The Courier’s Dinner
By Seema Shafei
T came home from work smelling like fries and grease. He wiped the thick layer of sweat that collected on the back of his neck with the front part of his electric pink company shirt. The cotton was already splotched with the colours of different food and dirt he wiped off of his hands onto the fabric earlier in the day. He needed to shower. But, he didn’t deserve the shower. Not yet at least.
Instead he went into the bathroom. He lathered soap between his fingers and scrubbed, washing the grime off his hands. T never turned the light on in the bathroom because he avoided mirrors at all costs. Mirrors, to him, were unnecessary jokes, like checking his bank account while broke. He already knew exactly what he would see, and confirming it would just be redundant torture.
His back ached all day. Hunching over the sink and squinting, he felt his muscles tense. He needed to stretch, but he knew he wouldn’t.
Each work day, he met and interacted with close to a hundred people. He saw inside lobbies, inside homes, inside restaurants. He used his bike to get from address to address. Weaving in and out of congested traffic, he heard more insults thrown at him by drivers in his first week than he had known was possible. This city was known for its supposed politeness, but the insults he heard were not just callous. Worse: they were creative. If he wasn’t so busy trying to avoid broken bones, he would have laughed.
When he first started, he avoided eye contact with customers at all costs. He didn’t have any time and absolutely no energy to talk to anyone. Now, almost a full year into the job, he realized no one wanted to speak to him anyway.
Conversation was reduced to a minimum:
Have a nice day. Hello. Are you delivery? Hello.
This is wrong. You need to take this back. Have a good night. What do you mean it’s not your problem? Hey. Thanks.
He was meeting the most people he ever met in his life. People with whom he would have otherwise never crossed paths. And yet, T was the quietest he had ever been. He spent entire weeks now barely speaking more than a paragraph a day. His speech was limited to overused phrases, as if he was taught a script without ever being told to use one.
Whenever he felt his energy drain, the only thing that made him feel whole again was the ceremony of a long, hot shower. A shower with scalding water burning the surface of his skin. He would take the palms of his hands and rub them against the bland, beige soap bar he had hanging in the shower caddy. The stiffness of the soap would give in under the weight of his hands and the heat of the water. Just the idea alone made the hairs on his arm stand up with excitement.
He would shower, but not yet.
He walked past his bedroom, into his kitchen. There was the pot he left last night of the boxed macaroni dinner he cooked. Whatever remaining noodles left were stuck to the sides of the pan. Within each crevice of the elbow pasta was congealed neon-orange cheese sauce. All at once, he could smell the shelf-stable powder and the cardboard box it came in. He remembered last night dipping his fingers into the little paper packet to collect the remaining powder. At first out of curiosity and then out of craving, he licked it clean.
T stood over the stove and stared at the leftover food. He grabbed his left hand and scooped up a fistful of the remnants. Putting his hand to his mouth, he quickly ate without thinking. The hunger overwhelmed him suddenly. Before, he hadn’t even realized how much he needed food. He spent his day delivering one Styrofoam container after another. The brisk pace of the work pushed his appetite to the back of his mind. After the first bite, he felt his hunger spike. He took his right hand and mushed together another lump to put into his half-full mouth, chewing and swallowing simultaneously. The pot was empty now save for the burnt scraps on the bottom. He needed something else to hold him over.
T opened his fridge. He saw a bottle of beer his sister left last time she visited over a month ago. Next to it, he saw a crinkled packet of cream cheese. Did he have bread? He opened his freezer and found a bag of toast with only the remaining end pieces that everyone either threw out or never ate; it would do as it would have to.
He toasted the bread and smeared the cream cheese over. While the cream cheese felt dense and cold, the contact with the warm bread made the cheese spreadable. T was relieved. The second that it was ready, he chomped down on the bread standing up over his sink. Crumbs fell onto the floor, around his toes. He was sure that he had food in his beard. These were messes for another day. On nights like this, he came home and became nothing more than just a vessel for the most basic human needs: food, shelter, water.
The dry pasta pieces and cheese bread made his throat feel dehydrated. He grabbed a dirty cup out of the sink, and filled it to the brim. With the rest of the bread in one hand and the water in the other, he chugged one cup straight only to fill it back up again and finish a second glass. The cup had developed a splodged film from where his hands had touched the macaroni and the toast. He placed the now dirtier glass back in the sink where it belonged.
Half of the toast was still uneaten. T placed the rest straight on the counter. Over his sink, he looked out of the small window of his basement apartment. He could see people’s shoes, walking their dogs, rushing from meetings, going for strolls. He was tired of looking at his phone all day and refused to check the time on it.
Instead, he told time from his window. T could make out that it was around eight at night. It was past peak ordering time, but still busy. Typically, on days where the weather was good, he liked to work extra. This way he could bank days off for when it snowed, rained, or became unbearably hot.
But he couldn’t take on another shift in his current state. Not tonight. He’d make up for it with his full day tomorrow. He slouched down on his couch, took off his glasses and laid them down on the floor beside him. The weight of his eyelids took over as he felt his breathing slow.
Tomorrow, he told himself, he would wake up and clean his dishes. Then, he could shower. By then, he would probably feel twice as bad and have twice as much to scrub off. Then, he could get on with his day. Yes, tomorrow would be better.
Seema Shafei is a student who questions everything and loves to be as strange as possible for extended periods of time. She has worked with people in and out of the prison system, in and out of labour unions, and in and out of the immigration system. She’s from nowhere in particular and prefers not being found online.