Now I can see the till. The ...let’s give him a name...the Operative at the till could give a flying fried chicken wing (see what I did there) that every eye in the room is on him and they are all now being switched from “Stoic” to “Glare”. The reason for this lack of concern, I assume, is because he has a horrific case of acne and its so bad the whole world can go fuck itself. Try and imagine someone took a straw, filled it with a tomato sauce and then sprayed it with care over his t-zone. Then they left him out in the sun to dry. Then they painted a wee yellow dot at the centre of each “spot”.
By now the chicken cooking crew are running out of chicken so the Operative takes a person’s order, passes their receipt to the side and then takes the next person’s order. A wee girl swaps her chicken cooking apron for an Operative’s badge complete with the appellation “Trainee” and walks out front to help.
The trainee takes on an appearance of concern and stands in the one place and looks from the Operative to the chicken to the crew in the back cooking the chicken and from there to the queue who to a man are silently willing her to Freakin’ Move. She’s giving gormless a whole new flavour. Eventually, she rouses herself to action and places some orders on some trays and some people get to carry their food over to a table, relief making them appear about ten years younger.
The queue is now stretched to the door and every time I glance over my shoulder to see someone else has joined I want to scream at them - Get out. Go. Go now before the Crap Service/ Chicken Hunger trap gets you. I however, am caught as if my feet are glued to the floor.
A woman from the middle of the queue loses patience and walks up to the counter. She ignores the people who are next in line to be served and demands that more people are brought out to help man the counter. The operative looks at her and shrugs. He purses his lips. Well, he sticks his bottom lip out and then he goes back to take the order from the next person in the queue. The woman learns her lesson –that basically she has as much importance as a bluebottle drowning in batter – and chastened she returns to her place in the queue like she has been sent there by the headmaster rather than a spotted youth who has yet to master the art of making facial expressions.
My beard has grown a centimetre, the wee fella’s belly has shrunk by the same measurement and eventually we reach the counter. I lean against it to make sure it is solid and not a mirage brought about by chicken and batter deprivation. The operative looks in my direction. Chews the inside of his lip in what I assume passes for “May I take your order”. So pleased that I have actually reached the stage where a meal is actually achievable, I pass on the opportunity to tell him what I think of the appalling service and I give him my order. He reads the cost of my food from the till and I realise that this is the first time I have heard him speak. Feeling that I should offer some form of congratulation I hand over the cash. He gives me a receipt and looks at the person behind me. A look that I assume is meant to mean “next please”. He is yet to look me in the eye.
I need to relax my jaw. It’s clamped shut with the effort of not shouting at someone. I turn to the wee fella and say...next time I suggest we come here will you slam my hand in the car door? My son looks at me with that expression... and I experience a moment of recognition – a moment of pure horror. I look from him to the Operative and a voice screams in my mind. Noooooo.
Some folks behind me have their order taken in the same desultory manner. But the trainee has risen to the challenge and more and more people actually get their food within an almost reasonable time.
Then I realise that people who’d had their order taken after me are getting their meals before me. Hunger has made my mind like a steel trap, has it not. Hey, I say, where’s mine? The Trainee blushes. The Operative maintains the same expression he has worn since I walked in the door. In Scotland we have a great word for it; glaikit. (Pronounced glay-kit, it means stupid beyond measure) They look at the receipts and ignore the chicken free zone in front of me. They confer. And agree that I am right and the Operative fills a tray with my order. He has a slight and temporary squint in one eye that I optimistically read as an apology.
Before I pick up the tray, I assess my order.
- There’s only TWO pieces of chicken here, I say and wonder who the crazy person is that has taken over my voice and added a strong dose of Ayrshire to it along with a thick lacing of crabbit. - I ordered a three piece meal. Three. Piece. Meal. (I can only speak in a staccato manner because I’m hyperventilating). There’s only ...two... pieces.
Bawheid, (pronounced baw – to rhyme with raw – heed; meaning your head is a ball and you are stupid beyond measure) formally known as the Operative looks at my tray and then looks at my receipt. With alacrity – oh, okay – with a movement that suggests he might have the ability to act with alacrity if say, the building was on fire and the person in front of him was stealing his mobile phone and his ipod, he dumps a chicken thigh on my tray.
I turn and join the wee fella at a table. The first piece of chicken makes it down the back of my throat without being chewed. In fact not one part of the chicken touches one part of the inside of my mouth. My son looks at me in a way that Bart might have looked at Homer and asks,
- Dad, when do I get to shut your hand in the car door?