He hated eating, hated food, hated that he was sat at a table with people he didn’t know having to experience both those things. There were butterflies in his stomach and they were wreaking havoc with the rice he was trying to shove down his throat, he wasn’t sure he could manage any of the curry at all unless something changed. His breathing rate had become more unpredictable throughout the evening and he was aware his deep breaths to steady himself were not working, and that they were becoming more noticeable with every bite. Exactly the opposite of the effect he was going for really.

This casual lunch was not quite what he had been expecting from their first introductions as a team. He had been expecting more of a standing around in an office somewhere with their hands behind their backs, trying to glance at people to seize them up whilst avoiding others glances trying to do the same back. None of them had anticipated their first meeting being in a scarily expensive restaurant, meal on the company account of course. Apparently team spirit was important enough to warrant paying for the curry he was trying to eat. He rather wished they hadn't.

They were a group of six, a perfect size to fit around the extremely average rectangular table they were currently inhabiting. Like a happy little family they sat, alternating between making painful forced conversation and being sadly too engrossed in their own meal to join in. Whoever thought this was the way to get their friendship off to a good start had evidently never gone through the process themselves. A good team morale was not the logical outcome of an awkward meal in a restaurant where none of them felt they belonged.

Somebody had noticed. The person to the right of him had made a desperate leap for a topic of conversation and had landed on his lack of enthusiasm for the food. Now was the moment to decide what his story was. Was he ill, because he worried that would make him look weak, or just contagious and disgusting. Perhaps he had already eaten, yet again why not just suck it up and eat this meal as well. He could claim to just have a very small appetite, that would be excusable and would help to explain away the inevitable times in the future when his odd eating habits became too obvious. He went with that one, smiled slightly threateningly in the vague direction of the person to his right, and tried to sound very apologetic for his notoriously small appetite.

Whilst everyone else was distracted, he could go unnoticed if he was very lucky, but with a combination of Person To His Right and people finishing their meals, his much less empty plate would begin to become more and more disconcerting. It was only a matter of time until yet another member of his new gang of best buddies felt a little too uncomfortable in the silence and singled him out as a scapegoat for their own discomfort. Small appetite would come back into play and he could only hope it would hold up. No matter how innocent and understandable he managed to make these explanations, he always felt guilty. Sometimes for lying and sometimes for the waste of the poor curry that was going to be shepherded away and never heard of again.

He had managed to stomach a piece of the chicken, the consequence of which being that he found it nearly impossible to sit still in his seat from the waves of anxiety washing over him, but at least it made his meal look more finished. Easier to sell the appetite story if he ate a little of everything; people would assume he was ill and lying to them if he just ate the rice, which, let’s be honest, he was. He stabbed another lump of chicken, thought twice about it, and then sliced it in half. Well, a challenge was always nice.

They were all, as of yet, undecided as to who they were each going to glue themselves to as the most likely candidate for someone they could get along with. Nobody wants to work in a team of people they don’t like or know, exactly the point of this occasion, getting to know each other as if they were little children again. He quite liked the look of the person opposite him, they seemed quiet but good-natured, were happy to join in the conversation in a good mood, but only when spoken to or to save them from all entering into an awkward silence again. He decided this would be his favourite team member for now until he could get a better judge on the rest of them. 

Starting off anew with people was a complicated business and he hadn’t quite had the time to settle on which personality he would bring out for dinner today. His Meeting New People personality wouldn’t do if he was going to be working with these people every day, he couldn't possibly keep it up forever, nor would he want to. Using that argument though, it would be logical to just be as much of himself as he could find, but that didn’t seem to appeal to him either. Instead he decided it was best to simply see what came out of his mouth when he was confronted with the need to respond to something, and then everyone around the table, he included, could be equally unprepared.

Speaking of his mouth, it was not busy. He had very much had enough by now, the slippery slope that this dinner had been was becoming steeper and nearing the end. Others had been reaching the end of their meals for a while now, and now someone was taking charge and collecting plates to pile them at one end of the table. He could almost see the “Are you not eating that? Why?” floating in the air. It was making its way across the room towards him slowly but surely. Small appetite, must remember that; small appetite. Deep breaths and don’t think about the butterflies, perhaps try to sit still.

June 29, 2021 22:35

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