The theme was loneliness. I'm not sure what I actually ended up writing. The beginning and the end are just there to provide a proper opening and closing (and to let me make a silly joke). The middle seems to be an essay about being alone in a strange city.
It's a bit autobiographical. In my working days I had many a trip away from home and I dined alone in many a restaurant. I enjoyed those meals a lot.
I have no idea if this works, but for better or worse, here it is...
"Another business trip?" asked Christine as David carried his suitcase into the bedroom.
"That's right," said David. "Usual arrangements. Leave on Sunday so as to be ready for an early morning meeting on Monday. I'll be away for five nights, so I'll be back home on Friday evening."
Christine watched as David packed his case. Five shirts, five pairs of underpants, five pairs of socks and five books. "Shouldn't you take a bit extra in case there's some kind of hassle with the airport?" she asked. "You don't want to be caught short if there's a delay."
"Quite right," said David and he packed two more books.
"What about more clothes?" asked Christine.
"That's not necessary," said David. "I'll just recycle my underpants if I need to. Clothes are much more comfortable when you wear them the second time around."
Christine pulled a face. "That's horrible!" she said. "You can't wear your dirty clothes again!"
"Of course I can," said David. "Women consistently underestimate, often by a matter of days, just how long you can wear and re-wear your clothes. Here's a trick I learned at university. Throw your underpants at the ceiling. If they come down you can wear them again. It works for socks as well, though the stiffer, crustier ones do tend to shatter."
"Yuck!" said Christine. "I bet you didn't have much of a social life at university."
"Funny you should say that," said David thoughtfully. "I did spend rather a lot of time by myself. But that's what happens when you have a heavy workload."
Something went toot-toot outside the house.
"Your taxi's here," said Christine. "I'll see you Friday evening."
The trip was uneventful. David checked into his hotel and unpacked his suitcase. Then he began to think about dinner. When he was away on a business trip he always tried to eat in Asian restaurants because, generally speaking, the dishes could be eaten with just a fork or a spoon, leaving one hand free to hold the book that he was reading. This evening, he chose an Indian restaurant just down the street from the hotel.
"Table for one, please," he said.
The waiter showed him to a table. He ordered a Kingfisher beer and studied the menu. When his beer arrived, he told the waiter which curry he wanted eat and how hot he wanted it, then he picked up his book and began to read. Every so often, he took a sip of beer and glanced around the room to see what was going on.
There were several other solitary diners in the restaurant. But David was the only one reading a book. One or two of them had a newspaper folded carefully onto the table, but most of them were just staring blankly into space. David wondered if there was anybody at home behind their empty eyes. They looked lonely, and rather bored. David found such people hard to understand. Tonight, he himself was alone but he wasn't in the least bit bored and he certainly didn't feel at all lonely. Indeed, he was relishing the quiet time he had to himself. He really wasn't looking forward to his week of business meetings. He knew that he would quickly find himself becoming sick of being surrounded by people who were indulging themselves in the artificial enthusiasm of inane business chatter and technobabble. Pretending that this nonsense actually mattered to him was exhausting, and these solitary evening meals would become more and more attractive to him as the week progressed.
But he didn't think these empty-eyed diners felt the same way.
His food arrived and he turned his attention away from the corpses of the living dead at the other tables. He went back to the world inside his book, and started to eat.
The story held David's attention and he ate rather absent-mindedly. Eventually, rather to his surprise, when he scraped his fork across his plate he found no food upon it. David closed his book, and came back to the real world. The other business diners were now all staring emptily into the middle distance. Even the ones who had been reading newspapers seemed to have finished them and, having nothing else to occupy their minds, they had reached inside their heads and turned themselves off. David felt as if he was surrounded by bored and miserable zombies.
There was a single grain of rice left on the edge of his plate. He pushed it around with his fork for a moment, then he squashed it flat and went to the cashier to pay his bill. He put the receipt carefully into his wallet and returned to his hotel.
And so to bed.
On Friday evening the airport was fogbound and David was forced to stay over for two more days until the backlog of passengers could be cleared. Thank goodness I packed the extra books, he thought.
When he finally got home, Christine gave him a huge hug. "Welcome back," she said. "I missed you. How was it?"
"Oh, much as usual," said David. "I got a lot of reading done."
"Did you meet anyone interesting?" asked Christine.
David snorted contemptuously. "Certainly not," he said. "Just a lot of zombies." He took his suitcase into the bedroom and began to unpack. Christine watched as he put his books carefully back on the shelves and then emptied his dirty clothes into the basket.
"Why did you only bring three pairs of underpants back?" she asked. "Where are the other two?"
"On the ceiling of my hotel room," said David.