It’s become a lockdown tradition to order out on Friday night from a neighborhood restaurant. We’ve tried Mexican, Korean, French, Italian-American, Middle Eastern, Peruvian, and tonight, Indian. I wonder which of them will still be here when we emerge.
At Masala Arts, you can order the Community Package of 4 main courses, 4 breads, and 2 appetizers, and they’ll give you a free tray of 30 eggs and 4 toilet rolls. We already scored a 12-pack of Charmin mega rolls at CVS on Monday, so we go a la carte.
I tuck 2 hand-made masks into my back pocket, a credit card, and two $5 bills for homeless people we might run into on the avenue. Diana gets out her brother’s hand-me-down bike, and we head out into the goldenrod evening.
At the top of the hill near SuperCuts, we pass a group of older teens with masks hanging off their faces. Restaurants and dry cleaners say they’re open, but Tenleytown feels empty, like it’s made of scaffolding.
When we pull open the door to the restaurant, Diana says, “There’s no one here!” Instead of a take-out and delivery operation, the place looks exactly the same as it did before the pandemic. Just the bodies are missing, as if they had been vaporized.
A man with a mask is on the phone taking another order, so we walk around, noticing the spice orange walls, the sensuous Indian sculptures, the charcoal drawings of women with real gold jewelry attached. I wish I wore jewels on my forehead and garlands of gold around my waist and ankles.
As I take our warm paper bag of food home in my arms, a bald man I’ve never seen before is resting his forehead on the Mexican restaurant patio post as if it were a walking cane. I drop $5 in his empty 20-ounce Pepsi cup, and he says, “God bless you.”
In the CVS parking lot, Duane has returned to his station on a blanket-padded milk crate, writing the next installment of The Black Fields Chronicles: THE HOBO on his cell phone. He always says “I’m blessed” when I ask how he is. I give him the second bill to help pay for dinner, we say good-bye, and Diana coasts down the hill toward home.
After we eat all the lamb korma, coconut curry chicken, and rock salt cilantro naans, Mark draws dolphins on Virginia’s feet and faces on her toes with a ballpoint pen because it feels good. Sofia starts melting chocolate chips over a pot of boiling water, and it’s time for people to get ready for bed. Virginia vacuums the rice off the floor in a knit strapless dress because it’s her turn.
When I tuck Diana in, she says, “I’m grateful that restaurants are open.” I stay in her room and write about this day while she falls asleep, because she doesn’t like sleeping alone, and because it was a beautiful, sad, special, ordinary day.