The Grand Cena

I hadn't had a bite to eat or a drop to drink all day so I was treating myself to a bit of a feast. At least, it was a feast according to the standards defined by my limited means. There were no beautiful slaves to put the food in my mouth for me. Just the gruff taberna owner who gave me the stink eye when I asked him to leave the jug of wine. While I was waiting for the mains I sat back munching on some bread — wheat because emmer's for chumps — and olives and thought back on what lead up to this.

I had woken late that morning. My head was thick and achy. I was supposed to be at work at dawn to relieve the night shift, but when I opened my eyes the sun was in the sky. I was up and out the door in a flash. I normally tuck something dense and tasty in my uniform that I can sneakily have bite now and then throughout the day. If it comes to that, I usually have a meal before I leave the house. But this morning I was in such a panic that I did none of it.

I got to the pole. Lucius Laelius was placid as ever. He's a pro. But I know him pretty well by now; I could tell he was fuming. Luckily it was still early enough that there was no one around. I stripped off my hood and cowl — they make us cover up the uniform when we're not on duty. "Never let the punters see too much." my boss always says. I tucked away my kit and put on my white beard and my stringy white hair. This is the worst part of the job, by the way, it's so itchy. I think it's made of horse hair.

Anyway, after a quick look round to make sure there was still no one around, and properly attired in my crazy old hair and my loincloth I shimmied up the pole. Lucius Laelius pulled me up with an air of hatred. I'd been apologizing under my breath the whole time and I did so louder now. He gave me the worst look. I don't know what I had been keeping him from, but he obviously didn't like being kept from it. I promised I'd make it up to him but I know he'll be holding this one over me until we're both dead.

In a sense though that made the day go by easier. Sitting on top of a pole all day looking contemplative is much easier if you actually have something to contemplate. Still, by noon, the lack of food was starting to take its toll. I began to contemplate the meal I was going have that evening. I'm sure the people passing on the road below could hear my stomach rumbling. I shouldn't wonder if it couldn't have been heard all the way back in Rome. But I know it wasn't as loud as all that. If it was my boss would have heard it. He'd have been at the bottom of that pole in a flash, screaming about how I was supposed to be beyond hunger and did I want these punters thinking I wasn't up here communing with God so they didn't have to?

Eventually, the sun began to go down. After what seemed like years. Lucius Laelius came back and we traded places. I repeated my apology, but it's going be awhile before he's talking to me again.

I was so tired and so desperately hungry I almost forgot to put my hood and stuff on. I think Lucius Laelius hissed at me from the pole and I came to my senses. As hungry as I was I couldn't go out to eat in this stupid horsehair beard. I shlepped up the insula stairs to my tiny little room, hardly more than a cell really, an had a quick wash and brush up. In regular clothes I felt better. I went straight back down to the taberna on the ground floor.

Which brings me back to the start. The grand cena.

The proprietor brought over a heaping plate filled with eggs, fish, roast pig and a young fruit compote for after. He is prideful of his cooking, but this was my day so I asked him bring me some extra garum. He didn't like it, but he brought it and I liberally sprinkled it on everything. I considered really letting myself go and asking for some un-watered wine. But then I remembered that that's what got me in to this mess in the first place and thought better of it. Life as an ascetic is truly hard.

No comments: