I usually don’t take a lunch with me to class.
Not that I’m not hungry at eleven o’clock when we get our break. The student center grill is right there, so I usually grab a sushi roll or something. Once I even tried their stir-fry, but there was too much of it for me to eat in ten minutes so I was slurping noodles while the teacher started talking again. Not cool.
Today, though, I had some leftovers of this fantastic ramen noodle salad, with carrots and peas and chicken and lettuce that had been marinading all night in soy sauce, vinegar, and sugar. That was something worth taking. Not something lame like a peanut butter sandwich and a bruised apple.
I’d spent the minutes leading up until the time I was supposed to leave cramming in the reading assignment, and after that I still had to blow-dry my hair, so I knew I didn’t have much time to pack up my lunch. I found a plastic container in the cupboard, scraped a generous serving of salad plus a few extra toasted slivered almonds on top, then snapped on the lid. Now all I needed was a way to carry it. I was pretty sure that container wouldn’t leak, but I wasn’t going to risk my computer by putting a cheap plastic container that had been through the dishwasher too many times in my book bag.
There were lunch carriers in the cupboard over the stove. I pulled down my favorite, a grey one with butterflies that might have been a handbag if it wasn’t made out of that soft cooler material. I picked up my container of salad, ready to slip it inside.
The lunch bag wasn’t empty.
A crumpled piece of greasy sandwich wrapper with lettuce bits sticking to the inside. Something blackish and furry and vaguely reminiscent of half a banana. A bloated foil wrapper that might still have a piece of chocolate inside.
When was the last time I’d taken a lunch anywhere?
“Not using that one,” I said out loud, soft but kind of frantic, because class was starting soon and I still had to walk all the way across campus.
There were other lunch carriers up there. That red one that had come from the grand opening of the new computer lab on campus, when they were giving out free lunches courtesy of the computer company that had donated all the machines in hopes of getting us college students hooked on using their stuff. That particular company had folded already, or had they been bought out by someone else? Oh well, not really my business. Anyway, I kept the lunch cooler, the boxy little red lunch cooler, just in case I ever needed a back up. Waste not, want not, and all. It was down at the bottom of a stack of paper lunch sacks.
They were too small for my container to go in, those lunch sacks.
The red thing would work. I pulled it out and unfolded it.
Patches of brown mildew encrusted the fabric lid. Not just vague spots like ordinary mildew. This stuff was three-dimensional. The Incredible Hulk of mildew. Grimy brown bits got off on my fingers. I was afraid I’d discovered one of those alien plants that was going to take over the world by the end of the episode. The kind that died in the rain at the last minute so the world would be saved after all.
I still didn’t have anywhere to put my lunch.
Ideas flashed through my head. A plastic grocery bag? So not environmentally correct. Put it in my bookbag with my phone and computer? Not on your life. Carry it, along with the fork, in my hand? That would look great as I walked across the campus.
Then I noticed something. There was still something red up in the cupboard underneath the paper sacks. Another red lunch tote. I’d gotten two of them? I’d totally forgotten. That was sneaky of me.
I pulled it down, hoping the mildew beast hadn’t spread. This one, somehow, miraculously, was clean. I stuffed in my salad and my fork and beat it out the door to class.