One of the perks of my job is when I visit a school I get an allowance for dinner.
It's a simple enough perk; go grab some food, hand the receipts in at work and get the money back. It's not much, but it's nice, so why not?
I visited a school in Birmingham last Tuesday, but it took so long that I didn't get to eat anything when I was there. It was a great meeting, got a lot of stuff done, and the school were really enthusiastic and open to what we were talking about.
I got back into Leicester close to four, and I thought... I should probably eat something. I had missed breakfast, I had only been given a school dinner dessert at the school, and I was jonesing for something to pick me up. I wandered down Granby Street in Leicester, because I hoped to grab a baguette from a little place near the train station but unlucky for me, it was closed, so I kept walking.
I wandered in and out of some cafes but nothing really appealed. On my way into the centre I found this odd little place that was self service: you chose what you wanted to eat, weighed your plate, and then paid at the till.
I was the only potential customer there. The two people that were working there, a man and a woman, leapt to attention when I walked in. And I hated it. I hated it because the onus was suddenly put on me to be the customer. When you go into a place that looks like it does well, you don't mind leaving, but this place... it had the look of being recently set up. Anyway, the man behind the till was Asian, the woman who approached me was Polish and she was 'the host'. Her grasp of the English language was great, but her ability to pronounce words was severely lacking ("vegg-e-tab-uls") so my heart dropped. Don't get me wrong, she was nice enough, she walked me through the food that was on offer and the two of them took the lids off all that was offered, and they were genuinely nice about the whole thing.
To be honest, the place was a bit depressing, but something in my head clicked and I felt awful about the whole thing, this place, open in the middle of the day but empty, the look of a place that was more than likely always empty, and I had wandered in, and they were so pleasant. So I sat down, ladled some cruddy looking good onto a plate, and paid.
The food was passable. But I've had this gnawing guilt in my chest since, I've felt bad for not enjoying it, I've felt bad that they're not doing too well, I've felt bad because I was the only person in there. Shit, I only paid £4-odd pounds and they had prepared all that food... and I don't understand why this is affecting me so much. I feel really bad and I don't know how to exorcise those feelings.
But this always happens. If I see an elderly person struggling to walk down the street I feel bad. When I see people alone I feel bad. I don't talk to someone for a couple of days, I feel bad. I cut people who have caused me pain out of my life and I feel bad.
Why am I the person who feels bad constantly? Why is my life one constant guilt trip? I don't understand. I don't know how to get on with things. And anything and everything eats away at me.
Pah. I don't know.