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.

these turtle games (are tearing me apart)*

So: the turtles in the hotel pool are messing with me.

Last Wednesday-Thursday (that mushy middle of the work week) I was waiting for a cab to take me from work to my physiotherapist. I sat down at the lip of the two-tiered turtle/koi pond in the lobby of the hotel when a group of children skated by. Look! They shouted, pointing at the water. They’re humping each other!

I twisted my head around to look. I assumed they were talking about the turtles and not the koi or a couple of humans who’d stumbled into the pond. The turtles were definitely not humping one another, but a small, light-shelled fellow had climbed on top of one the big ones, and from that elevated vantage he was staring me down.

It appears that after several months of being looked at by me, the turtles had decided to look back. Maybe they’d figured out that there was an entire world above the concrete lip, and they were taking stock to see if it was worth invading. Probably not. What does a hotel lobby have that a few turtles want? Aside from the lost & found box behind the front desk. And of course, the sweet taste of panic-flavoured human flesh.

Have you ever competed in a staring contest with a turtle? It’s a loser’s game. Even if the turtle turns its head, you can’t be sure that those jet beads aren’t still fixing you in their gaze. And when the turtle finally slides off his friend’s back and slides into the water, it’s not out of defeat. He’s simply toyed with you enough. Just long enough to make sure that everyone in the hotel lobby has witnessed you in a staring contest with a reptile.**

*Or: Turtle Games Will Tear Us Apart (Again)

**Or whatever those primordial creatures of armour and slime are.