x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

A heaping plate of fear

It started when I was only 12 but the condition still exists. I'm terrified of eating in public.

Restaurants intimidate me. I feel like they are places that taunt me, that prod and poke me through means of food, cutlery, space and people till I'm destined to make a fool of myself. I remember when I first developed my fear. I was around 12 years old, celebrating my cousin's recent wedding with family members. All of us were seated at a table with expensive cutlery and tableware, eating properly along with all the other diners in the restaurant. Everything was fine until I spotted a plate piled with bread. I remember distinctly looking around the table, trying to see whether anyone else was eating bread. No one was, but it looked so soft and tempting. I took a piece, hoping that no one would catch me, but just as I took a bite, a cousin of mine teased me for using my hands rather than the silverware of the impeccable restaurant.

In another childhood incident, I was seated at a table with friends eating a buffet-style lunch at a restaurant. While I was nearing the end of my main course, my friends went ahead to get some dessert. For some reason, my fingers failed to remain composed while I tried to finish the rice with a fork. To my horror, the rice came tumbling on me like an avalanche. Panicking, I scanned my surroundings, making sure that no one had seen and that no one would watch what I was about to do next. I wiped off the rice on to the floor and placed my chair directly over the evidence. After that day, I felt I was doomed. No matter whether I used my hands or cutlery, I just couldn't escape the horrors of eating in public.

Those incidents happened a long time ago, though, and somehow I still always manage to find myself going in groups to restaurants. A few months ago, my friends and I went to a place that was new for me. I must have gone over the menu several times trying to find a meal that would be the least dangerous for me to try. Knowing what mishaps I can get into, I had to be cautious of what I chose in order to maintain my dignity. I breathed a sigh of relief when my meal came; it was chaos-proof. Sliceable, tender chicken tucked in between layers of fork-withstanding fettuccine pasta. I could easily eat it using a fork and knife, but I still had to keep a watchful eye whenever I took a bite.

Still, to this day, I cannot continue to eat in public knowing that someone is watching me. I'll wait until I'm sure that no one is looking at me directly - even if it means that my food gets cold.