An Enlightened Man [Short Fiction]

Meetings, trivialities, restaurants and enlightenment. I had a ton of fun writing this piece. Inspired by an untrue story (and maybe some absurdism).


An Enlightened Man by Imran Lorgat

They sat down. Two to the table. 
     Our hero, Mr James, and the head of Pensions Solutions, Michael Whatever-His-Name Is. They’re at a restaurant, Kraus Steakhouse. Picture the ambience: primordial stone floors supporting tastefully designed wooden tables, glass-panelled on top, with their matching low-backed wooden chairs, supported by the tastefulness of the false fireplace and the flashes of flame from the kitchen that no doubt add that char-grilled tastefulness to the food, and those red leather sofas on the far wall, and the wooden doors and the wooden stairs that give the place that ‘wouldn’t-you-please-enter’ atmosphere, and the ambience is profoundly perfected by the dimmed orange lights that create that cloistered closeness; and then ultimately ruined by the tasteless selection of electro-trash music. But the Steakhouse of Kraus is a wondrous place, as our heroic Mr James will attest.
     “I’m so glad you could make it Jack,” says Michael Whatever to Mr Jack James, “I know what a busy man you are.”
     “Yes, indeed,” replies J. J., “You said that you had something important to discuss.”
     “Yes. I do actually-”
     “It can wait. Let us order our starters first.”
     Hasty Mr Whatever, James needs his starters. Enter: the waiter, with a fine selection of starter bread on the house (the steakhouse).
     “We have white bread, home baked,” he begins, “And onion bread, the house specialty, and whole-wheat if that’s what you prefer, and rye.”
     “Err,” Michael errs.
     “I shall have one slice of the onion bread my good man,” the ever-courteous, ever-pleasant, ever-heroic Mr Jack John James tells the waiter (who appears to be a good man).
     “Certainly,” the good man replies (his name is Mr Goodman), “And for you sir?” (Directed at Michelangelo).
     “Err,” the Michael errs.
     “He’ll take the same my good man,” Triple J to the rescue.
     Two onion breads served up.
     “Can I get you fine gentlemen any drinks?” Mr Goodman asks, “Are you perhaps ready to order your starters?”
     “We are indeed my good man,” James John Jack with gusto, “I shall take a portion of your American-style chicken wings.”
     “Ah, the usual,” it appears that Goodman and J are acquainted, “A full portion or the half portion sir?”
     “The usual.”
     “Full portion it is. And for your sir?”
     “Err,” clueless Michael, but then he snaps out of it, “What’s good here?”
     The expert Mr James: “I’ve ordered a full portion of the Chicken wings. Always a winner, it gets my firm recommendation. If you’d prefer seafood, I’d recommend the mussel pot. Rich, creamy and decadent, theirs is excellent. Or perhaps the vegetarian spring rolls, if you’d prefer something lighter. Or of course there are the tempura-fried prawns, fried in batter, served with sweet-chilli, a tempestuous tundra of sweetness and-”
     “Err,” Michael just wants to get it over with, “I’ll just go for the prawns. They sound good.”
     “And to drink, my good sirs?” Goodman, ever-ready to serve.
     “Hmm,” John John James peruses the menu, such the peruser, he peruses onto the mocktails (no alcohol for him tonight), “You know me my good Goodman, I never drink during working hours. And why should I? For alcohol dulls the senses and I shall need all my cleverness and cunning if I am to deal with the daily rigours of my daily work, such as to deal with this fine gentleman across from me Mr Michael err… the Head of Pensions who is here to discuss with me important business that could no doubt have not been fully discussed, that is to say: discussed to the full extent required for the satisfaction of both of ourselves, over the phone. I think I shall go for the virgin Piña Colada.”
     “A brilliant choice,” Goodman’s smile could light a candle.
     The creamy sweetness of the Colada peruses our hero’s mind, the cold coconut cream, the spiky slash of the pineapple juice, the ruminant chill of the ice cubes. While our hero sat ruminating at his desk this last week, he was ruminating about this Piña Colada, this Colada of Piña. He imagined the yellow nectar running past his tongue, the liquid sunshine illuminating his taste buds, such the experience! Well the time has come at last. Our hero’s patience is about to be rewarded (So heroic, the virtue of patience).
     “And for you sir?” our waiter never forgets.
     “Err,” Michael, “I guess the same.” (It’s a good thing he guessed correctly)
     The waiter leaves to place the order. He says something polite such as “I’ll have your order put through right away,” or “Thank you sirs, let me know if you need anything else” (but rest assured that he stated, with the utmost courtesy, the ideal pleasantry that was to be stated). Goodman is a good man. Back to the desk. Michael Whoever is here for pensions. Let’s talk pensions.
