You Won’t Find This in Leo’s

by Anjali Britto

 

Room inspections are in a week. And, my RA would not approve. I’m sure she wouldn’t. Unless I can come up with something. But, I’ll leave that as a last resort. Then, there’s my roommate. She’s back the same day. Anyway, there’s nothing I can do right now. Right at this moment. So, I let it go.

 

I stare at my inbox. Then, the whiteboard. The professor is struggling with the projector. It’s a losing battle and one that I have no intention of watching through to the end. So, I close my eyes. I’ve been trying to practice mindfulness. Apparently, it helps one cope. It hasn’t so far, and I definitely would have gone crazy if I hadn’t found other activities. But, now’s as good a time as any. So, I meditate on it. I imagine the Problem filling up my field of vision. It gets bigger and bigger and grows until I feel every atom in my body blinded by the sheer expanse of this magnificent inconvenience. Then, I crush it. It dissolves and swirls down the drain at the bottom left of the back of my eyelids, into nothingness. My mind is now blank, empty, and clean. I open my eyes. The projector won, and the cursor is nowhere to be found. All is lost.

*

It’s the next day, and the Problem is now under my bed. I would have left it where it was, but I felt like I had to do something. Whether this executive decision was misinformed is yet to be seen. Although it’s under my bed, it might as well be strung to my very person. I feel its presence weighing down on me at every moment. I think I’ve been good at hiding it. The same cannot be said about my bed. It’s lofted far too high to be useful. I need to see to that at some point; it’s ridiculous.

*

I learn how to properly cite the Problem. Procrastination has never been so illuminating. Chicago is easy enough, but MLA still gives me trouble.

*

I am now growing desperate. My bouts of meditation have yielded nothing. The Problem is staying put, immovable and irreducible. It is everywhere—it fills my thoughts on my way to class, my readings reference it, the chicken at Leo’s tastes like it. It feels inescapable. Surely, there’s a way out. With all the newfound quiet on my floor, I could definitely come up with something by next week. I must. I just have to put my head down and think. I will make it happen.

*

A week later, I am yet to make it happen. It’s the day of inspections, and I still have nothing. I need brain food, I decide. At Leo’s, I’m greeted with an apology. Sorry, we’re closed, but check online for a full list of what’s open! The direness of my circumstance is all that keeps me from a full-blown meltdown outside upstairs Leo’s. I trudge downwards. Each step taking me further and further into this hell I have made for myself. I walk down the big steps, so my descent into condemnation is slower and more painstaking. I swipe in. Enjoy your meal! If only they knew. I stare at the salad bar. It stares back unblinking. I walk over to the vegan station. Plate in hand, outstretched, and head bowed in supplication, I pray to the Vegan Gods. They’re old gods, born far before their time and forced to prove their usefulness. Global warming, I heard, is their doing.

 

I close my eyes and pray for nourishment and fortification, enough to carry me through this ordeal. I open them. The chickpeas stare back at me listlessly. Do I abandon all hope?

 

Right then, my phone buzzes alive with a cascade of notifications. The Office of Residential Living. Your room inspection has been completed. Do I open it? I couldn’t. I feel sick. And, it might not even be the chickpeas. I feel like I’m pinned against my chair. I close my eyes. This seems to be my coping mechanism of choice this week. The room spirals away from me, tables and all. The chairs crash into the counters, and the salt shakers abscond. I open my eyes. The tables and chairs look disarrayed. Were they like this before? The salt shakers are missing. Were they ever here? I’ve never needed salt as much as I do now.

 

But then, the Vegan Gods come to me in a moment of revelation, and I’m pulled out of my mania by plant-protein fed arms. “What’s done is done,” they say, chanting in unison. I never knew there were so many of them. “And, all has been done. There is nothing you can do about it now.” I thank the Vegan Gods for their infinite wisdom and offer my half-empty plate as sacrifice to the revolving trays.

 

I live on the second floor—just low enough that you can’t justify using the lift. I bound up the stairs, two at a time. Energy coursing through my veins for the first time in months, I burst into the common room, accosted immediately by the sight, sound, and smell of people. There are people around the table, on the couches, standing by the doors. I recognise none of them. Behind all the smoke and clamouring is my roommate, shouting over the pots and pans. “I’m so sorry this is all so last minute… I just got back from visiting home—I need to take a week every so often just to decompress, you know? I just thought, you know, I just got all this amazing steak; I just had to share it. Unfortunately, no one from our floor could make it tonight….” I pull her aside. “Our RA…” “Don’t worry about it,” she says and smiles. “It’s all taken care of.” I can’t make out her expression; it is something between tranquillity and self-satisfaction. I can smell charred meat. I looked at the counter where she has flanks marinating in something spicy. It smells spicy. Enough spice to mask just about anything. Some fillets look fresher than others.

 

“Sit down and eat!” she says, and I do. The chair is cold and grounding, and only then do I realise I have been holding my breath. How long have I not been breathing? I should meditate in chairs more often. It should do wonders for my lung capacity. “I hope no one’s vegetarian!” She looks at me knowingly. I look back. I pick up my fork, apologise to the Vegan Gods, and dig in.

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