Sautéed potatoes, chicken sausages, and fried rice formed the buffet line. The bread baskets, pieces of fruit cake, and the bubbling apple juice waited next to the coffee machine. Everyday – Monday to Sunday – from 7:00 AM till 10:00 AM.
The sautéed potatoes, often half-cooked, single-handedly managed to keep the residents off the buffet. I trudged along – dreading every breakfast and still going for it. Everyday. I would just chose the apple juice and breads one day. Or just some fruit cake and cold water the next. Morning after morning.
And then, came Mr. Henry. Short, stout, black frames, light beard, visible moustache, and a smile.
I ignored him for the first couple of days – but could not ignore the breakfast. There were boiled eggs these days and steamed vegetables. Noodles were introduced and often a cold salad. People started coming back to the breakfast table. I would, however, still pick up my small little complaints – “How can they have seafood for breakfast!!!” “What were they thinking?” “What’s with this rice?” “When is it that I’ve had rice for breakfast!!”
Then, one day, in a particularly early breakfast, Mr. Henry walked up to me. “Good morning”, he said. I nodded back – half-sleepy, wishing to scuttle through my breakfast and rush off to office. I had an early meeting. “How do you find the breakfast, these days”, he continues. I smile, “Yep, there have been changes. No more potatoes. Leafy vegetables, instead.” “That’s good”, I add.
For the rest of the week, whenever Mr. Henry saw me, he walked over to my table, exchanged pleasantries or tipped me off on the new dish that he had tried. He is now the chef. He has replaced the particularly angry chef – a lady who had sternly reminded me to write my room number on the breakfast sheet and was of course quite fond of sautéed potatoes.
Ten days later, on a late Saturday morning as I ambled out of my service apartment and walked towards the breakfast table, I found Mr. Henry sitting at one of the breakfast tables. “Good morning”, I smiled at him. He walked over and nodded, “You know they are changing the breakfast vendor from next Sunday, I do not know what happened. The guests complained about the breakfast”, he said. “Do you think I should speak to the manager?” he asks me.
I was a bit surprised. The breakfast was visibly better. Was it that the hotel had already decided to take off this vendor and Mr. Henry didn’t know that? “You see, I can run the breakfast service myself, add varieties, I do not need to be a part of this vendor” he continues. I didn’t know what to say to Mr. Henry. I felt bad. Bad because I’ve had done my share of criticism as well. Although I felt bad, I kept it to myself. I didn’t even walk up to the reception and at least ask why they are letting him go. You see, I have been getting pretty good at feeling bad and then learning the tricks of not doing or even trying to do anything about it.
So for the rest of the week I continued to feel bad, every now and then. Mr. Henry continued sharing his morning greetings and new dishes with me. Friday evening when I swiped into the apartment, I found a notice lying on the table. The Hotel in their endeavour to serve the guests better has decided to change the breakfast vendor to Starbucks. I chose to feel bad again. My colleagues felt good – they have seen that Starbucks has ‘waffles’ for breakfast!
Next morning, I went up to Mr. Henry. Asked him how he had been doing, where is he from, and did he get to speak to the manager. Mr. Henry asked me if I know anything about the next vendor. “Yeah”, I said, “They’ve left a notice saying that it is Starbucks.” “Hmm I see”, nodded Mr. Henry, “I will still talk to the manager,” He insists. I wish him luck
On Sunday, we exchanged a quiet nod. He smiled and said, “My last day! Try the vegetables, today.” I wished him all the best – it was nice meeting him.
Starbucks offered one muffin, or one cake, or one croissant and a tall cappuccino from Monday onwards. Waffles were never seen. We continued with our lives. This time we chose to criticise the Starbucks breakfast.
I don’t know where Mr. Henry is. I wish he is doing well. His smile is intact and he feels good about himself. I, on the other hand, do not feel that good about myself. Yes, once again, I choose to simply ‘feel bad’.
1. I like potatoes.
2. I always wrote my name on the breakfast sheet.
3. Mr. Henry is not imaginary.