By Sandra Jensen
"Have you any experience?" Akbar asked us. He wore a fire-red suit, a white shirt unbuttoned at the top and a heavy gold choker around his neck with a bullet hanging from it. Becky and I were both nervous as hell. All morning I'd worried that they'd want her and not me. She was so beautiful and tall and dark haired I felt like something I wanted to rub out. She said she felt lumpen and gross next to me so I guess we were even. Becky had never had a job. At least I had: washing old ladies' hair at Minnie's Salon in Glastonbury. I was 13 and was fired on my third day after I squirted perming lotion down Mrs. Holloway's cleavage.
"Oh yes, lots of experience. We both worked for the catering department of Hampstead Community Centre." It wasn't a total lie. My mum needed a hand on pensioner's day because her volunteer had run off with the janitor. Bex and I came to the rescue and made sardine sandwiches. We got five quid each, which is a lot when you're on the dole.
The uniform was a one-size fits-all beige T-shirt dress that fit tight and short-sleeved over our bodies and then opened out into a sort of tennis skirt thing for about five inches. There was a small heart-shaped pocket over one breast and the dress was trimmed in maroon, which was the color scheme of the restaurant: maroon and beige. We wore maroon tights and maroon shoes with paper-thin soles, really great for rushing around in for twelve hours. Akbar looked very pleased with himself when he saw Bex.
My other favorite customers were the prostitutes. There were two particular women who came in about three times a week, always in the early morning, around 2 a.m., in the lull before the nightclubs emptied out. They were both rake thin and didn't look so good even with all the makeup they wore. Sometimes they'd leave with one of the male customers who came in later, but usually they just came in and left together. I liked the way they were with each other. They'd talk for ages and laugh a lot and cry too, one handing the other a hanky.
"Well someone ordered this and then changed their minds. It hasn't been touched. It'll only get thrown out. Seemed such a waste." I put the plates down quickly and left so they wouldn't have to thank me.
They ate every morsel, practically would have licked the plates clean if they hadn't been so beautifully mannered, and left me a two pound tip which made me feel bad as I knew it was all they had.
This was the same crazy night Bex went home early because she'd fallen down the stairs with the relish tray. I think it must have been a full moon or something because just about everything seemed to go wrong. It was four a.m. and the restaurant got really busy—we had 17 tables between us because Lucy never arrived for her shift. She was always doing this and then coming in the next night as if nothing had happened, asking for her share of the tips. Lucy was having an affair with Nigel so we couldn't say no without getting our week’s wages docked. He only came out of his office for a re-fill of his lager and blackcurrant or to sit at table six by the window when Akbar arrived for his weekly check up on the place. Nigel would chain smoke so fast we'd have to empty his ashtray three times in an hour. Becky and I had an unspoken agreement that it was my job wait on their table. Her uniform had shrunk in the wash like everyone else's, but on her it was a serious problem. Akbar couldn't keep his greasy hands off her bum. Becky had a thing for rough stocky men and was pretty torn up about how much she hated Akbar and liked him touching her at the same time.
Well, this night we both had our periods and were and not in the mood to serve Surf'n Turf to 43 drunken customers all at once. I remember the number because we had only been there three months and it was the busiest ever. Little did we know what we had in store for us when Christmas came around. We were a fave spot for office parties and they were truly the worst but that's another story.
Peter was in the corner screwing someone who looked young enough to be his daughter; Akbar had arrived unexpectedly and Nigel was even more agitated than usual. He looked like a little weasel with his Che Guevara moustache and his shimmering hit-man suit. He kept bothering Bex and me. We couldn't do anything right. The glasses were not polished enough, the food was left waiting under the heat lamps too long, we weren't paying enough attention to Peter, the music was too soft. Finally he left us alone and joined Akbar with two teapots of vodka.
I always got on edge when Akbar was around. I was doing my own little number on the side and I was sure he'd figure it out sooner or later. I'd been pulling in tables without ringing them up on the till. Some nights I took home 200 pounds. I'd always put a portion of my filching in the tip drawer but no one knew what I was doing, not even Becky. Well, I said I wanted to get to India fast. It was easy enough. We'd stopped having a cashier ever since Mandy the transsexual left. Akbar had figured her out and told her to get back to the dung heap where she came from. That night I spat in his soup. Anyway, some nights I'd be taking orders, shaking cocktails, frying steak au poivre, getting the bill and washing the dishes all at once. I'd put the Thompson Twins on full blast and move so fast and neat between tables I was a kind of mad creature who stuck invisible wires into all my customers so I'd know what they wanted before they did. I figured I deserved a little extra those nights so I just took all the money from a couple of busy tables and got rid of the evidence, which was basically two pieces of paper: kitchen order and my order.
I asked Bex to bring them the relish tray. I was just coming to the top of the stairs when I saw her long legs flying up under a rainbow of green relish and ketchup. Mustard slooshed out in a graceful arc across the maroon wall, pimento stuffed olives bounced down the stairs and sticky corn rained down on her lovely auburn hair. She landed in a heap at the bottom, her dress halfway up her stomach, right in front of the table of 11 women. I put down the pitcher on table number two and went down trying to avoid stepping in anything. Becky got up and went straight to the bathroom. I followed her and waited outside the toilet door for a moment. I tried the handle but it was locked. I could hear her whimpering inside. Food was getting cold under the lights and already three other tables had filled up. The table of 11 was complaining loudly about the poor service and all the mess and out of the corner of my eye I could see Nigel coming towards me like a wound up toy soldier.
"Don't you fucking say anything!" I hissed. "I'll handle it." I leapt upstairs taking the steps four at a time—God it was a mess—and got Becky's coat. I went down to the toilet again and hung it over the electric hand-dryer and then went back up to the kitchen for the bucket and mop. I did the best I could, it stank of vinegar, but it would have to do.
"I'm sorry you had to wait."
"No worries love. Looks like you've got your hands full," he replied, adding a twenty to the hundred.
Sandra Jensen was born in South Africa but left as a child and has lived in England, Canada, Greece, and Ireland, and travelled to many other countries. She is presently based in Berlin, Germany. Her creative expression has ranged from weaving to martial arts, but mostly has been focused on writing. She has written for the theater; short non-fiction works have appeared in Utne Reader and Whole Earth Magazine and she has been short-listed for the Canadian literary journal Event's creative non-fiction contest. Sandra is cultivator of the on-line writer's group at Zaadz.com called Diving Deeper: A Writing Workshop. She leads Diving Deeper writing retreats in Europe and North America. Sandra is currently working on a short story collection and a novel set in Sri Lanka during the "Black July" of 1983.
Photo "Party Ball" courtesy of Marja Flick-Buijs, Aalsmeer, Netherlands.
About | Contact | Privacy
Copyright © 2005, 2006, 2007 VerbSap. All Rights Reserved.