A Dickensian Recollection of Ath Tea

 

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Emboldened the sacred duty of handling the treasured Ath Tea tray, gluttonously overflowing with plump chocolate covered strawberries  and other miscellaneous baked goods that, comparatively, no one gives a shit about, I shudder at the girth of my responsibility. It’s 2:20, ten minutes from the start of my shift. Stomach churning ominously, guarded in a sheath of black, I trudge through Flamson Plaza in a one-man procession that foreshadows my destiny.  

As I enter the kitchen, the palpable, bucolic scents of domesticity assault my senses, garlic and butter entangling in a delicious dance of enjoinment. Momentarily, I find myself in the midst of languid comfort, my mind readily lapsing into visions of cheesy potatoes, roasted asparagus, and hot, fresh-baked dinner rolls.

But my brown, rooster embroidered apron awaits me, its beady, soulless eyes reminding me of what I was summoned here to do.

It’s 2:59, a minute prior to the commencement of Ath Tea. The plastic pitchers, filled to the brim with chalky water and diluted cranberry juice, wobble in my cradled arms. Coffee brewed and rice krispies neatly wrapped in cellophane, the seconds drip on like molasses. Swarths of students form a mutilated line in the Tea room, courtesy gilding their intention to jostle one other once the tray is presented. As I gently put down the platter, hands shaking, the table collapses and casket of red juice splatters on the carpet.

All the students in the room suspend their existential Thesis fueled crises, or their idleness in eyeing the strawberries, and rush the table to fervently collect the fallen goods. Some kneel down, make scoops of their two hands joined, and sip juices, or try to help women, who bend over their shoulders, to sip, before the juice all run out between their fingers.

Others, men and women, dip in the heap with scavenged children’s sized plastic cups, scooping up lone berries that had rolled into the rooms crevices; others, directed by lookers-on calmly sitting on couches, dart here and there, to cut off little streams of juice that started away in new directions; others devote themselves to the sodden tray itself, licking, and even champing the fragments of fudge balls and tiramisu with eager relish.

A shrill sound of laughter and of amused voices—voices of men, women, and children—resounds in the room while this scavenging game lasts. There is little roughness in the sport, and much playfulness; one fellow plays a titular piano rendition of  Chopin’s Waltz No. 7, Op 64 No. 2 in the background. There is a special companionship in it, an observable inclination on the part of every one to join some other one, which led, especially among the luckier or lighter-hearted, to frolicsome embraces, shotgunning of Natty Lights, exchanging of LinkedIns, and even joining of hands and dancing, a dozen together.

Taking in the scene, I decide that it’s an apt moment to retreat into the kitchen to prepare the cracker dish for the evening Ath talk.

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