It is an hour before noon.
The Restaurant sits contentedly at the edge of a dark green-blue lake. There is almost no wind today, making it hard to see any movement in the trees lined up thickly on the other side.
A narrow, wooden bridge pokes out from the side of the Restaurant leading to the lake and coming to an abrupt stop somewhere near the edge. The water in the lake is uncannily calm, almost motionless. There is only a hint of movement, given away by the sunlight sparkling mischievously at its surface now and then. It is like a pink baby dreaming with her soft eyelids closed, indulging in only so much of a shy smile every few minutes. And like her little fingers which curl and uncurl slowly, perhaps reaching out to touch some unfathomably beautiful thought high up somewhere.
Yellow-golden sunlight streams in generously through the French windows of the Restaurant, highlighting a rare speck of dust that might have escaped the stringent eye of the morning cleaner. It floats about hither and thither, enjoying being hopelessly lost in the big, big Restaurant.
I walk into the Restaurant, looking around with mild interest. It feels like I’ve been here before. I just can’t remember when, though. It must have been a lifetime ago.
The place is quiet, but not quite. There is a muffled clink of shining steel cutlery on warm silica plates. From the far end of the Restaurant, the soft notes of a Piano mix into the sweet air like a shameless intoxicant. I am invited in. I come in.
I am ushered to my place by a pleasant man in a white uniform and I choose a nice chair facing the window, overlooking the lake. I am just about to park myself when I change my mind. I shift over to the other side, now facing the Restaurant.
I am here for Brunch.
*Twenty minutes later, I am almost halfway through. I’m not quite full yet, but not starving either. I’ve chewed and swallowed up the Pancakes and honey with almost uncouth enthusiasm. I’ve dug into the Quiche deep enough to proclaim it belongs to me. I sip on the Orange juice in between bites, enjoying the slightly sour tinge trickle down my throat.
Appetite somewhat satiated, I put down my spoon and fork. Pausing for a moment to clear my throat, I look around once again. And I’m surprised at what I see. The scene’s almost entirely changed!
The old couple dressed in a dull orange and brown are no longer there.
The family of four that was sitting in the table diagonally opposite me now has two people.
The young married couple that was cuddling and cooing some time back is now squabbling and hissing in hushed voices. The woman is close to tears. The man wears a disgusted expression on his face.
Seeing me looking around curiously, the man in the uniform walks up to me again. He asks if I would like to have something else. Shaking my head, I indicate that I would help myself. And I continue to look around.
An old woman sitting alone catches my eye and smiles dotingly through her thick spectacles. She thinks I am the son she never had.
A baby boy looks at me with interest as his mother wipes crumbs off the corner of his lips. He thinks he has met me before. Well, me too.
Why do I suddenly feel I’ve been here before?
The setting seems so familiar. The food, though fresh, seems like it’s been eaten earlier.
And the people, well, that’s the strangest part…
*I’m about halfway through my meal when I stop, in between a particularly fulfilling bite. A little thought suddenly gets hold of me. I narrow my eyebrows and look around. Then I push it away to the back of my mind and chew. But I slow down and stop again. It’s that thought. It’s gripped me good. I can’t stop thinking about it. Because with every passing second, I realize how true it is.
In that sixty-odd minute meal, I was going to live my whole Life in short. Minute by minute. I only began realizing it when I was past twenty, but that really didn’t matter. There were still forty-odd minutes to go.
It started when I was out there, strolling in the lobby. I had almost walked past the door to the Restaurant. Then, I can’t explain why, I back-tracked my steps and made an impulsive choice to dine here today. A lucky coincidence, I think now. And no regrets about that.
I vaguely remember the first few minutes as if they were my first ever.
Well, they were, in a way.
I remember the bright streams of golden-yellow sunlight, the sweet mix of intoxicating music in the air and the scent of a freshly baked something. This was my welcome into the Restaurant.
And all the while, something kept prodding me softly at the back of my mind. ‘You’ve been here before,’ it said. Now I know what it meant.
Again, the white-uniformed man helped me choose a seat by the window. I had almost sat down, but something stopped me mid-way and I turned. I sat facing the People in the Restaurant. Well, it wouldn’t hurt to look around at the People while I was here, would it?
There were glances. Some stealthy and swift, some warm and lingering.
I smiled a few smiles and got a few more in exchange.
I waved out to those I knew, and they waved back.
I ignored some completely, and they let me be.
I am here for Brunch. So are they.
And while we’re at it, I really don’t think it would hurt to get to know a few of the People-the old couple dressed in a dull orange and brown who would no longer be there in a few minutes; the family of four that was sitting in the table diagonally opposite me, which would later have only two people; the young married couple that was cuddling and cooing right now, but would later be squabbling and hissing in hushed voices; the old woman sitting alone, who thinks I am the son she never had; the baby boy who looks at me and smiles, for no real reason. I cannot help it. I smile back at them all. Warmly. There’s a connection, I think.
Occasionally, the uniformed man keeps coming up and oI refuse politely. I prefer to go and choose for myself. I’ve got a lot of choices here at the Restaurant. I wasn’t going to let some uniformed man make them for me.
I steer my way through the Brunch, sometimes wolfing it down, sometimes savoring every little sliver of a bite. Sometimes I’m distracted. Sometimes I’m all attention.
The crackling cereal, the spongy cakes, the warm milk, the sour juice and the honey I sweeten it with. It’s all here. Whatever I want. Whatever I choose.
And now, here I sit. Chewing mechanically, the nerves in my forehead pulsing.
But I’m lost in thought. Where was I?
Ah yes, I’ve sat for about twenty minutes. Another forty to go, I’m assuming.
I might sit here till late afternoon, staring into the lake and sighing contentedly, if I feel like it. Or I might be spilled upon by a fellow diner or the uniformed man and leave early in a huff. Who knows?
I am here for Brunch.
It’s no special occasion today. But then, I think I should make it one.
After all, I’ll be here in this Restaurant for this Brunch only once.
I better make it worth my Life.
Now about 22 minutes into the Brunch