“Oh, man!” he said as he read the overhead menu. “That ain’t right. Try another one.”
Good. No more chance of zombie nuts, but then, what did that even mean?
“What a place!”
The big city malls had been confusing to him. How did people cope with stuff like this? Granted, his fellow humans looked completely comfortable prancing under the bright lights, between the glass fronts of “eateries” and clothing retailers. The buildings were huge, masses of open space; he, too, felt huge among those well-trained city folks, huge and hungry.
A minute later he received a warm package of Japanese watercress & plumbed monkfish bomb, all wrapped up in a tortilla, from a smiling girl behind a counter.
He tasted the warm – what the…?! Ooh! Hothothot! Napkin too small. What—?!
For sheer lack of alternatives he swallowed.
As the first sharpness subsided, an aftertaste rose in his mouth which was hard to describe on any deep level. On the surface, there was only one word for it: Fantastic!
He took another bite. And another. And another, grimassing in pain every time he swallowed, and enjoying the relief visibly after a second or two. He noticed somebody staring at him with the confident semi-smile of a bass singer.
“That stuff can hurt you if you aren’t careful, you know.” the man growled.
Henry looked up in embarrassment, but couldn’t help himself from eating just a little more.
“Umami isn’t really a great taste at all to many people, but it’s addictive.” The man took a step closer. “So, chefs sometimes hide it in some hot stuff, to make sure. Then, of course, your body reacts well to it, and you want more. You aren’t used to hot food, now, aren’t you?”
Henry drew himself up.
“Well, sir. I am sure I have no idea what you’re talking about. This wrap tastes good, and that’s all there’s to it.”
“No, you haven’t, I can see that.” the man boomed. “And yes, I’m sure it does. See, they’re made to taste well.”
Henry noted how the girl behind the counter started looking in their direction. Did he just see that man winking?
“The taste receptors in your mouth are funny things. The one receving capsaicin, as it’s called, the, let’s say, active stuff in your wrap, normally tells the brain how warm your food is. Interesting, isn’t it?”
The girl’s amused smile bugged him. I’m a country boy, eating city food. So what!? He’s got that smile in his face, too, the bastard. I should walk away.
“Well.” he said, not moving any other muscles than those in his jaw.
“Don’t you want to drink cold water now? The brain thinks the food is too warm, and wants you to drink cold water. Then again, nothing in your mouth is too warm for you to eat. I wouldn’t trust your brain to see further than your nose.”
Both man and girl snickered.
“I do wanna drink something cold, I’m sure, but not yet. I’m okay, thank you.” Henry said and sunk his teeth into the wrap with more vigour than was strictly necessary. He coughed as the wave of capsaicin stung him. Parts of the plumbed monkfish bomb squeezed out of the corners of his mouth. They laughed at him.
Whaddayaknow? Henry thought. This felt like back during his school days, when he would sometimes be standing in a corner in the yard, taking in the abuse, but just not moving at all. Now, as he had then, he just kept eating, waiting for the others to get bored with him. Now, as it had then, it seemed to work. They struggled to keep their interest alive. Now, as as he had been then, he was determined to have some fun with the situation.
After another few bites, the man’s rumbling voice blubbering along, Henry used the back of his hand to wash the food off his face. He grinned, his eyes beaming, his mouth all aftertaste.
“It’s really good, you know.” He took the man by the shoulder with his dirty hand. “Tell you what, brainballs, wanna go have a cold one? Looks like you have a lot to tell about food to someone like me, who only eats them cod and potatoes all the time.” he said and turned to the girl. “Don’t you close quite yet. I’ll get myself another bomb soon.”
“I won’t.” the girl said.
She smiled again, in a nice way, Henry thought. He saw the man’s eyes wandering down to Henry’s hand and the monkfish bomb rest resting on the shirt.
“You want me to take you by the hand,” Henry took a step towards the open bar in the middle of the mall. “or you gonna come by yourself?”
Making friends in the big city, like, he thought, while a befuddled bass singer waddled after him and a random girl in a shop could not help laughing out loud.