Lunch with Time
By Kala Séraphin
“It starts with a sandwich,” he said this to me in the most natural tone. It took me a moment to process the strangeness of it.
“Why do I have to eat a sandwich?” I asked.
He lit a cigarette, exhaling the smoke away from me. He shook his head, leaning over the table.
“You don’t have to eat it, just order one. She’ll know you when she sees you with the sandwich.” He explained, picking at crumbs on the table.
I took a sip of my lassi, thinking over the plan. It was so simple that I wondered what was behind it all. How could this situation blow up in my face? Marcus saw the wheels of my mind spinning.
“Would you stop over thinking things for one moment? I’m telling you, it’s that easy.” He exclaimed, stubbing out his cigarette.
I decided to trust him. From my coat pocket I took out the money he asked for. As he counted it out, I winced on the inside. It was enough money for a tattoo that I’ve been meaning to get. I knew that it had to wait. Some sacrifices were worth their demands.
I met Marcus at a party hosted by a friend of a friend. Someone told me he knew how to talk with Time. When I approached him about it, he arranged for us to meet at an Indian restaurant. Over tandoori, palak paneer and naan, we discussed arts, politics, mysticism and necrophilia. Only once all the dishes were cleared did he reveal the simple way to have a chat with Time.
“Let me get this straight. I go to this shit hole diner and order a sandwich. Any sandwich?” I asked. I wanted to get all the details sorted.
“Any kind you want. She’s partial to the roasted vegetable sandwich though. If you want to get on her good side, I suggest you order that one.” Marcus revealed, handing me a piece of paper.
“Ok, I order a roasted vegetable sandwich. Then Time is supposed to just walk in, sit with me and have a chat?” I continued.
“Yep, that’s it. Pretty awesome, don’t you think? Oh and don’t call her ‘Time’. It makes her feel abstract. Last I heard, she calls herself Kimchi.” He warned.
My blank stare amused him. Between soft giggles he explained:
“She took a trip to Korea and fell in love with the food.”
“So Time likes sandwiches and fermented cabbage…lovely.” I mumbled, looking at the paper. Marcus had scribbled the address of the diner.
He got up, a new cigarette in his mouth, and slipped on his jacket.
“It’ll be fine, Janice. Relax and ask her anything you want.” Marcus said. He squeezed my shoulder as a sign of reassurance, then left. The waiter gave me the bill to pay.
“Damn it, Marcus,” was all I mumbled as I paid the expensive meal.
The next day, I made my way to the poor part of town, looking for the diner Time loved so much. Walking down the street with my designer boots and spike collar made me uncomfortable. I wasn’t sure if the people were looking at me because they wanted to rob me or because I had pink spiky hair, heavy black eye makeup and an outfit from an anime cartoon.
The diner was on a street corner. It had big windows facing the street. They looked like they hadn’t been washed in a long time. The sign said Rose’s Diner. Well, that’s what I assumed. The D and the R from Diner were missing. As I walked in, the smell of grease and cheap coffee overpowered me. I was glad that I had my latte earlier. The furniture looked uncoordinated, as if the owner bought whatever he could at a second hand store.
I chose a booth by the dirty window, inspecting the seat before I sat down. I took a wet tissue from my purse and cleaned it along with the table.
The waitress sauntered over and carelessly dropped a plastic menu in front of me. She placed a foggy glass of water just out of my reach, mumbled something and walked away. My impression was not quite favorable thus far.
Trying to avoid direct contact with the menu, I used a napkin to open it. I found their selection limiting and unappetizing. Most of the greasy sounding dishes contained cheese and meat. As a rule, those were two food groups I avoided. I found the roasted vegetable sandwich at the back of the menu.
Getting the waitress’ attention proved to be a difficult task. Every time I waved, it seemed like her gaze would wander off in the opposite direction. She was scrutinizing her cheap nail polish when I finally called out for her. Once more, she slowly sauntered over to my table and took my order.
