The T.V was still blaring and random infomercials were playing. The McDonalds from last night lay on the side of the table in front of him, the Coke still next to his feet. His vest had a mustard stain on it, and his boxer shorts were covered in stale breadcrumbs.
The black and white static would interrupt the banal infomercials because of the cheap cable. His neighbours should really upgrade, he thought to himself as he tugged the cable that led to a small hole in the shared wall to the next apartment. He took a couple of deep breaths to hoist himself up. He trudged to the T.V., smacked it a couple of times on the side as he had seen in different sitcoms, played with its antenna for a bit, and retreated back to his battered couch whose cheap leather had already begun to chip away. A lonely french frie lay stuck in the middle of two couch cushions; he devoured it in a single bite, forcing more saliva down his throat to create a natural lubricant for the cold food.
A double patty, beef burger with a mexican twist. The burger would be minced in its entirety and served in a traditional taco shell and would be covered with melted cheese. This would be accompanied by a creamy vanilla milkshake, with extra cream and marshmallows. The whole deal would cost 1,200 rupees, and was available for a limited time only.
He saw it perched on the edge of the sofa; he moved his arm so that minimal effort would need to be put in. The stretch, unfortunately, pulled one of his obliques and he could feel the pain travelling to his nervous system, not yet hitting him, until it finally registered. He let out a screech and fell to the floor, the McDonalds drink alongside him, wetting his boxer shorts. He lay there, motionless, until he saw the faint sun rays coming in through his window. The cable operators, late into the night when they were certain no one would be watching T.V., had left the McDonald’s advert on repeat.
There was a weekend in the middle before the official launch of the new meal. He spent all week fantasizing over the exotic taste that had been described in the advert. He kept thinking about what sort of taste he would experience for the first time. He couldn’t sleep the night before. He switched on the T.V and let the McDonald’s advert play on repeat like the day before. Maybe McDonald’s paid these guys a lot, he thought to himself.
His mouth salivating already at what wonders awaited the next morning. He had had more than usual for dinner to prevent this from happening, but it didn’t work. He started sweating the closer his alarm came to going off. He switched sides and a damp imprint of his body lay stamped on the bed sheet.
He could feel the sun rays on the nape of his neck, digging into his skin, slowly cooking it to a light crisp. The line was moving at a pace of two people every five minutes. Each time the doors parted ways at the entrance of the mall, a breath from the expensive internal cooling at the mall would blow into his face and he would feel some respite, however transient. He didn’t notice the people around him. He had his eyes fixed on the sliding doors, his throat getting parched with each step forward.
He had to enter from the main entrance, take the first right and find the first elevator. From there he would have to go to the twelfth floor, and walk 650 meters and take the first left. At the end of the hallway, he would find the foodcourt.
He snapped out of his stupor and reprimanded the officer, “Get your hands off of me,” he said as he straightened his shirt, and walked away with an awkward gait.
What was this officer trying to do, touch me with his dirty hands? He thought to himself as he followed the blueprint in his head. He avoided every possible gaze of fellow mall-goers. His eyes set on the ground, he could only see people’s feet and had to make split decisions based on the angle of their feet, the distance between himself and the other person’s feet and the walk-stride each person had, in order to avoid them.
It was on the twelfth floor, the top floor in the mall. He had to wait 42 seconds before it finally reached to where he was, all the while people were accumulating behind him. How will he fit in the elevator, he thought other people were thinking about him as he went in first.
As if under a spell, he bumped into a child as soon as he got off, pushing him to the ground. He heard the child’s father shouting at him in the background but he paid him no heed; the beauty of the food court had numbed all his other sentiments. All his senses were focussed on the bright lights, the flashy billboards, the cheap fast-food, the long ques, the obese clientele, the organized system of ordering and receiving, the smell of cheap frozen produce, the spacious seating arrangement, the welcoming workers, the clean floors, the unlimited yet generic food, and most importantly, the fast fastfood service.
He stood in line; there were twelve other people in front of him. He kept recounting his money.
“One, two, three hundred, eight hundred, eight hundred-fifty, eleven-fifty. No, that can’t be right. One, two, three …five…eight… nine-eighty, twelve hundred” he thought to himself, his heartbeat finally receding and going to the average resting heart-rate for an obese male in his late forty’s.
“I’ll have a number 12…number 12, please…..yes, how much is the number 12 for?” was all he heard. He began to worry that the special deal might be sold out by the time he got a chance to order it. Sweat started dripping down his forehead stinging the cuts on his cheek caused by the hasty shave in the morning.
He did not want to mix-up his order or stutter when ordering. He kept whispering to himself, “I’ll have a number 12…number 12, please…..yes, how much is the number 12 for?” He finally decided it was better if he wrote the order down and maybe show it to the cashier instead of speaking it out.
“Please God. We don’t talk much…but I need this.” he heard a voice inside his head say.
The woman at the counter was genial, as was the custom of all fast-food joints these days. Public image was more important than taste. If you could make a customer comfortable, you assured their loyalty over time.
He found the forced smile a little unsettling. However, he had to reciprocate; he had seen enough videos on youtube and heard through second-hand accounts of the disgusting things employees did to the food in order to get back at someone. He was willing to act like a well-mannered member of society, even if it meant just for a bit, so that he needn’t worry about the possibility of purposely contaminated food.
It was then that he realized that he had not repeated the order verbatim of what he had rehearsed and written down. He started sweating profusely and his tongue began to swell up, dizziness in his head making him snatch the change from the cashier’s hand without checking it.
“Very well, Sir. Please have a seat. Your order will be brought to your table.” she said as she handed him back his receipt.
The suit that he had worn wasn’t ironed. He should have ironed it, he thought. The oil in his hair was slithering down his face, making him uncomfortable. He could smell the sweat in his underarms start to stink. He’d have to get out of here as soon as he was done eating, he decided.
He observed the concoction in front of him, a mix of Mexican and American capitalism tailored to the taste of the average desi to create an obnoxious frankenstein’s burger that people living in a specific context could only understand.
He grabbed the burger in one hand as he wiped the sweat off his forehead with the other. The burger was so close to his face now that he could see the synthetic beef, the plastic-like cheese and the stale bun that was at best three days old, his vast experience in the fast-food eating business had taught him.
“Come on folks, today is the surprise launch of our new Pizza at Pizza Hut. Have you ever thought of Indian Chicken Tikka mixed with Chow Mein from our brothers across the border? The first ten people in line get to take a medium-sized pizza home for free! So, come on down while the offer still stands.”
He dropped the burger; it fell and deconstructed into a sad assemblage of what looked like a piece of abstract art. He got up with a blank expression and set off for the Pizza Hut, his gait having even less of a mechanical precision than that of the dead.
Read more from ProperGaanda: Sanne & Yuki | Chap I – Silver Linings