Well mannered

I wrote this for a Dutch magazine ‘God of the Netherlands’. Clearly this is fiction: I for one would never order hummus.

Jaipur

When it comes to dining experiences, I’m spoiled rotten. The finest supper I ever had was in India, about fifteen miles outside of Jaipur. To the tricycle-man I yelled: ‘take me to the chef in the woods!’ He took me to the chef in the woods. He knew exactly who I was talking about.

I can’t recall the dishes I had, it was that kind of good. There were no options, only courses. Miles of courses. For two hours, they kept bringing them in and keeping up became a challenge. Often, I kept the waiter waiting, holding the course to follow, because my table was quite tiny. My manners slowed me down. And he just stood there, gazing, watching me chew. There was no electricity, but I saw his eyes on my jaw. There was something eerie about it, but it worked for me and I kept my pace. When all the courses had finally come to an end, I asked if I could see the chef. Reluctantly he crawled out of his kitchen, a modest dome made of clay. The dome had a hole in the top for the smoke. I said:

‘Chef, I have eaten at the finest establishments, all over the world!’

Back then, that was a lie. For a second I paused, to compensate for the lie and add some weight to my compliment:

‘But this clearly was the best dinner I ever had.’

That was no lie. The chef merely nodded his head:

‘Obviously.’

Dubai

I had checked into the XVX Art-Hotel, arguably Dubai’s most romantic hotel and probably the only one without elevators. I had booked the bridal suite. Inside the hotel, traditionally renovated, there were two patios, covered by cotton sails attached to dark wooden beams. I ordered mint tea and peeped back at the stars between the sails. Now and then an Indian dude walked by holding a broomstick. It was late, time to retire. I climbed onto my bridal bed and tried to read. I had planned a honeymoon with myself. There was a knocking on the door: room service. This was my wedding night, so there had to be room service. Although in Dubai, the veil is not as obligatory as I had assumed, the maid that stood in the doorway covered the lower half of her face with her hand. She had not waited until I said ‘enter’ and was not holding the hummus I had ordered.

‘Hello sir, I’m Asyana. It’s so nice to meet you. Are you happy here?’

Her pronunciation of the letter ‘R’ gave away her Philippine origins, only people from the Philippines overdo the Americans when it comes to the letter ‘R’.  But I could have known anyway, she worked at the hotel and everybody working in Dubai hotels or behind counters is from the Philippines. Just like all taxi drivers are Pakistani and the white people are looking for treasure in IT.

‘Yes, I’m very happy. It’s my honeymoon!’

‘I’m glad to hear that. I’m so sorry sir, can I ask you for one thing?

She was still hanging on to half of her face as if it could drop any second.

‘Sure!’

‘Very good sir. I’m very sorry, but could I see your bathroom for a minute?’

I went back to my bridal bed, used my left hand to balance my book on its cover and opened my right hand to the bathroom.

‘Be my guest, Asyana.’

She was in the bathroom for quite a while, but I didn’t hear water running. Maybe Asyana was saving half of her face, maybe she was checking the bath salt or counting the towels. I got into my laptop, opened up some apps and pretended to do some hard work so the mirrors in the room -there were plenty- wouldn’t judge me. When she finally came out, her hand no longer covered her face.

‘Thank you sir. You’re so kind. Can I do something for you?’

I asked for my hummus, but she didn’t seem to have anything to do with my hummus. Asyana didn’t reply and just stood her. She was pretty.

‘Do you want maybe a massage?’

I stared at my screen for me permission. Evenly I nodded and whispered: ‘thank you.’

As the massage started, I tried to fall asleep, because I didn’t want to get too excited. I failed, I always fail and get too excited. It was a terrible massage. She poked at my back as if the bed was a grill, unsure if I was quite ready yet. When she noticed how excited I had become, she said: ‘It’s okay, sweetie’ and took her time to make sure it didn’t get in the way of her poking.

It was a terrible massage, but the sex was excellent. This had seized to be a wedding night. Asyana came next to me, we studied the ceiling. She asked what type of porn I was into. I didn’t reply because if any, back then it was probably Asian and I didn’t want to be that much of a cliché. She didn’t care that I got quiet and put the back of her hand on my belly. Asyana told me there was no porn in Dubai. Sometimes sites would get blocked while she was watching at home.

Then I realised what was happening. Someone had invaded my wedding night.

‘What’s your zodiac sign?’

‘Pisces’.

I replied as if my answer was obvious. ‘People who care about zodiacs should at least learn to spot them,’ I almost said, but kept quiet instead, embarrassed. She asked if I wanted to have another go. I looked at her body, her face, back to her body and back to her face again. They were such separate things. I looked at the mirror in the dark across the bed and found my face tired. I had ruined my wedding night. I asked whatever had happened to my hummus. She put her hands on the little dimple on my chest, pushed it softly.

‘you should take a bath’.

I took a bath.

Asyana came standing over me. She had no intention of joining me and I realised I wouldn’t want that anyway.

‘When you take a bath, sweetie, do you stay in there for a long time?’

When I take a bath, I always intent to stay in there for centuries, but I always give up, it’s a defeat. After five minutes I get uncomfortable, rise like a neptune, then I almost faint.

‘No, not really’.

‘You’re a Pisces, sweetie, you don’t belong in still water’.

Montreal

Waiters and waitresses in Montreal are, it is known, among the best of the world. They are way up there with Japan. And when the shift is over, they go home and write a play, direct some independent movie or design a dress. Whether it be a waiter of a waitress: they always look at you like they are on the verge of making out with you.

Except from the Barista. He has a beard and growls at the espresso machine. But the Barista is carefully shielded from the costumer. Once, I tried to order a double espresso. The waiter peeked at the Barista, who was wiping his coffee-grind-hands on his apron and staring at the milk foamer in disbelief. She walked around the bar, walked up close to me and whispered in my ear: ‘I don’t think he does doubles.’

After I had ordered my single shot, she complimented me on my shoes, tie and the city I’m from. I felt confident, this worked on my appetite. The lunch I ordered, appeared to be her favourite too. It was as if we were meant to be. I sat there, in love, petting my cutlery. And every time we saw each other, it was as if she wanted to make out with me, which she didn’t. This made her an excellent waitress. During lunch I went to the bathroom three times, so I could pass by the bar. She knew everything about me that mattered, and I didn’t know anything about her. That would teach me. I spat in the toilet and added some paper, so there would be something to flush.

My company, who was Danish, tried to persuade me to write my phone number on the check. I didn’t dare, it seemed more of a thing people do in stories. Instead I tipped her royally. She said to all of us:

‘You’re always welcome here.’