It was an odd hour. Around 11.45 am. Perhaps that accounted for the slightly rumpled, desultory state of the restaurant my girlfriend and I picked for lunch.
A hostess had us seated but then disappeared in the back, where, from the clamour and clatter ensuing in the kitchen one assumed they were dispensing with the remnants of brunch so that they could start readying for the lunch crowd.
We were seated by a window overlooking the parking lot. The waitress had offered us a cosyspot by the fireplace but my girlfriend hadjust bought a new car and wanted to sit in full view of it – don’t ask!
Our drinks arrived. The crowd was still thin. A couple of students, (one could tell by the hoodies) a young woman with a shockingly well-behaved little girl anda corporate type who I thought was speaking softly to himself, until I realized he had a Bluetooth stuck in his ear.
At some point, I had to make the inevitable trip to the washroom.
It was a long, somewhat narrow restaurant and seemed darkerin the back as most eateries are wont to be. Just before I turned right towards the ladies’ room, I noticed two elderly women seated at a table almost abutting the washroom door.
What an odd table to choose, I thought, wrinkling my nose.
Unless? Was it possible they were not given a choice?
On impulse, I said to one of them “I couldn’t help noticing your blouse. Gorgeous shade!” Joy coloured her face like a spring bloom.
“Thank you. It was a present from my friend. My birthday.” She gestured to the other woman.
The woman across the seat from her was now looking at me as well. Blushing. Touching her own silk blouse.
“Oh! Happy Birthday!” I said. “Unnh… Didn’t you want to sit somewhere up front? It’s a little more cheerful there. And the waitresses are forced to pay attention,” I grinned.
“We asked. They said, all the tables are reserved.” They shrugged almost in unison and went back to picking at their dessert.
“But they are not all reserved,” I persisted.
“It’s okay, dear, We are fine.”
I nodded and joined my friend.
We polished off our meal. Even though It left a bad taste in my mouth. It was only when I got home it occurred to me I could have at the very least, spoken to the hostess. Or taken a few pictures of the empty restaurant with the non-reserved seats and plastered them all over social media with a scathing note. Shamed the management into seeing the elderly for who they were – paying customers, like everybody else. But more than that. They could be my mum, my aunt, or my grandma. They could be me on some future canvas.
I imagined them shyly touching up their grey hair, slipping into something silk, and watching the clock until it was timefor their luncheon. What joy to afford a few hours of careless girlish chatter amidst the misery and anxieties of life – and to get served by someone else! Such fun!
I saw again the woman’s face when I spoke to her, and paid her a compliment – as if I had dished out a treat she would savour for weeks to come. Suddenly I was furious. How dare some measly restaurant twat whisk them off to some dark corner where like dust bunnies and cobwebs they would sit unnoticed!
The elderly have lived out their lives for their families, their spouses, their children, their corporation, their government, and their country. They certainly have more stories, and more wisdom, in the crevasses of their neck than any shiny-faced youngsters in their oversized hoodies (most likely, paid for by their parents). Isn’t it time we and the service industry show them some respect? Isn’t it time we give them the seat, the table of honour?
Poonam Chawla was born and raised in Mumbai where she worked as a copywriter before she moved to the United States. She is deeply interested in women’s issues. She is the author of three books.