Mayo isn’t one of the things Romans are good at, is it?’, at this point, being the canvas to a few more slashes of their whips, but continuing to eat and therefore superseding temptation, by only physically giving into it and not finding the true satisfaction of having given into the temptation, for succumbing to temptation without guilt of having done so is no real succumbing; it’s just dinner. All this with Jesus not even claiming to be hungry, leave alone craving fish and chips with tartar and mayo dips. What would Jesus do indeed?

At the end of the second narrow alley, just at the brink of getting used to walking through more such narrow alleys placed at right angles at the ends of each, just when she could see that there was no possible lefts or rights to be taken, she stopped a few steps behind The Spot who had presently turned around to face her. ‘Janice, I would never call you J’, he said; as if the entire time they walked like a pair of ants in a single file was the least amount of time he needed to be entirely sure of the matter of her name.

At best, the time that had past between Janice proclaiming that her friends called her J and The Spot opining about it, it should have easily been 10 minutes. But, when one is hungry, it drawlingly feels like the entire duration of The Bible — Old and New Testament together. At this point, ponderings about Jesus led her to believe that it was probably what Einstein meant about time being relative and how stupid she felt about not being the first to realize a matter as elemental as this, but soon rejecting this feeling of stupidity to feeling generally embarrassed for the human race at large, for not using hunger as an inspiration to understand the physical world — and probably only using to develop hunter — gatherer instincts. But, she quickly reminded herself that Einstein didn’t need to ponder on an empty stomach and probably came up with both theories of relativity after perhaps a lavish meal of steak, ale, mash, gravy, pies, dessert, post meal cigars and coffee; such was the genius of Einstein.

The Spot started his ascension up a flight of stairs that reminded Janice quite a lot about her granny’s house in Portugal. That brought to her mind that The Spot, in fact, could well be Portuguese and that would readily explain the color of his skin and perhaps also his comfort in leading girls into narrow alleys and up narrow dark stairs. The immigrant curry house were bright, loud and almost always on the ground floor. Strangely enough, she thought that she almost smelt curry frying as she followed The Spot up the stairs. The more the fish and chips could not be had, the more she wanted them. And now, the chef was Portuguese and that reinforced her desire since her granny used to make the best fish and chips, and by extension, all Portuguese made better than average fish and chips.

Without a surprise, The Spot carried on into another flight of stairs and this one, again without surprise darker than the first since there was no visible source of light, no smell of food either. The complete darkness greatly reduced her pace and she thought if that was a murphy’s law about velocity and light being inversely proportionate. She wondered if that was the sort of thing Einstein concerned himself leaving the buttered toast, the flying cat and other such matters to Murphy. She now wondered if Murphy was a real person or a euphuism for what Einstein couldn’t fathom therefore in some way being the unattainable to Einstein, his last temptation, biblically speaking.

‘We go through this door, J-Janice’, The Spot said at which point even the little Einstein and the little Murphy, a handsome American wall-streeter in his early 30s — an image she lavishly allotted to the maker of laws that explained the goings on of the world around her- who were both actually just images in her head, looked around to identify the source of the voice. The little image-in-her-head Jesus still hung on his cross, dismissing the entire shenanigan, refusing to budge from anything apart from the crucifixion momentarily promised to him, not succumbing to the penultimate temptation; in a manner of speech being a one-trick pony.

Upon opening the door, which The Spot had evidently arrived at, the little Jesus in Janice’s head looked up, creating a mass hysteria among the population inside her head. If Janice’s head was a country, and all the people she knew in her life were its miniature citizens, then, at this point, they had all been looking in the same direction — the source of light- the light that was so white that The Spot looked browner than he warranted. His silhouette, the shape of a well-built male human, tall and young, made even the little single-minded head Jesus to be briefly interested. Although, being Jesus, if not tempted by the beautiful figure that stood before him, always had the privilege of being auto-tuned to having a positive response to the stimulus of light, which in this case was nothing short of the divine light itself, it seemed. How would Jesus respond on judgment day to — were you staring at the abs of the Portuguese man against the door, Jesus? No, Father, I briefly mistook it for your signal. Jesus, was the Portuguese man your last temptation, or was telling a lie about him to your own father the last temptation? At this point, the Holy Spirit would have materialized into the scene and perhaps completed the congregation by saying something smart like ‘How can you without me? I’m the dips to your fish and chips.’ At this point, the wrath that had been steadily building inside the Father would implode in a manner equivalent to that of forever banishing little head Jesus from the kingdom of heaven into the depths of hell. Little head Murphy would perhaps have at this point created ‘if something can go wrong, rest assured, it will.’

