It was a lonely street that had been lonely for as long as I can remember. Like a forgotten memory that’s still waiting to enter someone’s conversation.
Seeking comfort in its anonymous corner was an Afghan restaurant. It didn’t bother anyone and no one bothered it. It slept like a secret in Prague, a city that knows how to keep them.
Curious and hungry, I sat down one day in the faithfully empty restaurant.
Subtle European tastebuds were yet to grow on me. Humour could be understated, never food. It had to entertain, become more than just a habit. An Asian meal promised spices to which everything else is added almost as an afterthought. Like a lie that greases the truth so it’s easier to swallow.
The insides of this restaurant were cheesy and reassuring. An exotic meal isn’t made exotic by the meal but the fiction that surrounds it. The paintings. The artefacts. The music. The wall carpet that hangs as a signpost. Lulling us to believe we are right there. Right in the country where the fancy meal we just ordered is served to kill ordinary hunger.
Hanging between the carpets was the Afghan girl who stared back at me, her award-winning gaze quietly passing judgement on my own.
The food disappeared sooner than it arrived. But then they served something I couldn’t find on the menu. Bollywood music started filling the emptiness between the walls. Like a lie leaving the lips of a beautiful woman, I believed it till I no longer could.
I walked up to the two men who looked like the owners of this charade.
I enjoyed eating here.
One of them nodded.
The place looks lovely.
The friend joined the nodding.
I just have to ask you this. What’s with the Bollywood music? I am Indian, so I know.
No more nodding. The first man murmured something across the table to his friend.
Well that’s because Bollywood music is very popular in Afghanistan.
I chewed on this absurdity for a while. Maybe Bollywood did have more visas than I thought. Or maybe war and hunger and hardship was all that grew in Afghanistan and they had to import even their distractions from elsewhere.
Another old gentleman walked in and was briefed of my nationality. A smile leapt across his face, italicising every wrinkle that threatened to tell a story.
We love your music. Everyone in my country does. You speak Indian?
Yes I speak Hindi.
You know Lata, Rafi, Kishore Kumar?
We all did.
It was time to leave and everyone got up. One by one they shook my hands with a warmth that’s reserved only for men who come from where you do.
You must visit again.
I will, I have to.
Outside, the street took me to two homes. The one where I lived and the one I had left years ago. The street looked less lonely now. It wore my footsteps like a blanket in the cold night. Like a lie we sometimes tell ourselves just to feel less lonesome.