by Wayne Ren-Cheng Shi
There was an emptiness in Wade’s stomach that bothered him. That emptiness kept drawing attention to itself. Wade was finding it hard to concentrate when all he could think about was filling up with something . . . but he wasn’t sure what it needed to be. Wandering around he came upon a sign. It wasn’t a big sign with flashing neon letters, and it didn’t have a cute logo like Big Boy’s chubby kid with the red checked overalls on. It was a simply designed sign, a pristine white background with a stylized planet earth and the words World-View Buffet in dark purple lettering. Through the window, slightly fogged with condensation he could see row-after-row of steam tables laden with . . . actually he couldn’t tell what was on them so he chose to go inside.
Where a cash register would have sat near the door in restaurants he had been in Wade saw a counter. On that counter was a stack of light green colored cloth napkins, each wrapped around a bundle of silverware, and next to them a column of sky-blue plates. Wade waited a couple of minutes and when no one came to greet him he took silverware and a plate, then stepped further into the room. In the middle of the expansive room was a lone table with a single chair. Rows of steam tables curved around the table leaving an opening as wide as the double doors he entered the building through. Intrigued, Wade approached the table, set down the plate and silverware and slid the chair back and sat down. He waited a couple of minutes and no one came to greet him. Figuring eventually someone would show up, and the fact that the aromas surrounding him were intoxicating he chose to go ahead and help himself.
The choices were staggering. On one table was an array of rice cookers. Opening them one-by-one he found steamed basmati rice . . rice that smelled of curry . . . of peppers . . . of honey . . . of butter . . . of cilantro . . . and dozens more . . . and he spooned some of curried rice on his plate. Moving to the next he discovered steam trays laden with all manner of vegetable dishes . . . refried beans . . . tempura mushrooms . . . grilled asparagus . . . turnip greens . . . and dozens more. Wade chose some of the greens. Meats of all kinds were next . . . chicken skewers . . . baked pork . . . thin slices of lamb . . . fish swimming in lemon butter . . . and dozens more. Wade was amazed at the variety of choices. With a fully laden plate he sat down. He nibbled a bit of each, then went back for something different; and each time he went back to choose there were more choices to make. He mixed and matched breads, fruits, meats, vegetables, rices and noodles, cakes, candies and so many kinds of beverages he lost track.
It seemed to Wade like he’d been there for days eating and drinking . . . yet there was still that emptiness in his stomach. He’d thought that sampling a little of all that was offered would satisfy him. It hadn’t . . . yet, so he went back for more, looking for the appropriate meal. Moving toward the arc of buffet tables that surrounded him he saw an opening between them he hadn’t noticed before. Through that gap he found a single steam table.
Wade thought he’d sampled it all by that time but there were foods he hadn’t found at any of the other tables. Taking a moderate portion of all of it he returned to his table, sat down and began to nibble. It wasn’t until his fork and knife scraped on an empty plate that he realized he was satisfied. The emptiness in his stomach had been filled. Wade felt like he’d taken on a whole new form. Wanting to feel more of that contentment he went back to get more. Wade found a man seated on a cushion on the floor in front of the table laden with food.
“Wow, where’d you come from?”
The man answered, “Does that matter? I am here.”
“That was just what I needed”, Wade pointed to the table. “Can you give me the recipes?”
“I can show you how to make them yourself.”