If you are frustrated with options on the highway, you can take the exit. It lies a few miles south of the point where interstate roads converge and a hundred signboards appear, each road taking you to a different city, each road has its own speed limits. In case the options tire you or in case you have nowhere to go, you can take the exit. I took the exit. That’s where I found the restaurant.
I can’t tell you what places I saw on that exit, I don’t remember. Rather, I don’t pay attention to the fleeting sights outside the window, I was curious about those when I was a kid. But then I realized that those beautiful hills you see outside the window just whisper to you that you’ll never be in those places.
I had this habit of traveling to far off places hoping that I’ll unwind, hoping that I’ll workout solutions while silently looking out of the window but at the end of those trips the old worries and new sights would have gridlocked into some stale blankness. So nowadays I gaze at the bonnet of the vehicle.
The restaurant looked shabby from the outside, few cars in the parking lot were worn out and rusty; I didn’t have the patience to think what a restaurant was doing in this part of the country side – I just rushed in, anything was better than the event less stretch of the highway.
In the inside, the place turned out to be quite spacious. It was a hall with several outlets for food and drinks and a huge dome ceiling. There was no natural light, but sure the place was well lit. I sat at the first counter and asked the girl for a soda pop.
“Here’s your soda” said the girl at the counter “you want an apple pie?”
“Oh ! you should try that apple pie” Norman said while grabbing the girl by hand. Oh, Norman is the old junk I just met here, “her apple pie gets really mushy”
Norman must have been in his late sixties, his skin was all wrinkled, his clothes looked out of place but he had this interesting sparkle in his eyes. Oh and his hands were skillful, the way he cut the pie for me, the way he fished the hookers and the bar girls – adroit. The pie was addictive, we finished seven without budging and I wanted more.
“Don’t get stuck here kid, that’s all I’ve got to say”, he said
“How do you mean? How ‘bout another pie” I asked “and beer of course”
“Oh well, don’t get stuck with pie alone, try the shrimp with ale”
He ordered a bowl of shrimp and ale to go with.
“I have this allergy to shrimp” I said “I’ll have pie rather”
“All food is allergic at first boy, point is to have more. Do you know the human intestines have not till this day of today accustomed to cow’s milk? ”
“That some theory” I said,”but this is on you”
“Everything is on the house” Norman grinned.
He sat one of the bar girls on his lap, her face towards his. They both flirted like old lovers for sometime while I finished bowl after bowl of my new found love – shrimp. He nuzzled close to her breasts in one swift move letting her down, right on time. She left out a shriek and walked away laughing. I was impressed at the way he bent so close without touching – experienced hands, I thought.
“What do you call these girls in your country?” Norman asked
“Bar girls I guess” I said
“I think its saki, right? The empresses of the tavern”
“Uh-huh” said I “but man, that’s one nice move you’ve got there, I would have messed up Sir”
“Ha, the point is to be non-threatening you know, we have all the time in this world” Norman said “then some of these things are no fun once you hear it, touch it n all, just sustain anticipation, that’s hell funny”
“What now?” I asked “more shrimp? I’m hungry still”
“Why don’t you pick some sugar up?”
“Oh well…I’ll sustain anticipation for now” I said laughing
“Ha, you’ve grown clever with all that shrimp” he said “But wait till the lunch time, wait till the gala begins and all those girls come out”
Then the conches and trumpets blew and the lunch time gala erupted all around us. Food drinks and girls came from all sides. Norman was right. The world around looked like an explosion of bikinis and de parfum. I sustained anticipation even after the lunch time, anticipation of the next lunch time. Dinner was breathtaking when I compared it to lunch. The party went on and on. Dinner, fun, breakfast and lunch, it kept coming. In between we played snooker and some card games near the barbeque outlet. The restaurant spread far and wide, we moved from one counter to the other, from one gala to the next. It was like clockwork, the excitement and anticipation kept on building, every gala was better than the previous. Every drink was tastier than the other. Every show was new and full of surprises. Every girl was hot.
I was all pumped up when we entered the lobster kitchen; I had just fallen in love with sushi and saki.
“Pop, saki is this Japanese drink ok! You got it wrong old man”
“No, I was right. I have read about it in college, I’ve read a lot in college”, Norman said
“Whatever, I love this place, this gala n all. Look how easy it is for a macaca like me to pick up a chick here and I have all the food and drink I can have. You wouldn’t understand it man, how hard it is outside there. If this is not communism, then what is?”
Norman said, “This is not Communism. I have read about it in college, I’ve read about a lot of things in college. People who read more, by default end up here son”
“Whatever….why is the lobster taking so long, this is the first time we’ve had to wait”
“How dare you say ‘whatever’?” Norman shrieked “College was over, we had broken up and she’d gone to her parents’ in Alabama, I was on my way back home, all tired and sad, when I took this exit. It was seventy five years ago; I haven’t left here since then.
Now I realize, I was just three miles from home, just three miles”
I sat there aghast. For the first time I looked at the hair falling over my eyes. I pulled some out in horror, every hair was graying. I felt a cold nausea.
“Just three miles, just three miles from home, oh I could have…..maybe walked if I knew…maybe called someone” Norman kept repeating
Was anything wrong with the clockwork? was it slowing down? Is the anticipation wearing out, is it the end? I was blank with fear. We were two hollow men looking pitifully at each other.
The lobsters came in a flash and we pounced on it like children. The nightmare was over, we were awake again. I broke the shell of the lobster with growing anticipation.