     “Anyway,” he springs straight into it, “I don’t want to waste any of your precious time Mr James. So let me straight into it. My department knows the influence you have with Product Solu-”
     “Waste of time?” James laughs, buttering his bread (or breading his butter; so much butter), “Time, time, time. Busy, busy, busy. Always so little of it, am I right? Don’t you worry about it err-”
     “-yes, Michael. Don’t you worry about it. Do not worry yourself about it in the slightest. For you see, I’ve cleared the calendar, swept the schedule. For the next two hours you have me all to yourself. And why the rush? We’re here, there’s good food, we’re alive (isn’t that something to be grateful of? That we’re alive). So why the rush? Why the rush. Let us eat first, and then we shall talk. And besides, I never talk business on an empty stomach. You know how a person can be predisposed to foul temperament when hunger gnaws at the belly, for I know that I, indeed, show signs of agitation when I feel that striking sting of starvation; and certainly such agitation is a detriment to this important matter that the two of us need to discuss.”
     “Err,” one-word Michael, “Sure.” (But is he sure?)
     James Jack Jack bites into the bread and a flavour explosion, a flavour detonation, a flavour eruption. The onion bread with its sharp taste of onion, textured by the butter, given new life by the soft warm bread shell. Our hero experiences this, lives it, understands it (believes in it). A tear forms at the corner of his eye so tiny that it is barely perceptible (but we perceive it). Our hero is saved from hunger, saved from the desire of onion bread, he is saved.
     “So,” James begins, “What main are you ordering?”
     “Err,” always the err, “What’s good here?” (It’s a steakhouse you charlatan, surely the steak?)
     “Well,” James in his explanatory element, “The obvious choice is a steak. Kraus has excellent steaks, I know the manager here personally. There is the rump, cured for 21 days and juicy, tender, ripe, delicious. Best served medium-rare, best if you like your steak succulent like fruit made of meat. Or perhaps the fillet, the prim cut, also cured for 21 days minimum, theirs has a fantastic texture, like velvet made of beef, medium is choice, best served with a sauce since it lacks the natural flavours and juices of the rump. They have chilli cheese, and mushroom, and Texan chilli, and peri-peri, but I’d recommend the Madagascan peppercorn; has a rich kick, but not overpowering. Avoid the sirloin, its best cured for 32 days and sadly their one is not as tender as the other cuts. All steaks are served with sides. There are onion rings, deep fried in a crispy batter; or the standard fries, theirs are tasty but hardly spectacular; or perhaps you prefer the healthier salad option, but really life is too short my friend; and of course there is the mash, best chosen with a sauce so that the absorbent potato can be infused with the sauce; but really the king of all the sides are the sweet potato fries, crispy on the outside, with a soft and tender centre, starchy like the regular fries but with just a tinge of other-worldly sweetness and ahhh!”
     “Err, …, “Thanks. I think I’ll take a fillet well done and some fries maybe.” (Well done!?!? Why not simply ask for a piece of charcoal and munch that you barbarian!)
     “Here are your starters: American chicken wings and tempura prawns.”
     Oh yes!
     “Can I take your order for mains?” the Goodman, so good.
     “Fillet well-done and fries for me please,” Michael is all business.
     A knowing glance passes between the good man and our hero. Well-done steak? Seriously?
     “Of course sir. Will that be all?” Goodman, always the professional.
     “Err… yeah.”
     “And for you sir?”
     Johnny’s turn at last!
     “Well my good man, I was considering your beef Espetada, as I have had a craving for skewered beef this week but now that I am here I do not think this is the best choice, although it may have been optimal at another time. It also occurred to me that perhaps the Stacked Chicken Breast might be opportune what with the spinach and the grilled mushrooms and the mash, but seeing as I had that the last time I do not think it would go down as well, or at least be appreciated to the extent that such a dish deserves appreciation. And, of course my good man, you know how I enjoyed your steak and deep-fried calamari the other day, but I think today it will be different. I think I will go for the classic double beef burger, medium as per the chef’s recommendation, and perhaps on the side I will take sweet potato fries. And of course, how could I order such a delicate decadency without a sauce to accompany it? Peri-peri sauce for me please. And, extra onion rings too; you surely know the arrangement that the chef and I have here (what’s a few onion rings between friends?). And these choices will lead to a highly satisfactory meal.”
     “Well-selected sir. I’ll put it through right away. Enjoy your starters and do let me know if I can get you anything.” (Anything? Anything? Are we certain that it is James Jack that is the heroic one and not Mr Goodman?)
     “Err,” the impatient Michael Whenever, “So as I was saying about Product Solutions-”
     “Let’s discuss it after the starters.”
