I carry my lunch to work everyday, but sometimes there just isn’t any time to cook and there are no leftovers in the fridge. It was one of those days. I didn’t have my lunch from home.
So I had to march down to the cafeteria to quench the pangs of hunger. The cafeteria is at quite a distance from my own desk ; I haven’t measured the distance but the walk back and forth is almost a mini work-out . I go there once a day for afternoon coffee as I don’t like the one served from the vending machine, which is closer to me. But I don’t have a great liking for the food served in the cafeteria , so mostly I settle for a big salad, loaded with dressings, when in dire need.
That day, I intended to carry the salad back to my desk and eat there. I loaded a takeaway box with salad and went gingerly to the counter to pay for it. But as I opened my wallet, there was just $1 cash!! And the salad was for $3. And these guys don’t accept any plastic money- no debit/credit cards –just cash. The lady at the counter stared questioningly at me –me flushed with embarrassment, fumbling in my wallet, violently as if to tear it apart. I hoped in vain, but alas, no miracles happen to common people like me -it was just a one-dollar and no more. How could I be so careless to not check my wallet for what it should and must have- CASH!!
I knew that lady at the counter, I mean I daily paid her for my coffee amidst niceties like How-do-you-do and Have-a-nice-day.
Dilemma no. 1- could I? No, it was impossible to ask her that I would pay the balance $2 in the afternoon when I come for coffee. This just isn’t done here.
While this was going on in my mind , she broke the silence –“No cash?”, she said still smiling, and I know it was just the copy-and-paste smile. Finally I said –“ Just hold it, I’ll return with money ”.So I vanished from the counter, my salad box lying unclaimed and orphaned.
I looked around the cafeteria, a couple of familiar faces were there, but they were those who I had heard saying just “How are you doing” and “Good Morning”, if eyes happened to meet. No one who I could ask for two bucks!! I don’t know a lot of people here, just the handful of people I work with , and in my team, there is no concept of sitting down in the cafeteria for a group lunch or even walking down together to the cafeteria to buy lunch. People go and buy their lunch and eat at their desk. People don’t go together, everyone at his/her own convenience. Some go out for lunch, some get it from home- but I don’t know who does what and I never needed to know.
So what am I to do now?
This was not the end , I recalled there was the life-saver ATM just outside the cafetreria. Although it was not my bank’s ATM but I could withdraw money for some fees and save my face.
So I went to the ATM, but that day, it seemed that all the living, non-living things conspired against me; and my debit-cum-ATM card, maybe got bored ,and just jumped out somewhere, on its own from my wallet.
Oh,I remembered, this morning, after I got the fuel filled in the car, I had hurriedly just tossed the card into my handbag, not bothering to open my wallet and placing the card where it belonged. It was the morning rush – when hands and legs don’t consult the brain, they just do their own thing, mechanically.
So now the only sane thing to do was to go back to my desk, fish out that ATM card from the mess in my handbag and walk back to the ATM and then to the counter to pay for that assorted salad that was waiting for me.
Remember, it is a long walk and with the twists and turns of a hungry stomach, it seemed forever. Ultimately I reached the ATM, drew out some cash paying $2 as fees for withdrawing from some other bank’s ATM. So for a $3 salad, I paid $2 fees too, alongwith the unasked-for amalgam of humiliation, confusion, frustration, anger.
I paid at the counter and grabbed that box of salad and the plastic-smile lady said –“Have a nice day”, but I could not say “You too”, because every inch of me wanted to say –“Go to hell!!”
And when I opened that hard-earned salad finally, it had become all soggy – looked like it had really wept for being left alone!!
To be contd…..