When The Spot’s spot at the entrance was taken over by Janice, and she now formed the silhouette at the door, she saw that the narrow alleys, the narrow stairs were extremely annoyingly misleading for she now stood the door of a large waiting area — much like that at an airport. And, there were what looked like at least 50 girls, sitting in rows on seats. The first thing that came to her mind was that as the person who arrived the last at the scene, she would be the last to be served, if the establishment followed the principle of first come first served. The second thing that she concerned herself with was that this joint seemed to be popular with girls, for there was not a single man in sight and therefore, they probably did little girlie portions and not masculine ones, or worse served salad instead of chips, and this would have inversely affected her since she had planned on saving the chips for later in the day. The third, the Holy Ghost of this trilogy of thought was that it was curious that all the girls in the waiting room were Japanese, Chinese or generally far-eastern. They had backpacks and cameras. This could well be a tourist bus full of people for all she cared and they were waiting to be served traditional fish and chips. Or better still, if the Thames in this part of the docklands was still good to sail, they could have been a streamer full of tourists awaiting their mid-day meals.

She was led right past the waiting girls who were quiet and expressionless, staring straight ahead of them. She had heard of the spiritual connections certain Asian cultures liked to build at mealtime where they become one with grain and meat, where they thank nature for the bounty and god for choosing them upon whom the bounty would be unleashed. She would in fact appreciate the god who upon her would unleash the bounty of fish, chips and dip. Or, perhaps they each had little Einsteins, Murphys and Jesuses to listen to inside their heads. At the moment, though she wasn’t going to be called J by The Spot, she was at least going to be given some bumping up — an offer she gladly took.

Walking past the girls drew her attention to her naked arms and how the sudden chill in the room gave her gooseflesh. Had it been getting colder inside the waiting area than outside in the narrow alley and the narrow stairs? Or, was it one of the effects of hunger — feeling cold- because by now the body perhaps has a low count of calories and therefore there are other important things like facilitating breathing that the precious remaining calories would be spent on instead of secondary needs like staying warm.

The Spot lead her through at least two more doors that opened into hallways. There was absolutely nothing of any significance to report about these hallways and she thought that the insignificance of these hallways made them important hallways that she would never ever forget, hallways that would make her think of other decorated ones as mere second fiddles. They could be in historic Rome, or could be the hallway through which Jesus was dragged having been made to suffer the cross on his back, for all she cared. Or, it could be the hallway through which Einstein ran to get to the end of, at which was his lab or his place of work was where he jotted his revelations, or, better still even the hallway that Murphy made some smart-assed comment in — all these hallways would forever be rendered banal before the empty insignificant hallway that Janice had just walked through.

At last, both The Spot and she were at what could be classified as a restaurant. There were tables and chairs, napkins and salt and peppershakers. As if on auto-pilot, she took over, went ahead of The Spot and took her place at one of the tables. She looked up at him and smiled. The long walk through the alleys, the stairs and the waiting room meant that she needn’t explain anything — it was all understood that she was there for fish and chips. The dips, however, were trickier because lately different shops had different theories concerning the dips they served, some charged for them, some didn’t, some encouraged dipping behavior, some didn’t. But, presently, she was ready to take on the Father and the Son; the Holy Ghost would follow shortly.

The Spot left her with a smile and made his way back to the last door they had only seconds ago walked through.

Thinking about the oddity of the restaurant being empty and the plate of fish and chips that was probably in the stage of being assembled, she leant forward, placed her forehead at the edge of the table and promptly fell asleep.

As far as Janice is concerned, this is what she remembers last. But, as possessors of knowledge beyond Janice’s, we might be able to better comprehend the situation with a few more pieces of information, some of which may be relevant:

· Janice’s granny on her mother’s side was Portuguese while her grandpa was English.

· Janice had lived in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England for exactly 7 years each, making her 28 at the time of this story.

· Janice’s ex-boyfriend wasn’t as bad as she had made him out to be since he kept that last contents of her bag that was discovered after her disappearance. The contents included a till receipt for a portion of Fish and Chips and an extra portion of tartar and mayo dips saying it reminded him of her a lot as it was a classic about her.

· About two centuries ago, there was a white streamer called The Spot. The Spot was ruined badly in an explosion on account of having been planted with grenade bombs. This incident had made The Spot unusable for an indeterminate length of time.

· The Spot was acquired by a man, who had become a billionaire by opening a chain of fish and chip shops roughly 130 years following the explosion. The man was called, coincidently, Mr. Murphy.

Mr. Murphy had bought The Spot after the success of his chain and had invested a huge sum of money to have it done up.

· Mr. Murphy had made local enemies of fellow competitors. Among them was Albert, who would later murder Mr. Murphy. He would do so due to what would be deemed professional jealously.

· Janice’s handbag, which was found in cupboard of her ex-boyfriend’s house had a brown paper bag of greasy decaying chunky chips.

· Albert was the owner of a curry house.

· Janice’s body was never found. And, a missing person’s complaint was booked. There have been no updates so far about her.

· Albert had also framed Mr. Murphy for killing Asian tourists in a horrible massacre about 50 years ago.

· Overnight, Albert, a rich and influential underworld leader by now, had planted bombs in The Spot.

· Mr. Murphy used to use The Spot as a tourist streamer as a side business.

· There were 45 deaths of Asian university graduated in the second bombing of The Spot. They were all reported to be women.

· Janice’s bag also contained £46.78 in a combination of notes and coins.

· Janice hadn’t realized it, but, when she had walked past the ruined boats, there was a dirty white streamer named The Spot.