As far as I know, we only have one vegetarian restaurant in this town. Before our school got a sit-down canteen of its own, I would frequent the veg place. It’s conveniently located in the train station, so I could withdraw cash from the ATM, buy more units for my phone, pay for another month of Internet, and eat lunch, all at the same time. Not that I ever did.
Then our school’s canteen opened, run by our very own director’s very own cousin who happens to be my very own hashaa man’s very own brother. It all pointed the same direction: I should eat there. So I did.
Our normal routine consists of my walking in and asking what food is there. Very Own lists in rapid-fire Mongolian the available foods. I stare for a bit, considering all of my mostly non-vegetarian options, until he says something again in rapid-fire Mongolian that I most likely don’t understand but agree to anyway, and he tells me to sit. This typically means he will make me a plate of what is available, whether it’s a rice dish or a soup, with some salad on the side and a cup of tea, and no expectation of me to eat the meat. It can also mean he’s making a dish especially for me that has no meat. He calls me ‘friend,’ and he spoils me. How could I eat anywhere else?
But yesterday I had a thought: maybe I should mix it up, pace myself a little better with Very Own’s kitchen and try my former fav. I had the excuse of running errands: I needed cash, and I could buy something in the train station’s delguur. Oh, and the veg place… Why not? I haven’t been there in ages. So I go and sit and drink my tea and eat my meatless dish that’s a bit cold because the microwave isn’t working properly and the woman doesn’t seem to like me for some reason (I’m trying to speak her language, after all) and pay and leave, thinking it was good but not that good but good enough for lunch at least.
At least until my presence is requested by my sitemate to accompany him to the school’s canteen so he can eat his lunch. I acquiesce, feeling a bit guilty for going and just sitting without eating.
After some banter with teachers to distract us, and after the distracting, bantering teachers leave, Very Own asks where I ate lunch (the train station, eh?), what I had for lunch (it was bad, wasn’t it?), and who served it to me (that old woman?).
Well, yea, I had to run errands, see, and you know, it was just a one time thing, and…
I am the guilty party in this scenario.
Very Own might as well have said, I’ve made you what you are today, don’t you see? You would still be eating cold meatless dishes, or you’d have been forced to eat meat by now! Who do you think you are, sneaking off and eating somewhere else? I feed you! I give you tea! The toil and sweat I’ve produced for you, and this is how you thank me!
But what he really said was, anytime you want vegetarian food, I will make it for you, ok? Come here anytime, I will make you good food: vegetarian buuz, tsuivan, mantuu, you name it, I’ll make it, ok? Let me know in the morning, it will be ready by lunch. …What did you have today again?
Longing to be back in his good graces, I answered him but quickly tried to change the subject by describing the Pad Thai I made the other night. He seemed to perk up: you will make it for me, and we’ll eat together. Allayed for the moment, we seemed to have mended the relationship.
But I learned my lesson. I am to take my lunch in one place and in one place only, the place where I became who I am.
Thank you, Very Own.
Please, forgive me, Very Own.
Your food is best, Very Own.
I am yours.