in which language is no barrier

I went to midnight chow last night, hoping for some chicken wings. I don’t know what that’s about, but lately chicken wings solve all other cravings. Go figure.

I went in, washed my hands, and walked straight over to the chafing dishes, which were empty. Nothing there, not even the sweet, sweet smell of wings. I checked my watch in disbelief; it was the right time. WTF? I looked around the serving area in despair.

An Afghani man, a worker in the chow hall, walked over to me.

“No hot food tonight?” I asked.

“Is sandwiches,” he says, gesturing to the sandwich bar.

“Oh,” I say. “Yes. Thank you. But no hot food? Did I miss it? Am I too late?” This is a mistake I would not want to repeat.

“Sandwiches,” he says, smiling, drawing the word out alluringly, his arm outstretched towards the sandwich bar in an invitingly Vanna White sort of way.

Dari and Urdu inform each other, I think. What the hell, I’ll give it a try.

“Garam foods nahiin hain?” I try. He smiles, but I’ve made no progress. I try again. “Aaj ka raat garam khana nahiin?” (Translation: Urdu, with a bit of English mixed in for luck: “There are no warm foods? Tonight there is no hot food?”)

“Na, na” he says, shaking his head. (“No, no.”)

“Oh, suck,” I say, shrugging. “Thank you, though.” Hand to heart, slight bow. He bows back. “Tah shakur.”  (Thank you.)

I start to walk over to the inevitably disappointing sandwich bar.

Then, brightening, he says: “But miss, miss- is microwave,” drawing the word out like a game show host and sweeping his arm toward a small, dingy nuke in the corner of the chow hall. And we laugh, and I thank him. Later, he stops by, looks at my sandwich, and we smile and shrug.

Some nights I really, truly love this place.

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