Often at lunch I eat out. Sometimes with friends after yoga classes, sometimes alone between giving a massage, performing Pancafit for a client or going to the market. In Hong Kong, but in fact in all Asia, there are plenty of restaurants with a lunch menu, which always includes a main course and two or three side dishes. Imagine a tray divided in spaces, like the Japanese Bento. It can be found with Japanese dishes, Chinese, but also Western food; I find it a wonderful option if you do not want to stray each time like piglets or you do not like the sad fast sandwich eaten in five minutes, maybe even standing. Usually, besides the two or four-person tables, there are “common” tables where you can have lunch with other people without taking up too much space (in Hong Kong the living space is reduced to the bone) and without feeling alone. Also why, let’s say, eating at the restaurant alone is as sad as going to watch a movie on your own.
Too bad that the shared table makes me even sadder than eating standing alone. You find yourself with your right shoulder stuck to the shoulder of a stranger looking at a phone, the left one mixing sweat with an unknown guy singing with headphones in his ears or in front of a stranger who sucks noodles from a bowl looking at a laptop connected to the restaurant’s wifi. Then I shoot out from my bag the kindle and eat while reading.
One nice day in May, while eating my lovely toasted bread with avocado and almonds and drinking my beautiful vegetable shake with my faceless, voiceless and unnamed table companions, the man seated in front of me starts talking. I am astonished … I start searching in my handbag looking for my cellphone, so to respond cordially but immediately launch the message: “Do not fucking think about talking to me, I’m a girl from Milan who lives in Hong Kong, I am doing my business here, you can die.”
But then, after the first unforgettable moment of harassment, I close my handbag zip, smile and lovingly chat with him during lunch. My “friend” is 48 years old, he does not tell me his name, he is 1.80 meters tall, he has brown hair, slightly crooked teeth, a beautiful looking and smiling face, is Portuguese (I tried to guess and said Greek).
He is a pilot, on rest days he comes to walk in the City center because he lives near the airport and, let’s face it, on Lantau Island there is nothing to do. He is quite happy, considering the fact that he comes from a grueling divorce with a former Brazilian wife, no children.
Look at us just whacking the old conversation ball back and forth like old friends, lunch goes smoothly, we share a table, space, time and a piece of our lives. So without anything in return, we do not change names, phone numbers, we do not even shake hands. A flash of time stolen from another person’s life. Energy and smiles, conviviality. I think it was the best lunch alone of all lunches on my own. What then, in the end, as much I like the Count of Montecristo, he can wait until I go on the MTR.
Since May, this episode has spun and revolved in my mind. Whenever I get to eat at a sharing table I look around and then, disagree with the glances lost in the phones, I pull out a book (which is not the sober Edmond Dantes this time but a deadly assassin who drinks the blood of his victims) and lose myself in my world.
Right here, from the gentle pilot, this brilliant idea of sociological experimentation is born.
Every now and then I will sit down at the common table and show off my beautiful smile, I’ll start chatting with my vis-à-vis guy. I will try to select different people each time, men, women, Asians, Westerners, young people and not so young people. The experiment serves to understand how people react to a crazy woman who smiles and talks instead of playing Candy Crash (or whatever the hell they play). In addition, it helps me to get out of my way, my stiff appearance that I’ve had since the beginning. According to my dearest friends, at first glance I seem bitchy, angry and with a pole in my ass. You have got to be kidding me!