[Image source: http://www.loverofcreatingflavours.co.uk/2015/02/like-hot-birds-eye-chilli-singapore-chilli-crab/]
After the travels of a long day which had now turned into the night as the city buzzed with clinks of wine glasses, bursts of laughter and the clatter of knives and forks, the sounds of dinner, we were starving. Starving and tired, so we could have collapsed anywhere, after a busy and exciting day, on our first trip outside the country as adults, we really could have collapsed anywhere.
Seeing a little diner, not crowded, not loud, we went inside and slumped on the chairs, with bags on the table and sighs of relief, oh how we slumped. Starving stomachs look for one thing, and one thing only: the menu. We picked it up and scanned, up and down, left to right, judging, deciding, for each meal on a holiday is precious, an empty stomach is precious. It enables you to taste and explore, to literally take in the country, to smell and touch and feel what the place is made up of, how do they live, what do they eat; a meal can tell you so much. So each selection in a meal needed to be carefully curated: is it the local flavour? Can we get something like that back in India? Will we get to try something new?
We discussed and debated despite our rumbling stomachs, and finally decided our order, the highlight of which was the Singaporean Chilli Crab. After the day that we had and the hunger that had struck, we could want nothing more than the gorgeousness of the Chilli Crab. Smiling a satisfied, deranged smile, we called to be served. “Yes, we will have three steamed buns, two cokes, chicken..” I began and ended proudly with the Singaporean Chilli Crab. There. Done. Dusted. I almost sat back and turned away but the server made a pained expression. “What happened?” I asked her tentatively. “No have,” she said, as we looked around in confusion. “Chilli crab, no have”, she repeated.
Our grief-stricken looks said it all. But collecting ourselves and moving on from the disappointment, we searched the menu again for a replacement. Nothing appealed to us as much as the beautiful chilli crab. Okay we tell you after some time, we said. She nodded and left. We frisked through the menu once again, up and down, left to right. We talked some more, appreciating, praising, getting impressed- aah, what a skyline, what roads, what transport. How immaculate it is, everything in order, everything on time, what variety, what food, oh it is dynamic, very dynamic, very fast, changes every six months, has to change, lives on tourism, Clark quay, what a place, dazzling lights, delightful bars, stunning riverside…
And so came the coke. How cold and refreshing it was, with the little bubbles, so we’d go to Universal tomorrow, yeah the Universal Studios, yeah its one of the four in the world, Hershey’s store, the giant roller coasters, the Hollywood walk of fame, and came the chicken and the buns, and don’t forget the mini New York, we have to go there too. We ate a little, talked a bit, but waited and then waited some more, for the star dish, what we saved up for, oh and also the safari, yeah we must, Bugi’s street, Orchard road, they have slow service, very slow, hope it will be worth it..
Remember Mike, and we laughed, yes Mike, the Mike who drove us, he said you girls are crazy, as we waited, we laughed over Mike, what Mike said, how we laughed, we laughed on how we laughed, and we waited a little bit more, and I’ll have a nice dessert after this, me too, oh me too, and then again we waited some more, as the tissues lay unruffled, too white, too clean, waiting with us, hoping they would hurry, and the chicken got over, and the buns were rejected, and the coke lost its fizzle and then we finally decided to call out once again, call out for the highlight of the night, call out for what was taking so much time, too much time, we had been waiting so long for the exquisite chilli crab, and I opened my mouth to say excuse me…
And with a jolt of understanding, a dawn of realization, a surge of comprehension, we looked at each other: in stupidity, in foolishness, in inadvertent neglect, in distractedness. Our head in the clouds, all throughout the meal, as we waited to be served as we talked about our grand plans and this day and that person, we had been waiting for the chilli crab that would never come, because it never existed. Too much talking and excessive excitement made us forget that we had to order a replacement and like idiots, we sat and waited for the chilli crab, after being told that they don’t have it, imagining it getting washed and grilled and spiced, when that never happened: the chilli crab simply did not exist.
Many times, we make up things. We see something, read somewhere, hear someone, and we take it all together and make it all up in our head. We create our own idea of it, which materialises soon into a solid, tangible, living, walking, talking person in our head who tells us that this is how it is. It makes our should be into is, and seeks to impose our fantasies on the world outside of us. Life is one of those things. We wait for what never was or will be.
We build expectations around something that probably never existed, and then irrationally, we wait for it, wait for it to turn up, without cause, without reason. We build up ideas that say, this is how you should be when you are 21, and this is what you should wear at 40, and this is what elegant is like, and this is the money you should have by 35, and this is the number of countries you should have seen by now, and this is how college is, full of nights that don’t end and days that give way to nights..we always wait for a life that will be one day.
Life isn’t something out there that you will do one day; life is here and life is now. Life will never reach that ideal that you always made for yourself; at every age, and every day, you will wish you had gotten up a little early, or done more for your health, or not have eaten that extra dessert, or said yes to that offer, you will always wish for some kind of do-over. You will never arrive at a stage in life when everything will be perfect from then on. The chilli crab that you ordered will never come, no matter how much you wait for it, because that chilli crab you made up for yourself never existed and you were too busy thinking of other things, waiting for the non-existent chilli crab.
And so I say, life is like that chilli crab we never got to eat. It is nowhere else, but with you, all along, and it really isn’t that chilli crab you thought it would be.