Some guy just joined me at the table. He is dark-skinned, dressed in conspicuous flowing white, and has a medium-sized beard.
He eats like one who is almost late for an appointment. He is not evidently in a hurry, no. Not really. But sitting across the table: hearing his perfunctory greeting, seeing his head bowed in total concentration on his food, watching his spoon grab mounds of rice in diligent cycles, and experiencing the incisive ferocity with which he munches, I can tell he has somewhere to be.
This is my first time ever seeing him. In the next few weeks I’ll learn he’s Senegalese. He’s a member of the Senegalese Islamic sect at whose meetings I’ll happily receive free rice and chicken during Ramadan. But that’s still to happen in a few months. I don’t know any of that now.
I take my time with my food, taking care not to let the Senegalese guy’s justification-bereft haste rub off on me.
I didn’t know people added olive oil to rice. Like, while eating. There’s a small bottle of olive oil right next to my food. I didn’t know sprinkling some of it on rice, was a thing.
In Nigeria I only ever saw olive oil being used by the super-abundance of superstitious churches in the place. It was usually employed as some sort of a supernatural weapon- To cast out demons and ward off evil spirits.
To the extent that your impression of reality and what is real and what is normal and what is natural; To the extent that all of that is dependent on the human beings around you and your immediate society, growing up in some parts of Nigeria teaches you that Olive oil is manufactured to cast out demons. That is why olive oil exists. And that olive oil advertisements proudly quote stats on demon fatalities, just like how disinfectants claim to kill 99% of germs, etc.
And so it definitely feels very absurd for me here, seeing almighty Olive Oil being used for something as mundane as seasoning rice.
The Senegalese guy is done eating.
Of course he’s done eating.
In a few weeks I’ll be at this restaurant with a new acquaintance from the Netherlands who studied Mechanical Engineering.
We’ll meet on the sunny beach at the southern end of the island. We’ll talk about Holland’s ingenuity with dams and dykes, and he’ll explain the physics of sailing. He’ll attempt to explain the physics of kitesurfing to me, but I’ll have too little experience with the sport to get what he’s saying.
I’ll tell him about some of my interests involving the representation of words and ideas in general, as co-ordinate points in multi-dimensional space. Initially he’ll be skeptical, but at some point he’ll come around and find it exciting. He’ll tell me about the Bauhaus- say I’ll be interested in the philosophy behind it. I’ll open up a mobile Safari tab to check out later.
We’ll talk about his work at KLM. About his bosses and how they receive very fleshy salaries, but aren’t doing all that much work. We’ll talk about his intention to move to a larger apartment- one that costs about two thousand euros a month. The salary is capable of handling it, he says.
I’ll introduce some girlfriend talk. I’ll be surprised to hear he has never had one. I’ll be going through some wrenching heartbreak at the time, but I’ll still suggest that he think about getting one. He’ll appear receptive to the idea.
He’ll tell me about his friends in Holland and their recent trip to Thailand. He’ll ignore phone calls from his mother, wanting to know how he is doing in Cape Verde. He should be old enough to handle himself, he says. I agree. At the time, I myself will be embroiled in some brain-scalding disagreements with my parents in Nigeria.
In a few weeks we’ll be at this restaurant, and he’ll point out to me that you slant the beer glass while pouring the beer. So the foam accretes on top. Apparently that’s the cool-guy way of pouring beer. I’ll realize it also looks better.
In a few years I’ll message him on Facebook, but he will not respond with the enthusiasm I expect. There’ll be too little information to discern why. It’ll probably have to do with the possibility that he has forgotten most of what happened on that day.
That’s something I’ll become aware of in the next few years. That people generally forget pretty much all of these things, and so I shouldn’t immediately attempt to pick up a conversation we were having years ago, because they usually don’t remember ever having that conversation. Sometimes they don’t even remember having ever met me in their lives before.
And so in a few weeks I’ll be at this restaurant with a new acquaintance from the Netherlands, laughing and having conversation he’ll most likely completely forget before long.
I’m done with my food. I call over to the waiter-cum-manager of the place. I ask him a polar question about his opening times. He responds with a vigorous “Of Course?”, that is accented to sound like a question.
This is like the fifth time this guy is going to respond to my questions with “Of Course?”. Initially I thought he was somewhat offended by my question- that it meant I felt the need to ask for something that should simply have been assumed.
Now I’m beginning to perceive this behavior differently from when I initially met him: I don’t think he’s a native English speaker. He’s black, and generally feels like someone who originated from somewhere on the continent, but I don’t think he’s Cape Verdean. Probably from a non English-speaking African country.
I think his English lexicon is limited, and “Of Course” is one of the few expressions in his vocabulary. That’s probably why he says it so often.
I pay for my food and get up to leave. The “Of Course?” guy is heading out to serve some chicken. I let him know I enjoyed the meal, and that I’ll definitely be back sometime soon.
He appears to appreciate my compliment, and wishes me goodnight.
There’s a hearty “Of Course?!” somewhere in his response.