Empty Lunch Rooms
by Aashna Pawar (United States)
Audio: "Empty Lunch Rooms," read by Aashna Pawar
Now let's get this straight: the food was terrible. I hated the sight of the mystery meat, the smell of the “pizza,” and the sound of the mac and cheese. But I miss eighth grade lunch.
I always brought my own but whenever they had those curly fries, oh boy you bet I was stealing someone’s. Those were the best six months of my life. And to be honest, I think if there hadn’t been any food, I wouldn’t have been accepted there. It was the boys’ table at lunch. They were all in my grade, some of them my friends, some of them people I'd never talked to before. But as soon as I brought my lunchbox over, they all dived for the edible food. It was popcorn, and hot cheetos, and orange slices. Sometimes, even my sandwich.
I felt so important there. Sort of like a mother goose and her little goslings. Granted, I was younger than all of them, but I still felt like I had to feed the boys real food each day. Man, we had the most fun there. That cafeteria became my home and a safe place. I could never stay upset at anything after lunch. We would laugh until we cried and made the lunch monitors nervous and cautious. It was the best time of my life. Every day, I’d throw any snacks I didn’t want in the middle of the table and watch as the piranhas devoured them, every single crumb. Sometimes I wonder if they felt the same or if they always had that kind of fun. That kind of dynamic was new to me and it was so exciting. I craved that kind of happiness. I still do.
Then it was March 13th. It really was no big deal though. We’d be back in two weeks and everything would go back to normal. Well, as we all know, two weeks turned to three months, marking the end of middle school. Everything had ended so abruptly. Everything was left the way it was that Friday and I drifted away.
They made a group chat without me and ate lunch together. I realized I was never really friends with them. I had just been there for food, sort of like a sponsor in The Hunger Games. Now they all had home-cooked meals and snacks that I didn’t have to provide. I’m also a girl and didn’t really have anything to contribute to a conversation. I just watched most of the time, but the banter and screaming on FaceTime was pitiful compared to the booming arguments and hilarious comments made in that cafeteria.
COVID-19 is my greatest enemy. When lockdown was initiated, I didn’t feel a part of something anymore. I don’t think any of them realized how much wanting my food meant to me. Honestly, I don’t think they really care. I felt used.
But what did I expect? They weren’t my friends to begin with, and I hadn't made a connection with any of them. Well, except through my delicious, unhealthy snacks. I think I’m the only one who had that much fun and I wasn’t even a part of it. I was just spectating. Like the audience laughing at the jokes the actors make on TV shows.
It’s a little over a year later, now. Out of about eight or nine of those boys, I’m only friends with two, and one of the two moved away. Things fell apart with another one of the boys and we don't even look at each other anymore. Us being enemies now makes it impossible to spark any friendship with any of the other boys at that table.
I often think about how things looked brighter in that lunch room, even in the winter. At the end of last year, we were allowed to return to school to gather our things from our lockers. On the way out, I passed the lunch room. That cafeteria where I had my happiest days. I peeked through the crack between the doors and saw a large, gray, empty room that looked lifeless and showed no evidence of my childish laughs and joy. In the car, I felt a little empty too. Not just the cafeteria, but the whole school seemed abnormally quiet, and just dead.
But none of those hallways or classrooms filled me with the same exuberance as that lunch room. I wanted to run back in and just sit in the middle of that room and let the memories of those long-gone days resurface. I hadn’t realized it at the time, but now I see that my heart had become just as spacious, large, gray, and empty as that lunch room. I think this pandemic created a lot of empty lunch rooms. Whether in the buildings of our schools, or the voids in our beings.
Aashna Pawar, age 14, is a writer from the US. She wrote this piece while reminiscing about pre-Covid times. She wanted to express how COVID-19 affected her and hopefully get her writing to people who feel the same way.
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11/24/23, 4:42 PM
I'm amazed by your deep perception towards little things of life! Keep glowing dear Taieba.
10/4/23, 10:28 AM
I'll like to see more of your writing
10/4/23, 10:26 AM
Gsk I love it!
10/3/23, 7:58 PM
9/29/23, 2:03 AM
9/29/23, 2:03 AM
Wow..just wow. Ridiculous words I know. I just stumbled across your poem as this is my first time on the website and I landed this masterpiece. As an immigrant myself, I could relate to several aspects of this. Your use of imagery, symbolism, and allusion is outstanding
9/17/23, 8:43 AM
Powerful. Spreading the truth some don't think about, some don't have to worry about. A great and strong piece.
9/16/23, 2:41 AM
9/16/23, 2:41 AM
9/16/23, 2:41 AM
8/25/23, 10:35 PM
Excellent and amazing
8/17/23, 7:00 AM
Absolutely beautiful poem! The words were picked meaningfully and used it a descriptive way. Very relatable.