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Sunday, 16 December 2012

Ένα πιάτο φαγητό (A plate of food)

Ένα πιάτο φαγητό (a plate of food) - it's no big deal in Crete, because there is plenty of it. 

The students and professors dine in the same area, but generally speaking they do not mix. The students speak English amongst themselves unless they are in same-country groups, in which case they speak their own language. The professors are all Greek, and as they sit alone or with other Greek-speaking professors, they are generally heard to be speaking only Greek.  

The woman moved from one table to another in quick succession. She was carrying a small backpack over her shoulder, as she passed by the students' tables. They would stop their friendly happy banter, put  their forks down onto their plate,  and look up from their trays. But they showed little comprehension as to what she was saying to them, and so she left, looking slightly bewildered that she could not make herself understood, and they continued with their lunch as she left.

She did not linger very long at the students' table; there was no common language among them. She wondered if anyone spoke Greek here. She moved quickly from one table to the other, finally halting at the table of a sole diner, a visiting professor, where she placed her bag on the floor.  He listened attentively to her, showing great understanding as she spoke to him. Then she opened her bag and pulled out a few packaged objects: a can opener, a torch, keyrings, and other trinkets. He fumbled in his pockets for a few moments, as she waited hopefully, before he shook his head apologetically. She then placed all the objects back in her bag, and moved on to another table.

Dionisia did not normally sit alone at lunch. Dionisia had called Katerina through the intranet before she went to the restaurant, but she did not answer it. Katerina's son was not well enough to go to school, which menat that she had to bring him in to work with her, so Dionissia expected to see the two of them at lunch. As they did not come, she found herself dining alone, which she hated. Eating alone felt so immoral to her, as if she was too selfish to share her lunch, which was free at work at any rate, but it still felt strange. If her family had already eaten the dinner she had prepared for them the night before she went to work, she would not bother eating any of it herself, preferring a piece of bread and some cheese to go with it instead. There did not seem any point in sitting down to eat at the table on her own.

The woman approached Dionissia in the same way that she had approached everyone else in the restaurant. The woman's face, her pleading eyes, her imloring voice, they all sounded familiar to Dionissia. But this woman was out of place here. For a start, she was quite obviously pregnant, and was wearing baggy denim overalls. The roots of her dyed-blonde hear were growing out and she had a few fashionable piercings on her face. She did not resemble the typical Roma woman. And where had she come from in the first place. The students' restaurant, and indeed the whole campus, was tucked away in a forest that was not very visible from the road. It was virtually impossible to be wandering off the street and come across it.

- I'm sorry, but I really don't have any money, Dionissia told her, quickly enough so that the woman did not take the time to go through the motions of having to open her bag and take things out of it, only to find that she would have to put everything back into it, without making any sale. The woman left her, moving slowly and quietly.

Dionissia continued eating her lunch, when suddenly she thought of Katerina and her son. Katerina was probably in the lab in the middle of working on an experiment. This was probably why she wasn't answering the phone - she wasn't in the office, and had probably left her son there, playing computer games, and not answering the phone, on his mother's orders. She now began to worry. Was Simonas on his own? Would he know not to let anyone into the office? Katerina would have left her handbag there with him. And then she wondered where else the woman had been before coming to the office. Kiriakos had had his scholarship money stolen just days before Christmas, just before he was due to depart for a post-doc abroad. The cameras had detected the stranger, but the stranger was only caught the second time he tried to do something like that. This woman's bag looked small, but that wasn't the point.

She did not hurry through lunch, because she knew it would give her indisgestion and today she could not afford to feel sick. She would have preferred not to have eaten now that Katerina had not come to the restaurant. Had she known, she would not have come at all. But she had a lesson in the afternoon, and a seminar after that, which meant that she would have been on an empty stomach for too many hours at a stretch. If she had not come into the restaurant, she would not have seen the woman. Now that she had, she felt it was her responsibility to warn others not to leave valuables unattended. As she swallowed her food, she felt it sticking to her throat, even though she had chewed it well.

When she had finished her lunch, she took her plates to the kitchen. As she passed the door to go to the place where each diner (except the visiting professors) stacked them, she saw the woman on the other side with a tray in her hand, pouring some sauce over a plate of spaghetti.

Ένα πιάτο φαγητό, Dionissia thought to herself, on seeing that the woman was still in the restaurant, and relieved at the same time that she had lined up with the students for a plate of food. She scraped the sauce from her plate into the bins (they would be used as animal feed), and went off to find Katerina. But neither Katerina nor her son were anywhere to be seen; she suspected that Katerina had taken him to the doctor at the IKA offices down the road.

As she entered the office, she passed by Bilio's desk.

- I don't want to tell you this because I feel like I'm being horrible, she said. At this, Bilio's face took on a worried look?

- Dionissia, sweetheart, what's happened?

- There's a pregnant gypsy girl in the restaurant.

Bilio nodded knowingly without speaking. Dionissia went to her desk. Bilio dialed a number.

- Stefane, just to let you know, there's a gypsy wandering on the campus... She was in the restaurant... No, I don't know if she's still there... Food?... Well, Dionissia said she was at the self-service bar... Well, I don't know who told her to go there! That's not the point! It's just a plate of food!...

Bilio now sounded flustered; she was speaking the same language with Stefanos, but she had not made herself understood to her colleague. And now he was worried about a plate of food.

Spaghetti with a variety of sauces is served for lunch once  a week on a rotating menu at MAICh.

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