I sauntered down the aisle of a supermarket: pass the greens, pass the meats, pass the dairies, and even pass the snacks. I focused on getting to the cashier counter so I can go home and finish today’s work, prepare for tomorrow’s work and maybe anticipate for the day after tomorrow’s work.
Something made me stop in my tracks, and I looked around: I was in the instant food aisle. Strange, I don’t eat instant food anymore, these unhealthy things that were warned to be cancerous and deadly, so why did I stop. I scanned the aisles and found it: right there, in the bright red package, a cheap korean ramen pack.
My mind fell back, and the world seemed to blur, I seem to back in my youthful college years, living in a dorm with the best people.
I tried to remember, and then I saw.
A girl sat crossed legged on her chair as she feverishly typed up her paper on her computer. Stacks of essays, books, research packets, and homework assignments piled around her. Her computer floated on top of a sea of things: a greasy empty pack of chips, several folders spilling papers, few crumpled chocolate wrappers, half opened textbooks….
“ARGGHHHHH…” She grabbed her head, and messed up her already nest-like hair as she groaned in vain. Her head banged lightly against the table as she drooped down in despair, “I’m never going to finish this.. This is so stressful.”
She suddenly looked up to the ceiling and cried out, “Someone please help me!!” Her dorm room gave her no reply as her fan buzzed on loudly and lazily, as the sun continued to beat down mercilessly on the grounds outside, and as the crickets ceaselessly voiced their complaints of the heat.
Her roommates have all gone back to their country for their summer vacations, and she’s the only one that’s left here.
She would have to bare with this loneliness for an entire week before she can fly back to China, and to make herself at least slightly useful, she promised herself that she would have to finish her summer assignment before going back home.
She stomped down the stairs into the kitchen, and unlike the usual messiness of piles of cheap takeout boxes, junk food wrappers, sushi boxes, and the such, there was nothing in the kitchen. It was bare. Awkwardly bare. Awkwardly strangely weirdly uncomfortably unsettling bare.
The quietness was killing her.
Just a few days ago, this house was alive with “screams and shouts” of her room mates, and all that’s left of them are the little bits and pieces they’ve left behind.
The girl stared at the small dents in the wall made from careless falls, forgotten stains on the walls that refused to be scrubbed off, a lone bottle that never made its way into the trashcan, and sighed.
Her stomach gave a soft impatient grumble as if trying to goad her next to the stove.
She wasn’t in the mood for takeout, and there was nothing for her to cook, so she opened the one drawer that was not empty and drew out her lifesaver – a pack of ramen. Not those crappy and soggy cup ramen, but those packed ramen that needed to be cooked on top of a stove. Those pack ramen that was saved by her roommates and her for occasions that needed special treatments.
She ripped open the pack, and her hand guided her to do the rest. It was easy: no need for instructions; no need for online tutorials; no need for Sally’s many tips on how to excel the art of ramen cooking.
It was ready in minutes. Not instant, but close enough. She sat down next to the table to eat. Gently, quietly, not speaking to anyone, she ate. Not thinking about her essay thesis and the research packets and the readings, she focused on her food and only on her food. The loneliness forced her to taste the food: the smoothness of the slurping of the curly noodles, the piercing spice of the MSG-filled soups, the weird dried up cubes of vegetables and maybe meat.
It didn’t taste bad. Oh! Not at all. It tasted quite good actually, but just not as good. Not as good as when her roommates were here. Not as good as the soggy noodles that Annie always cook up, not as good as the watered down soup that Jean makes because she always ignores the water-limit, not as good as the ultra-spicy version of this that Sally always insists on making. No, not as good, definitely not as good as before.
I grabbed a pack off the shelf as I continued my way to the counter. I berated myself for making such an irrational and unhealthy choice. One side of me boiled with guilt and fear and rage and regret for choosing to buy this, and the other side of me teemed with nostalgia, love, and happiness. It’s weird how people are like this, isn’t it?
That night, I didn’t touch my salads at all and left them stashed in the fridge. I dived right in to making the noodles.
I carefully read the instructions to make sure that I’m getting it right, and I excitedly began. I ripped open the package and threw it away, and immediately I regretted doing so because I don’t think I remember how long I need to cook the noodles.
But as soon as the noodles sank down the boiling water, my hands took over, skilfully mixing the soup paste and the cubed vegetable and meats up. My school life flashed back in my mind like a montage film: lectures, essays, projects, teams, arguments, junk food, coffee, lunch, take-outs, sushi…
I slurped the noodles down and finished the soup, and the playbacks in my mind seem to be finished, too.
I went back to typing up my work report, with full attention and efficiency, vigorous and motivated. Just like how I went back to work on my essay years before, alone, in a stuffy, messy, small dorm room, that was not protected from the scathing summer heat and the endless crickets’ calls.
(Pic creds: Sarah Go http://sudasuta.com/sarah-go.html)