After I said good-bye to two of my students who did their final presentations this afternoon, I left consultation room number eight of the English Department feeling and relishing that freedom. I am at last unbounded by deadlines, deliverable, and to-dos. The sunset was strikingly beautiful and the leaves of eucalyptus trees along the path to Leong Hall were very graceful as they swayed with the cool late afternoon wind. I walked with insouciance, unhurried for the first time in ten months.
From Katipunan, I made an unplanned trip to the grocery for dinner. I bought a kilo of fresh salmon belly, some greens, and fresh spices. I waited for Babe’s text, but it seemed that the SMS wasn’t anymore coming so I went on with my plan and cooked dinner for one at eight.
I am considerably adept now in the kitchen, able to move around quickly minus the spills, burns, and splatters, unlike before when I would take out all the content of the fridge and the cupboard before I can produce a turd-looking, mangled sunny-side-up egg. Since I bought my pans and cooking utensils, I make sure I cook daily. I’ve been doing this for almost two weeks now.
The evil of fast food has never been more emphatically pilloried as when I compare it to my cooking. (I am not in any way trying to imply that I am excellent at it. No one, though, has expressed abhorrence to my cooking yet. My brother enjoys free meals and has not said any word about it.)
In a matter of 30 minutes, or less, I came up with salmon cooked in butter and a lot of garlic and a gorgeous-looking salad in olive and toasted basil dressing.
I have gotten so used to always having dinner with somebody that I thought I already forgot how it feels to dine alone. But like anything that we have grown up having and eventually ‘losing’, we still often catch ourselves surprised whenever we find out that there are things that tenaciously glued themselves to us, things we can never fully let go of or live without even though we thought all along that they’ve been long gone, deserted us for forever.
For how can a man so used to solitude all of a sudden declare his inability to have dinner by himself?
I must have gotten scared of being alone again, thinking it was impossible to revert to those dinners where I faced a blank wall while eating my plate of unpalatable unknowns, being seated next to a stranger while I was toying an overdone beef with my fork, or unsuccessfully keeping myself from hearing garrulous undergrads while I force-fed myself with pork swimming in its despicable grease.
It’s impossible to tell whether this is mere routine or a vestige of some pre-human instinct biologically wired in us through evolution. This recently learned (conditioned) desire to eat with somebody felt oddly good, not better than eating alone, though, as they each exists on different planes of pleasure.
While I was having dinner this evening, I knew I was my old self again–enjoying a simple meal, but this time I cooked the dinner myself, not feeling any remorse, as I should have been spending this time with somebody too special I’d ask a random customer questions as unimaginable as ‘Is salmon better than cream dory?‘.
To some, loneliness means eating alone. If I were younger, if it were three years ago, then I would agree with them. But I guess, years of living alone and spending countless dinners with so many somebodies and even more dinners by myself taught me that however you look at it, a good dinner is a good dinner regardless of whom you’re eating it with, or whether you’re having it quietly in a room where the only sound you hear is the sound created by your tongue smacking your upper palate as you masticate that delicate pink salmon or with somebody while whispering sweet nothings to each other.
And of course, how can I forget, a good meal is never complete without a nice cup of tea after.