It was the sound of the spoon scraping his bowl that first caught my attention.
I was at a coffee shop meeting with a potential client when I heard the bang! bang! scraaaape… bang! of metal against a ceramic. As my client rattled on, I peered over her shoulder and spotted a thin man in his mid-twenties scraping soup from a bowl like a starving Dickensian orphan. While he appeared to be wearing everyday work clothes, the fervor with which he attacked his soup bowl said “I’ve been trapped in a dustbin for a fortnight. Thank you, may I have another?”
The man didn’t possess the glazed look I’d seen in the eyes of friends who’d tried “cleansing” with Tabasco and lemon juice-only diets. He seemed frantic, like the counter girl had handed him his soup with a note that said, “If you don’t finish this in less than a minute, you’ll never see Mr. Yappers, again.” I imagined Mr. Yappers was his middle-aged and much-loved Yorkie. That sort of pressure could easily make a man beat a soup bowl senseless.
Or, maybe, it was just one heck of a soup.
My eyes drifted back to my client and I offered a few perfunctory nods to let her know I was listening.
That’s when the stabbing began. It sounded like someone was hacking through the underbrush. My attention shot back to the soup man to find that, having decimated his soup, he had moved on to his salad. He slammed his fork into a the iceberg like a little pronged-Titanic, and then rammed the skewered greens into the back of his maw with such force I feared he might shatter his teeth.
I don’t know what that salad did to that man. Slept with his girlfriend? Killed his parents? I only knew I wouldn’t be the fool to ask. I had never felt so bad for a vegetable in my life.
I tried to turn my attention back to my client, but I found it almost impossible to take my eyes off the young man as he mercilessly slaughtered his salad, the salad’s family, its distant relatives and any dreams they ever had of grandchildren gathered around the family garden.
I’d just found the strength to look away when The Gobbler finished his salad, picked up an apple, and slammed it into his face.
I yelped with surprise, startling my table mate. Coughing awkwardly, I apologized and claimed to have swallowed down the wrong pipe. After all, it was rude for my attention to be on The Gobbler instead of the woman sitting across from me, and I wasn’t sure how to explain to my potential client that should she hear lip-smacking and feel hot breath on the back of her neck, she should run.
I heard The Gobbler take a second, violent bite of his apple, like a Great White chomping on a surfer who had previously made the shark watch while he tortured and killed his entire shark family. In two bites, the apple had been whittled down to a 1″ square cube, which The Gobbler then popped into his mouth, whimsically ending the bloodbath that was his lunch.
As the young man packed up his computer bag and left, my eye drifted back to my potential client, a frozen smile on my face.
“So you agree!” she said, taking my stunned silence for accord.
“Absolutely,” I said, clueless as to what I had agreed.
In the end I won the client, but when I think about that day, I don’t think about my win.
I just pray someone is feeding that poor, angry boy.