After twenty minutes, the cook in the back to assemble what sounded like a half decent sandwich. What I got was an interesting take on a healthy meal. Sitting on a napkin wet with grease were potato wedges, and the sandwich which was a strange combination of lettuce, fried tomatoes, cabbage and mushrooms, sliced cheese and what looked like strawberry jam. I couldn’t bring myself to even touch it. I sat still, studying the food and waiting for Time to come find me.
“Everyone waits for me. That’s what’s so awesome about being me.” It was a strong voice of a woman who always gets what she wants.
I looked up and couldn’t contain my surprise. She was petite with short curled hair. Her small eyes twinkled mischievously at me. She wore a hot pink track suit with a bedazzled T-shirt with the words Eat your Kimchi in rhinestones. She had an arrogant smile that made me want to punch her in the face.
“Are you going to eat that?” She asked, eyeing the sandwich.
I pushed the plate towards the old woman, wondering how Time could be so tacky.
“Just like that, you arrive and I get to ask you any questions I want?” I asked suspiciously.
She took a bite of the sandwich, a glob of jam hanging at the corner of her mouth as she chewed.
“Isn’t it great when life is that simple? How can it get any better?” She asked me, still chewing the mix of vegetables, cheese, bread and jam.
“How do I know you’re really Time?” I just couldn’t let go of my suspicions.
“Ask me anything,” was her reply.
“What am I thinking now?”
Time put down the sandwich and gave me one of those looks you give to people who aren’t that bright.
“I’m not a freaking mind reader! I’m Time. But you can call me Kimchi. It’s cute.” She offered.
My cheeks took on a shade of red and went silent. Her tone was harsh and demeaning. I didn’t expect Time to be so rude.
“You kids these days! Always asking the wrong questions! Can you go faster? Can you go slower? Where are you going? Can you give me more? What’s your secret? Are you connected to the meaning of life? How old are you?” She made mocking voices for each question, complimenting it with a comical face. Then she pushed the potato wedges towards me.
“Here, eat.” The command wasn’t one I was willing to disobey.
“I once met a sweet young man who only wanted to hang out. That was nice. We ate a roast beef sandwich and watched people go by. The next day he left the country and I never saw him again.” That memory made her smile softly.
“Then I met the craziest boy! He had the nerve to demand that I collapse down to set him free! How can suicide be the answer? He just couldn’t accept that he chose to be here, like I did. Why would I kill myself for his pleasure?” She took on her mocking tone again, snorting then eating some more.
I didn’t know what to say. This was so different from my expectations. I imagined Time to be a motherly figure or wise grandfather with a long white beard and cryptic words of wisdom. Instead I had before me and old woman with a chip on her shoulder.
“Here’s something people never ask me. What do I want? Would it kill anyone to remember their manners?” She continued. It seemed unimportant that I was there. Kimchi continued with her monologue.
“I want to learn to make doughnuts. The really light and fluffy kind. I’d put sprinkles in coded messages. Only the smart ones with a sweet tooth would find out my secrets.”
“You have secrets?” I dared to ask.
“No. But nobody knows that! I’ll have those pompous philosophers giving themselves diabetes!” She chuckled at her plan then finished her sandwich.
“I was wondering…” I started with a weak voice. It seemed impossible for me to get a word in.
“Yes, I know sweetie. You were wondering about me. What you can do to change me or understand me. That’s why you came here. But look at me! I’m an old woman! Change and comprehension are out of the question. Just let me be with you. Enjoy these potato wedges with me. When I’m gone, be grateful for the experience. That’s all that life asks of us.” She said, taking my hand in hers. It was frail, covered with age spots and wrinkles yet I felt their strength.
For the next thirty minutes, I sat quietly with Time and ate cheap, greasy potato wedges. Then, she smiled her first sweet, happy smile and shuffled out of the diner. Kimchi was sure to push a couple out of her way, claiming ownership of the sidewalk.
It was a strange experience overall. There wasn’t a great shift in my life. I left with the same mind frame about the world. I was still a starving student that worked hard for her next thrill, I still had outstanding debts, but I was more grateful for it all. After all, how many people out there are conscious that all Time wants it to be enjoyed without preconceived notions or judgments?
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