Sonia and Fuyuhiko were silent as they entered the cafeteria. Just like the rest of the facility, the entire room was a stark, sterile white. Light reflected off every surface, giving Sonia a brief headache as they navigated the white lunchroom tables lining the main floor. Toward the back of the room was the lunch line, where there were display wracks with pre-prepared meals. Following the prepped meals was the hot lunch, displayed in large metal trays where a cafeteria worker stood waiting to scoop food into the takeaway boxes that were stacked behind them. At the very end was the register where another worker stood, idly doodling on receipt paper.
Sonia didn’t spend too long at the prepared food. She found herself not as hungry as she initially thought, mostly due to the nauseating smells of the food warming under a heat lamp not too far down the line. She settled for a turkey sandwich and apple juice. Fuyuhiko, though, made a few rounds up and down the prepared meals. He seemed agitated as he paced, muttering under his breath. Finally, he stopped in his pacing and directed his attention to the woman standing at the hot food line.
“Hey! Where the hell are the subs?”
The worker’s eyes seemed glazed over, even as his gaze shifted to look through Fuyuhiko. He gave a half-hearted shrug before returning to staring out into the empty cafeteria. This did nothing for Fuyuhiko’s mood. Throwing his hands in the air, he grabbed a handful of random chip bags. The rest of the bags fell onto the floor, but he paid no heed to them. Even as he stomped off, Sonia couldn’t refrain from rushing over to haphazardly toss the bags back onto the shelf.
She then scuttled behind Fuyuhiko, whispering apologies to the woman behind the warm food. Thankfully, the woman didn’t appear bothered at all, shrugging as she continued staring out in the empty cafeteria. Fuyuhiko’s wrath was not over yet, though. Even as the man at the register was blankly scanning and putting their food in separate bags, Fuyuhiko complained,
“This is bullshit. Just because we’re a bunch of vegetables doesn’t mean we can’t get some standards in this place.”
Much like the woman, the man wasn’t bothered in the least. This only managed to infuriate Fuyuhiko further. By the time the man was done bagging, steam seemed to be rushing from Fuyuhiko’s ears. The man held the bags by the register.
“I’ve taken the totals out of your allowances for the month, Fuyuhiko’s remaining total is—”
Sarcasm dripped from his words as he snatched his bag out of the cashier’s hand before stomping away. Again, the cashier didn’t have a care in the world. He might as well have been a robot. Still, Sonia scuffled up and carefully listened as he spoke.
“Sonia’s remaining total for this month is 126,472 yen. Have a hopeful day.”
Sonia took the bag from his hand, thanked him, and once again whispered an apology on Fuyuhiko’s behalf before chasing after the stomping gangster. Fuyuhiko stomped around all the tables, taking no care to avoid the chairs as he made his way around them. Sonia did her best to fix them as they went, but there was no helping it. Fuyuhiko was a destructive force that could not be contained.
Leaving much destruction in his wake, Fuyuhiko finally settled on a table at the far corner of the cafeteria. He slammed his bag on the table, flung his chair out, and plopped down into it before tearing into his haul of chips. Sonia, on the other hand, carefully slid out her chair, set down her bag, and sat across from him. Even as she compared herself to him, she couldn’t help seeing how similar they really were.
Fuyuhiko was fury. He never pulled punches, never had a problem yelling, stomping, and cursing. Structure and poise was the enemy. Sonia, however, thrived in the quiet. She cleaned and created order. Emotions were present but subdued. She was control. Yet, she knew just as well as he did, they hid everything they were genuinely feeling. No matter how much structure she created, and no matter how much structure he destroyed, nothing would stop the swell of despair that threatened to snuff them out inside.
Even so, there they were, sitting in a cafeteria, eating dinner. There was no indication that anything was wrong. As Sonia pondered over their situation, she pulled out her own lunch and set it out neatly in front of her before opening the sandwich. It was then that Fuyuhiko started speaking.
“How do you have so much in your account still?”
Sonia’s gaze shot up to meet Fuyuhiko’s who was eyeing her suspiciously. Her face was beginning to warm as her thoughts drifted back to the first days – the early few days after she woke up. The first day was a blur of poking and prodding. Then, the questions:
‘What’s your name?’
