A Christmas Story

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Recently when I changed my hand phone, I could not locate the contact of a friend. I would later discover that his picture was swapped with another person of the same name. When we finally connected, we met up for lunch at a restaurant I wanted to revisit. It is a rather old restaurant which used to be a chain that specialised in steaks and fish and chips. When we entered the restaurant, there was a wave of nostalgia, an assurance of personal service and a level of quality we had come to expect of the food. There was a feeling of being reconnected with an old friend. Both the friend I nearly lost contact with. And this restaurant which was akin to an old acquaintance. Everything seemed right with my world. Even the menu brought back memories. It was laid out as a newspaper, the headlines announcing the set lunches of the day with some of their notable dishes.

In this old restaurant, the waiter serving us was not young as well. He could be in his late 60s or early 70s. I was suitably impressed that the restaurant employed senior citizens. He seemed to know the menu well, and was courteous and helpful. Most importantly, he was cheerful. I ordered the oxtail stew set lunch, complete with starter and dessert. To my right, an elderly couple was having their lunch. They spoke loudly, with a vigour characteristic of healthy people their age. My whole lunch experience was turning out to be a happy experience. But like a movie, there are twists and turns. As it was a small eatery of people having their meals, any twist would be visible and could be dramatic. Yet as fitting this time of the year, this movie would take a turn with a Christmas story ending.

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“I ordered the oxtail stew set lunch. Please. Why you all give me chicken?” exclaimed the elderly lady on my right. She spoke with a mix of restrained irritation with contained courtesy. But it was loud and everyone could hear the alleged mistake. The elderly man, I assumed to be her husband, quickly said, “It is ok, you can have my oxtail stew and I will have chicken today.” The lady was hesitant but the manager of the restaurant, also an elderly man, intervened, “I am sorry. I am really sorry, madam. Let me change it for you right away.” “Oh, ok, I ordered oxtail stew. Can I talk to your waiter?” she asked. The manager quickly interjected, “No need. We will change for you. He made a mistake”. Then the manager altered the tone of the scene by adding, “You know, he is old. He must have taken your order wrongly. This is the problem with old waiters. You think I don’t want a younger waiter? It is so tough to get young people to work these days. So, no choice, we have to settle for old people.”

The old waiter looked confused. He was not sure if he should approach the commotion at the table. He was about to move when the restaurant manager signalled him with a stern expression. He stopped. I looked at the couple, the restaurant manager and the waiter. They were all senior citizens. Just that one of them had become a convenient answer to a slight problem of oxtail stew or chicken, ironically because of his age. Without missing a beat, I used a little of my parade commander’s voice so that it was loud enough to be a part of this unfolding scene, “I must say the waiter served us very well. All our orders are correct. My friend and I are very happy with his service.” My friend was uncomfortable and looked down. I was sorry to make him a part of this. Then a young waitress saved the day. “Sorry, I just checked the order. The waiter was right. I made the mistake. The chicken is for table eleven.” I held my gaze at the restaurant manager. He looked away. The couple looked at me, the elderly man wanted to say something but decided against it. I turned to look for the old waiter but he was busy serving again, bowing and nodding to another customer at table eleven. We finished our food and asked for the bill. The young waitress walked up to our table and told me our meal was paid for. “Oh no no, I cannot accept this. Who paid?” I asked. The young waitress replied firmly with a smile, “Please accept. Do you want to create another scene? Merry Christmas!” I accepted graciously. And a Merry Christmas to you.

‘Christmas is doing a little something extra for someone.’

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