     Start your engines, get set, go: American-style chicken wings. ‘Crispy chicken wings served in a basket with a blue cheese dip’ says the menu. How underwhelming when compared to the real thing! The wings are coated carefully in a crispy crumbing, so crunchy that one can hear the crevasse-like crack when one crunches. One can taste the sweet and sticky serving sauce, balanced so beautifully by the neutrality of the blue cheese. Each bite into the sweetness, each bite that cuts through the tender fried flesh of the dead bird, is a step closer to enlightenment. We are living the good life Mr James, this is why our ancestors fought for our freedom. A wing is eaten, then two, then three. Eight wings all in all in our full portion; our James will consume them all. Michael errs about with his tempura prawns. They are fried to heavenly crispness, but the philistine is so preoccupied with his mundane query that he can barely appreciate them.
     They eat, they drink, they are merry (well at least one of them is anyway)! And did I mention how much our hero enjoyed his Piña Colada? Well he ordered another. And then a third (the company is paying, why show restraint?)
     “I love this place,” heroic John James making his small talk, “I try to come here at least once a week. I prefer Kraus’s steaks to Eismann’s Grill. But I also love Brahman’s, an Indian place near town. And then there’s Ludovico’s when I’m in the mood for Italian. So many lovely places this side of town. You really should try them. I conduct all of my meetings at restaurants, the ambience is so much more pleasant than that droll office environment, don’t you think?”
     “Err,” Michael Whyever at a loss for words, “Sure.” (But is he really? Is he? Or is this another one of his lies?)
     “Your mains,” Goodman approaches, “The double beef burger, medium as per your request, sir. And the steak.”
     “Thank you my good man,” boisterous James, “Those wings were spot-on. Spot-on, I say! My compliments to the chef. Tell Avery he’s outdone himself yet again.”
     “I shall pass on the message. And your prawns sir? Were they to your liking?”
     “Err,” learn a new word please Michael, “Sure.” (Bastard)
     Goodman collects the plates and leaves.
     “So anyway,” Michael Whatsoever begins, “As I was saying about Product Solutions. I really think that-”
     James Jack John sighs, “Alright fine. I’m listening.” He really cannot delay this fool any longer without appearing rude.
     “Err,” Michael W continues,” So Product Solutions blah blah blah and efficiency blah blah blah and added value blah blah blah.”
     All the usual blahs. From the little attention that our hero is giving he senses that Michael wants him to use his influence to convince Product Solutions to design a new product for his Pension department. How macabre! How dreadful! How droll! Really this crap isn’t worth listening to. But that burger on our hero’s plate. Look at how it calls to him, with its crisply toasted roll, and its handmade patty assembled from the finest grade beef money can buy, and the fresh lettuce (picked from the ground this morning). A cow died to bring him this meal, how can he neglect it’s noble sacrifice? And let us not forget the onion rings and the sweet potato fries, and there’s the peri-peri sauce! Let us put some of it on the burger and add some kick, some rich strong curry flavours to this beautiful beef. Let’s do that, shall we? And James takes his bite and it’s (how do I communicate this in such a limited language?) perfect. Just perfect. Sublime. You have to taste it. Words fail at this point (a semantic singularity). Every bite is an experience, every experience is a lifetime of happiness. Jack smiles. Michael misassumes that he is smiling at what he is saying, which only increases the tempo of his blahs.
     “Blah blah blah synergy and blah blah blah cost reductions and blah blah blah innovation.”
     Michael is chewing with his mouth full. I feel so sorry for him; he is missing out on all of life’s greatest pleasures.
     Our hero nods at his burger. Nods with positive affirmation. Michael thinks it’s about him again (Egotist).
     At last the meal is done. James leans back in his chair, content, smiling, uplifted, inspired. He has seen what life has to offer. He is placated… for now.
     “Err,” oh not this ‘pensioner’ again, “So will you do it?’
     “Do what?”
     “Speak to Product Solutions for me?”
     “Hmm,” James considers, “Fine. But under one condition.”
     “Err,” he’s going to say sure, “Sure.” (Predictable)
     “I want you to give me a detailed report on what exactly the specifics of this product is, and I want it by next week.”
     “I can have it on your desk tomorrow, sir.”
     “Heavens no! I just ate!”
     “Actually we don’t need to-”
     “So next week this time we’ll meet at Luciano’s in town and you’ll hand me the report. We’ll charge it as a business meeting. Your cost centre can pick up the tab. Deal?”
     “Err… sure.” (Obvious)
     “Actually I really need to get-”
     “Waiter! Please bring us the dessert menu.”
      Michael However reluctantly stays. He tries politeness:
     “You know sir, I really appreciate you agreeing to speak to Product Solutions for me.”
     Our hero James doesn’t look up from the dessert menu where is he is presently (pleasantly) deliberating between the chocolate lava pudding and the New York-style cheesecake.
     “You know Michael,” our hero says, “This is exactly the reason I got into general management.”
     They aren’t talking about the same thing.


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