‘Do you know how old you are?’
‘Do you know where you are?’
‘How do you feel?’
How she answered was a fog. She might not have said anything at all from what she could remember. Once she reached whatever milestone they were expecting her to, then came the days of explanations. She was part of the Ultimate Despair, this was a facility where they were hoping to rehabilitate those from that group, she would not be able to leave. She and all the others that woke up would be carefully monitored. There was no established end goal or date.
They would provide an allowance for meals, but even if she spent it all too quickly, they wouldn’t let her starve. The meals just wouldn’t be as enticing as what the cafeteria provided. Enticing wasn’t a word Sonia would necessarily attribute to any food, much less what the facility provided before she was allowed back into the general population.
Those who had been asleep for so long hadn’t eaten solid foods for long periods. While they were fed intravenously, their bodies were still emaciated, and their muscles were weak and clumsy. The faculty couldn’t just start them off with heavy meals. Instead, it mostly consisted of warm broths and clear liquids. Afterward, they allowed soft foods like tasteless jellos and unseasoned stews. It wasn’t inspiring in the least, as far as meals went, but they were nutrient-rich, which was the whole point.
Thankfully, Sonia had never been much of a foodie. She would never turn her nose up to a well-cooked meal, of course, but it wasn’t something she actively enjoyed. So even after leaving that part of the rehab, she could never manage to use up her monthly allowance before the next month rolled around, so it just continuously carried over. Rather than detail all that to Fuyuhiko, she instead shrugged and gave him a prim smile.
“I don’t have much of an appetite.”
Fuyuhiko nodded, finishing one bag of chips, then tearing open another.
“I can’t blame you. Choices here are shit.” He tossed a half-eaten bag of chips on the table before grabbing another and tearing it open. “Why do you spend all your time in that graveyard?”
Once again, Sonia didn’t pick up his meaning. Before she could even question it, Fuyuhiko rolled his eyes and quickly scrubbed his face with the palm of his hand.
“The pods. Why do you spend all your time in the pod room?”
Sonia nodded as understanding washed over her. As she thought through her response, she took a moment to bite into her sandwich. As expected, the bread was a bit stale, and the turkey a bit dry. There were no condiments to speak of, so as she chewed the food became a tasteless mush in her mouth that was much harder for her to swallow. She did, though, but promptly set her sandwich down without another bite.
“I want to keep them company.”
Fuyuhiko promptly stopped in his chewing.
“Keep them company? They don’t even know you’re there.”
Sonia eyed her juice on the table, questioning whether or not it would be worth a try.
“You don’t believe that, either.”
It was then he sat up, slamming his hand against the table. Sonia was growing used to the outbursts and didn’t even jump. Instead, she watched the juice slosh around in the bottle.
“I am getting really tired of people telling me what I believe!” He held his hand firmly against the table, but it didn’t stop his arm shaking. “I believe you’re wasting your damn time. That’s what I believe.”
Sonia tried to maintain her composure, but even she was shaking. Her lips quivered as she tried to form words, and tears were beginning to blur her vision.
“I don’t believe that.”
“Well, I don’t give a damn about what you believe! You’ve got to move on. If you don’t, you’ll never get out of here!”
The tears were breaking through. They were warm as they rushed down Sonia’s face. As soon as the tears broke through, her composure crumbled along with it.
“I can’t leave without them!”
“Then stay here and die along with them!”
Silence returned to the cafeteria. Their words hung painfully in the air, filling the room with an atmosphere of despair. It was hard to breathe in. Sonia was gasping for air as she sobbed. Fuyuhiko silently watched, but even his eyes were brimming with tears.
“This was a mistake… I’m going to bed. You do what you want.”
With that, Fuyuhiko stood up. He didn’t pick up his trash, he didn’t say goodbye, he just stood up and left the cafeteria. Sonia basked in the quiet and returned to staring at the juice. It was perfectly still in the bottle. Finally, working herself up to try it, she opened the top and took a sip. Unfortunately, it was just as tasteless as anything else.