there's no such thing as a free lunch, unless your wife is recovering from a hysterectomy

This is not a long story, but it’s a shameful one. Today I ate lunch at an Ethiopian restaurant, which is one of those places with edible cutlery. No, really.

Because of its peculiarities - at least from a North American perspective - Ethiopian food requires at least a few minutes of practice and some basic hand-eye coordination. The menu items are all varieties of wot, which is Ethiopian for oh you tasty goop. Standing in for forks, knives, chopsticks, skewers, tongs and lunch hat is injera, a flat, spongy fermented bread that comes rolled up on a plate, as if you were being served old medieval manuscripts for lunch. You tear off pieces from the scroll of injera and nab the wot from the plate (which is also made of injera). It’s as close as you can get to eating with your hands in a restaurant, outside of a fast food hut or medieval theme joint.

Our waitress turned out to be a friend. I’m making it sound as if I expected the server to be an enemy, or maybe even a nemesis, but it’s more accurate to say that I had no particular expectations regarding the identity of the server before I walked in. Actually, that’s not true. I had thought it might be the woman with the big curly hair and the long face, or maybe the guy with the tiny deep-set eyes and the beaklike nose, so when I saw my friend approach the table with a water pitcher and a tray of glasses, I was surprised at the betrayal of my unconsidered expectations. Hey, maybe this is a longer story than I thought.

The owner of the restaurant (the woman with the curly hair and the long face) evidently overheard the conversation I had with my friend about Schmutzie’s surgery, because she wouldn’t take my money. She pinned my twenty dollar bill on the counter under her long-nailed index finger and slid it back to me. “That’s fine,” she said, and turned to the next customer before I could protest or ask for clarification. "Are you sure?" I said. "Yes, yes," she said, waving her fingers at me.

The best feeling in the world is the hard-won bliss of spiritual enlightenment. The second best is the unexpected grace of free restaurant food. Nonetheless, it feels odd to be getting a free lunch out of my wife’s hysterectomy. Part of me wants to go from restaurant to restaurant to see how long I can survive on free food. Eventually (by which I mean the end of the week) I'll end up at KFC at two in the morning, tearfully begging for a cup of coleslaw. Maybe I’ll wear a T-shirt that says “my wife just had a hysterectomy and my back’s totally gibbled and we’re very, very decent people, with two cats and budding literary careers. Have you seen my pirate imitation?”. If the hysterectomy thing doesn’t get me some gratis French fries, I guarantee you they’ll give me anything I want to keep the pirate imitation under wraps.