Twenty-seven days of eating alone

I was having lunch today at the Reyes Barbecue branch nearby. They finally have iced tea, perhaps after a couple of complaints, also the management themselves were complaining about the time it took the iced tea machine to come in. The menu had these signs pasted all over, talking about the option for customers to get an iced tea with their meal for an extra ten bucks. But, as with everything, there is a catch.

"Isang grilled hamburger, please," I told the presumable manager, because he's quite a looker.

"With iced tea, sir?" he replied.

"Ah, yes," I answered.

"Student's ID n'yo po, sir?"

I shook my head. The promo was for UA&P students, whose lunch breaks are dominated by visits to the restaurants around Pearl Plaza. I knew I wasn't up to the promo, but I was willing to fork extra money for a glass of that ubiquitous beverage anyway. Besides, it's cheaper than softdrinks. But I'll always have an aside. "I wish I was a student," I jested. He just smiled.

Aside from me not having a UA&P ID - theirs is, if I saw them correctly, laminated and worn around their necks - I can be mistaken for anybody else. I'm not exactly a 19-year-old who's lost in the world of students and yuppies; in fact, it affords me an extraordinary position. I was eating my lunch, taking care not to burn my tongue, and I was observing the people that walked past the window I was facing. There's this couple, smoochy and all, disregarding the sunlight that won the war. There were two Koreans - stereotypical, you might say, because they were wearing checkered polos, and one had thick-framed specs. There was the middle-aged man who owned the kebab restaurant next door, walking around and talking to other middle-aged men. It's all the same, really.

I was talking with Carmel the entire afternoon, as I was finished with my articles earlier than usual. Our discussion about the holographic diplomas that started arriving to a thousand Lasallian homes via mail slowly moved to one about my work, and inevitably, about how she apparently convinced Neobie to take this job. Sure, the way I see it, there's always a connection between where I am and where I used to be, but the thing is, we've got to focus on the new things to ensure our survival, even if it means having to endure eating lunch alone.

This morning, I was talking to my dad about the future - again. I got a letter from P&G, and he was frank about it - if possible, he wants me there. Although it means being more corporate than comfortably possible, I vowed to try calling, even if the letter's technically invalid; there was a delay in the release, and I got my invitation two months too late. I finished six articles and was already chatting with Carmel when I tried calling. I tried, I tried, I tried, I tried, and nobody was answering.

Soon we'll have to get out of here. Not that I'm rushing - six weeks and two payslips later, I've learned to be comfortable with solo lunches, faint goodbyes and the more-than-occasional stolen glances - but I've been thrust into a world where we really have to dream big. In school, we only had up to 4.0 to reach; anything more outrageous than that is considered overkill. Here, it will still be considered as such, but at least you can explain yourself. Nobody's stopping you now, really.

I've got twenty minutes before going home, and I'm not exactly thinking of whether I'd tell Sam all these "elderly knowledge" about how the world works, or how it seems to. And I don't really care about me being something akin to a father figure for her, because I'll just let it slip instead. I've got to think about what I'll do next, and what I'll tell the ones who will take my place soon. Provided my goodbyes to this desk comes closer than expected, I would've learned a lot, and I would've passed it on.

At this point, I couldn't help it - the girls have left, I've waved goodbye for the nth time, and I'm dancing to that collaboration. I'll forget what I've told Carmel - about canteens, cheeseburgers and the need to bond over lunch - because tomorrow's another day, and I'll have to think quick in order to survive.

"And... I dunno. Thanks for the info?" I said.

Carmel merely laughed. "No problem," she replied.

"I dunno if I'll use it," I conceded. And laughed, too.

And your responses...

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