‘Why should we live with such hurry and waste of life? We are determined to be starved before we are hungry.’
- Henry David Thoreau, Walden
Photo by Phil Hearing on Unsplash
By ten to twelve, the queue is already long and stretched around the pavement. At its head, an order is placed, payment made, the payer given a number:
Number 54 moves aside and is swiftly replaced by 55, who places the same order, but with extra cheese. The interaction lasts two more seconds.
while in the back, thick disks of meat somersault in quick succession at furious speeds, and buns are sliced and strewn on a counter like cards dealt in a poker game.
Except here, face up and
Heads up! For ketchup, mustard, and the occasional pickle or square of cheese for twenty-five more cents, because, naturally, time is money. Condiments layered, then the meat lands deftly on top, perhaps with a lettuce leaf. Combine, wrap, and seal.
‘50, 51, 52, 53! Pick up!’
Your lunch is ready.
Already on their marks and set, the anonymous 50 1 2 and 3 grab their brown paper bags and go. Almost immediately:
‘54, 55 with extra cheese!’
Time: Eleven fifty-eight.
By twelve o’ eight, both 54 and 55’s bags and the foil they contained – one distinguished by a C for cheese – are discarded in waste baskets. Mouths are wiped hurriedly while feet are urged onwards, because, again, time is precious and must be saved, from…
Being spent. Life simply takes too long to live.
By twelve thirty, the pavement is empty, as is, entirely, the burger stand. Not a crumb remains for the birds who let time pass and the winter sun warm their feathers.
They wait. The steel shutter slams down on the window. The sign says:
Burgers and Hot Dogs
On the Go. Weekdays only. Lunch. While they last.
But birds do not read or read time. Nor do they save it under their wings for a cold day. Nor do they, by the way, go hungry. These pick at a few grains, here and there, and chirp about, then they flutter away.
Around the pavement and onto a side street, to join another group of misfits, also lingering in the sun, enjoying its warmth against the icy chill that seeps into everyone’s bones. Those are not birds, though, but humans. Mostly artists, children, or elderly, and the occasional nondescript reader sitting on a bench, book open on his or her lap, that Thursday.
A public park at twelve thirty-three on a cold weekday. No one seems to be busy or in a hurry. Some people are even chatting. There are a few metal tables and garden chairs beside a kiosk whose sign says it serves coffee and tea and hot chocolate, popcorn and nuts, a few pastries and sandwiches, and even on days like this, ice cream. Soft serve.
‘Chocolate, vanilla, or both?’
Many choose that option, and both. And not just the children. And lunch lasts longer, much longer than the time it takes for the cream to dribble down cones. The older misfits share napkins, names, and pleasantries over hot drinks, while the younger play on the swings and slides, feed the birds, or do cartwheels on the grass.
These people do not seem to have been initiated to modernity’s highly praised values of self-assigned busyness, hurriedness. They do not eat on the go. Instead, they dunk bread in the soup of the day, watching the rain or passers by, then when their meal is served, save the French fries for last with the last sip of red wine. They can be found in tea houses, sidewalk cafés, sipping coffee on balconies in the early morning, and late at night still talking at the now-empty dinner table.
It is twelve thirty-nine, but they do not care. Their time is, at least now, their own. They know it will go and cannot be saved or chased, only spent, and so they do.
A single cloud floats over the misfits, taking its time, as will the rain it will drop, and the trees those will touch, which will grow. The reader on the bench, sitting still, looks up at it and sees the logger, the paper, the book, the poetry someone will write and he will read, in time, perhaps on this bench.
Perhaps, but for now, he looks back to the book on his lap and reads the next sentence.