Thursday, December 21, 2006


I had lunch today in the Infolab cafe with Davey. I hadn't been in there for more than a year, since the end of last summer actually, when I was unceremoniously kicked from the waitress job I held by the woman who supervised the place. Pauline was her name.

Sarah was behind the counter today, and I couldn't help but widen my eyes in surprise when I beheld her over the still same tortelloni bake and pork cuts. The menu hasn't changed a whitt, but Sarah has dramatically bloated.

She must be eighteen now. I couldn't help follow her with horrified eyes whenever she waddled past cleaning up tables and bringing out food. Last summer, slowly over the lunch times that we worked together, she had told me her mother was working for Uni Catering too, in the management school, that she had just found a new flat and was all excited about having her own place and a proper fulltime job, about how she was seeing Pauline's son who was nineteen, and asked me eagerly if I thought he was Fit, when he slouched by one afternoon to pick her up.

The most riveting fact she told me was that she had never been to London, and had no immediate intention of ever visiting it. Why good god oh why on earth wouldn't you visit London I haemorraged, I mean, it's LONDON. Like Paris or NewYork. People from my part of the world dream of seeing London, and you are only a three hour train ride away.

She didn't like big cities, she said. She had visited Manchester a few times and wasn't impressed.

Later I wasn't so surprised when I met white 30 and 40 yr olds that never visited London, or any of the big cities (Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh, even Leeds or Sheffield) for that matter, as they were unequal to the ordeal of venturing out of their little towns and meeting strangers who spoke in a strange tongue of differently accented English than theirs. 'Have you heard the Newcastle accent,' one white person shuddered dramatically, 'only thing worse than the Liverpudlian accent luv.'

Sarah was happy. She worked 70-80 hours a week, went out and got pissed every night, and smoked like a chimney, like every other girl or boy her age who was in full time employment.

My first day at work, I had asked her innocently, 'Are you a student?' She had said, 'Good god no. why would you think that.(I think she was secretly flattered, though that might just be the narcissist in me). I hated school and have no intention studying anymore.'

Slowly, insiduosly, I began dropping hints that studying something she really wanted to wouldn't be such an ordeal. She was so good at her job. What about something like Hotel management? Her eyes sparked for a moment. She really has pretty eyes. 'Yeah, summat like that would be awright i suppose..'

Obviously, no one in her family had ever talked to her about accomplishing anything in life other than a lifetime of servitude to uni catering. This is unimaginable to someone like me, freshly sprung from middle class India whose very apogee of aspiration is Higher Studies.

Sarah would probably marry Pauline's son and pop out two kids in three years. Pauline's brother-in-law works for uni catering too. So does Sarah's mom, who smokes more than her daughter, and constantly swipes her cigarrettes. So uni catering would be kind of all-in-the-family in a few years time. And the family would go on resenting the students, even though students are what the whole economy of little Lancaster sustains itself on, and would go on failing to realise that it is but a small step from servitude under unscrupulous catering bosses to uni life where you can discovver untold potential within yourself in the course of your flowering three years amidst uni-promoted boozing in the nine uni-bars and the several in town that offer student discounts.

I'm glad I got booted out of the job. The ricotta was greasy, the mozzerella chewy, and the hot chocolate pudding from the microwave. Maybe I'll pop by again in six months, before I get kicked out of the country by the home office, and see if Sarah is still working here, and leave all smug with a greasy undertone of pity.