[The camera fades in from black to reveal a quiet restaurant; not full, not empty. A few people are standing chatting at the bar over drinks – dinner jackets and cocktail dresses aplenty. We start to zoom in gently to a table to the right of our picture. Tony is sitting, alone, perusing a burgundy leather-bound menu with Fusion Lit Bistro written in gold script. From the left, a tall, gaunt waiter approaches unhurriedly and elegantly, stopping neatly at Tony’s table as he puts the menu back down on his table.]
Waiter: Good evening, sir. I have the pleasure of serving your table this evening.
Tony: Oh, good. [Peers at the waiter’s name tag. It’s blank]. Sorry, what was your name?
W: That depends entirely on your imagination, sir.
T: [Thinks] Let’s say Jeeves then.
W: [Scathingly] I think not.
[A slightly embarrassing silence ensues.]
W: [Tactfully breaking the awkward moment] Now, sir, have you been able to decide?
T: Not really. There’s just so much to choose from, and I must confess that I don’t really understand all the choices.
W: That’s perfectly understandable, sir; I wouldn’t have expected anything else from you. [A Pause] Or anyone else. Would you like me to make some suggestions?
T: Please do, Sebastian.
W: No. Now as a starter, I would recommend Camus’ La Chute.
T: La Shoot?
W: It can be translated as The Fall, and it’s a delightfully constructed existentialist work on the pointlessness of life and the impossibility of finding a meaning in our dreary existence.
T: Existentialism? For a starter? Won’t that be a little too heavy?
W: Oh no, sir, light and compelling, melts on the tongue. I assure you your appetite will remain, shall we say, unspoiled.
T: Well, alright then. Let’s move on to the mains. Now [Opening the menu again and peering at an item near the bottom of the page], I was looking at your German section, I fancy a good meaty selection. What would you recommend, Andrew?
W: Not even close. If it’s something hearty, dense and meaningful you’re looking for, Thomas Mann is always a good choice. Our platter of six, Der Tod in Venedig, or Death in Venice, and five other stories would give you a selection to chew on. Lots of angst about the difficulty of being a writer, the role of the artist and the irresistible pull of death. [Pauses] Although it may be a little much for the single diner to take… I mean, manage…
T: No, no, that sounds fine. We all need a little something to digest from time to time, hey Alexander? [A very menacing look from the waiter. Tony coughs nervously and retreats to the safety of the menu.] Well, anyway… What about as an accompaniment? Any specials?
W: Well, we do have something a little unusual from our our Murakami range, a cheeky little 2000, after the quake. Not as full-bodied as some of his other vintages, but it’ll work very nicely if evenly spaced with your other choices. Crisp, clean stories of life at one remove from the Kobe disaster, indubitably one to sip and ponder over at your leisure.
T: That’s fine then. I’ll take the shooty thing, the German meatballs and the Japanese plonk.
[The waiter shudders visibly, takes the menu gingerly between his long, elegant fingers and retreats in the direction he came from. After a significant interlude, during which the items requested are brought, sniffed and consumed, the waiter returns to the table. Tony is looking satisfied, if a little tired.]
W: Was everything to your liking sir?
T: Marvellous, thoroughly enjoyed it all. Many thanks for the recommendations, Algernon.
W: That’s quite alright sir. And no. [Pauses] How did you find the starter? We do appreciate feedback from our guests.
T: Well, La Chute was definitely thought provoking, a one-sided dialogue between a man trying to discover what makes life worth living, and the reader. Fascinating reading, but the style did wear you down towards the end. A bit like listening to a sermon really; which is a little ironic, I suppose… I’ll have to try it again some time, try to find out exactly what it’s all about.
W: And the main course?
T: Quite superb! Nothing like a bit of temperamental Teutonic artistic soul-searching to satisfy the appetite. Only 80 pages, that Venice story, but my goodness, as dense and textured as many a 600-page novel. Death motifs everywhere you looked, homo-erotic suggestiveness, the smell of cholera palpable in the air…
W: Actually, sir, I believe that may have been the toilets. Our apologies.
T: Ah, right. [Looks sheepish] I have to admit, I had to leave a couple of stories for later, so if you could just get me a doggie bag for those…
W: I’ll see to that presently. And the Murakami? To sir’s liking?
T: You know, I was a bit worried that it would be a little lightweight and weak, but it did go rather splendidly with the other works. A sip here and there, a little low-grade soul searching, a dash of reevaluating one’s life goals – really quite wonderful. It didn’t have that sparkle and the special ingredients of other Murakamis I’ve tried, but it was reminiscent of his Norwegian Wood in its earthy, realistic tones. Not quite sure about the hint of frog though.
W: Not to everyone’s taste, I agree. Still, I hope we’ll be seeing you here again, sir.
T: Most definitely. This is just the kind of place I’ve been looking for. So, could I have the bill please, Haruki?
W: Now you’re just embarrassing yourself.
[The waiter walks away shaking his head.]
T: Wait! David! Heinrich! Albert! Kazuo! [Thinks] Engelbert?
[Fade to black…]