She sat at the table at the Argentinian restaurant just by the river, in Kingston. She had a late-night pizza in Pizza Express in Surbiton, right by the station, slightly annoyed that they took 45 minutes to serve it. She felt the same annoyance at the Mexican restaurant in Leicester Square, where she and her Greek friend were shivering, waiting eagerly for the mouth-watering burgers, all the while hoping a table indoors would empty soon.
It was food she socialised over. All the different cuisines, the smells, the waiters of dozens of different nationalities and accents, the areas of London where one can grab a table and just forget about the rest of the world, watch the rain, dream, or plain stare at the eye-popping bill at the end of the meal.
Sitting at her familiar table back home, and gulping down mouthfuls of the Greek variation of giuvech, she went back to her school days.
She stood at the middle of the canteen, trying to find a spare table. Her hands are shaking from anxiety, self-conscious, worried that her spine is too curved, her body is too fragile, her hair too greasy. She sits down at the table with two loyal friends. They eat their sandwiches or pastries and waffle on and on about all the wonderfully unimportant things that happen to teenagers.
She has a tasty ham and cheese sandwich, but she can’t bring herself to finish it. She grabs a bite, contributes to the conversation, rearranges the ham and cheese, tries to bite into the soft bread but her teeth go numb, her throat burns from the hunger and the craving but her heart says no. So she leaves the sandwich untouched.
She throws it in the bin and tells her mum she ate it.
Late afternoon in the empty house, with her dad being in the hospital and her mum nowhere around, she expects someone to take her to her drama class. She should be hungry, but she isn’t. She is craving for company, love, friendship; someone to sit at the other end of the table, and turn on the TV, and let the voice blur out all her thoughts.
Her sister comes along with another ham sandwich.
“Eat it. It’s good. Fresh ham”
She tries it. The ham is soft. She tries to swallow, but her throat burns.
Later in the evening, after the drama class, they stop at the Greek fast food place she loves. It’s the end of the day. Soon, it will all be over. She no longer has to talk to people, or show her most private thoughts to her fellow drama students. She grabs the burger and eats it like she has not eaten in a week.
She lies in her bed at night, dreading the days ahead. The bullying, the endless assignments she had no idea how to complete, the loneliness at home, the absence, the imperfection of her body and her soul.
At the end of that year, she found him. And he helped her heal.