Table for One – by Lucy Watson
“Table for one, please.”
A phrase that seems to instill panic and the fear of seering judgement in many. As if the idea of sitting alone in a public space will deem them outcasts, pariahs. The girl who ate her lunch alone in the school library. The boy who had no friends.
“I could never eat in a restaurant alone.” They say. “People look at you.”
Do they? Do people stare across from their own meals and think pityingly, ‘Oh, that poor soul all alone?’ Or do they, with the kind of complete self-absorption which epitomises humankind, not even notice you at all?
Perhaps it is partly that I care not at all what strangers think of me, but eating alone is a precious and beautiful thing for me. It is a moment to be in the world, but outside of it. To watch the seething masses chatter, and weave their complex social web, while I distantly observe from afar.
I order what I want, I spread my book on the table, I sip my red wine, and I disappear into a world of my own thoughts. This is the only time I get to do this. The background noise in the café or restaurant or bar makes me feel connected to the world, so I can sit there for hours and never feel alone.
Were I to be at home eating alone, I would need to put the TV or my laptop on. The silence would make my solitude deafening. The loneliness of cooking for one and eating in front of the TV palpable. The empty couches around me would call out for company. The empty seats around the dining table would beckon me to arrange a dinner soon, so the emptiness can be filled with the voices and laughter of my loved ones.
But when I’m alone in the world, I never feel the lack of another. For I am not alone. I see the waiter and I imagine he is a student, here from Canada. I imagine that he lives in Brunswick and rides a bike everywhere to save money.
I imagine the couple next to me are on a first date because he looks nervous and she is talking a lot. He shows her something on his phone. She genuinely laughs. There will be a second date.
I look at the ladies with their lattes talking about their kids, and I try and think what their houses would look like. Warm and earthy like the lady in the tribal pashmina. Sleek and sophisticated like the lady in red-rimmed glasses and the long, flowing black cardigan.
I see the mother and her well-behaved 4-year-old, sitting up straight with his babyccino. I flash forward and imagine myself one day with my own little boy, talking about serious issues like why we don’t touch pigeons, and why the parmesan cheese in the bowl doesn’t look like cheese.
And then I take a sip of wine and turn back to my book.
Perhaps for me, it is because solitude is such a rare thing; my calendar full of dinners and drinks and birthdays and brunches. These moments – where the gentle hum of human interaction flows on but asks nothing of me – are so fleeting.
Perhaps it is the time I spent travelling alone, taking myself across the UK, Europe, America. Walking into pubs and bars, sitting alone with a book hoping someone would talk to me – or that they wouldn’t. There is a loneliness in venturing around the world alone – but there is also intoxicating freedom. Every day, every meal, every destination, every decision – mine.
Today, I have seafood pasta and a glass of cab sav. Then I order a second glass. I write a few ideas in my notebook, I read a chapter of my book, and then I quietly pay. I slip off as all the conversations around me continue as if I was not even there. Because for them, I wasn’t. The memories, the moment was mine. And it was delicious.