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S Sorrensen’s Here & Now: Back to nearly normal

Lismore. Wednesday, 9.35am.

Oh dear. There are no poached eggs on the menu.

I look to my friend T and raise an eyebrow. She shrugs with a sadness that only those living in the first world can appreciate. Life is difficult.

‘I’m not having ham,’ says my mate W, dropping the menu onto the table. ‘If I have any more ham I’ll squeal! Thank God Christmas is over.’

I don’t want ham either. Even though ham is as intergral to Christmas as, say, Jesus or Big W, I’m not much of a Yuletide traditionalist. This morning, sitting at a footpath table at one of Lismore’s many cafes, I’m glad the annual social convulsion is over. There’s ample parking and people look relaxed. Normal life settles lazily on the town like smoke from fireworks.

I don’t want ham; I want poached eggs on toast. (Okay, I may not be a Christmas traditionalist, but when it comes to cafe breakfasts, I am a stickler for convention.)

‘Should we go somewhere else?’ T asks, feeling responsible because it was her suggestion that we try this new cafe. But it’s not her fault. The cafe was open and it is breakfast time so you’d assume there’d be poached eggs. Surely, there’s some sort of legal obligation to provide poached eggs if you’re a cafe open at this time of day. Anyway, I don’t blame T for the no-poached-eggs crisis; I blame W.

‘Well, there’s only one place really…’ I say, refering to the place where we always go when we’re having breakfast in Lismore. They make the best poached (free range) eggs on (multigrain) toast this side of Gonnellabah. But today we didn’t go there, because…

‘Oh. Don’t let me stop you. You go there then,’ says W, ‘but I don’t want to.’

‘No, mate,’ I say. ‘It’s okay. I’m always up for trying new things.’ (This is a lie. I don’t like stuff I haven’t tried. That’s why I don’t try it.)

I look at the menu. Porridge, toasted olive bread, shakshuka…

Shakshuka. Hmm. What’s that? I check the fine print. It’s eggs. Baked in a spicy tomato sauce. Baked in sauce is like poached, I guess.

‘Do you think baked in sauce is like poached?’ I ask.

‘No,’ says T, getting up from the table. ‘I’m gonna check the display inside.’

‘I’m never eating ham again…’ says W.

‘Well, I’m going to give the shakuhachi a go,’ I say. I can smell our coffees arriving perched on the arms of a pregnant waitress. They smell really good. (The coffee, that is.)

T returns.

‘What is shakuhachi anyway? Japanese?’ I ask.

‘Yes. It’s a flute,’ T says. Wearily.

‘Oh.’

‘Shakshuka, on the other hand, is an Israeli dish. Very trendy now,’ she says. ‘You should try it.’

Oh dear. I have an issue: By eating shakuha… shakshuka, am I supporting the violent suppression of the struggle for an independent Palestinian state?

‘Do you think it’s, you know, okay to eat Israeli food?’ I ask.

‘Oh god..’ says T, shaking her head.

‘You going to have it?’ I ask.

‘No way. I’m having a ham, tomato and cheese croissant,’ she says.

W groans. ‘Ham. Never again…’ he says.

The waitress hovers: ‘You ready to order?’

‘I’ll have the shakthingy,’ I say.

‘I’ll have the ham, tomato and cheese croissant,’ T says.

‘I’ll have the same as her,’ W says.

There’s an awkward silence. T and I look at W. W looks at T and me.

‘Without the ham,’ adds W, with what sounds like reluctance.

We sip our coffees. Arabic. Good.

Thunder rattles a clear sky.

Things have returned to normal. Good.


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