“Analysis of the Boy in the Dining Hall,” by Mary Catherine Owen

Feb 20th, 2008 | By | Category: Prose

He sits alone, eating his lunch with rapid, determined motions. Once one bite of food has been thoroughly chewed, his fingers fly up with another morsel, wasting no time in useless swallowing and digesting. Dainty sips are taken from the clear liquid in his glass, which holds a single straw; the ketchup bottle has been moved from its usual position near the napkin holder to a spot in the immediate vicinity of his tray, ready for any sudden condiment-related emergencies. He seems to be a man on a mission, or at the very least, a college student afraid of looking like a loner with no friends with whom to share his noontime repast. Indeed, his head jerks up defensively as people pass by him, his pale, pointy face showing some alarm, but he never seems to be seeking out a friend who is late in joining him.

A condescending look at his wardrobe confirms his status as perhaps not a loner, but most definitely as a male of the preppy persuasion, and a rather nerdy one at that. His blue-and-white striped polo shirt is not tucked into his jeans, but it might as well be for how clean-cut and straight-laced he appears. A navy blue baseball cap perches on top of his head, looking far from natural. The only deviance from the All-American image he projects is the cell phone clipped to his waistline, which, for unfathomable reasons, is flipped open, though he shows no intention of using it.

I think that he is preparing to leave as he stands up, putting on his backpack with care and picking up the tray to return it. The mystery of this nameless boy is prolonged for five more minutes, however, as he comes back to the exact same seat with a newly acquired bowl of ice cream. In an unusual fashion, he stirs the chocolate ice cream haphazardly with his spoon, not beginning to eat it until it has transformed into a soup-like substance. Every last bite is scraped out of the bowl with the same methodical approach taken to eat his main course.

Despite this attention to his comestibles, he is perceptive of his surroundings, as I distinctly feel that he knows I am watching him. For this reason, I pretend to look busy, which is not hard when you’re writing detailed notes about a person’s every move. Eventually, he stands up, pushes in his chair, and throws away the plastic bowl and spoon like the upstanding, non-littering citizen I believe him to be. Off he trots in a timid manner, adjusting his backpack as he goes. I hope the inevitable bullies go easy on him today; he’s got a full stomach.

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