The restaurant has no sign, so you might miss it if you’re not careful. Odds are, even if you’re careful, you’ll still probably miss it. The windows will appear to be curtained by maroon drapes, candles shining faintly from within. It will look just like any other business, on any other block, on any given evening, and many a pedestrian will ramble by, taking little notice, if any at all. Those who do turn their heads, whilst talking on their cell phones or looking for a window in which to check their reflections, might mistake it for a massage parlor or a tarot card reader’s studio.
The only distinguishing mark from the exterior is a crescent moon, stretching from pavement to portico and flanked on both sides by two white orbs. Were the building to be turned on its side, you might think it was sulking. And had it flipped itself the other way around, lounging in the morning sun with its hand under its head, you’d see a smile.
Entering this place, it all seems fairly normal. There are always guests dining. It’s a relatively narrow restaurant, and none will turn to look when you arrive. Wrapped up in pleasant conversation or busy with their delicate dinnerware, they’ll hardly notice your presence. The maître d’ will request that you sidestep away from the door and you’ll bump into a wall that should be the other side of the maroon drapery. That’s where the normal will stop.
Like the emergency lighting in the aisle of an airplane, the floor will illuminate in sequence to show you the way to your table. The maître d’ will glance down the runway then back to your party, holding his hand out in that direction as if to say, “After you.” Walking past tables of other diners, who you now notice all lack eyes as well as noses, you glance behind you to find that your unhelpful host and the front door are both gone.
You take your seat, but it quickly becomes clear that you will never be comfortable in this place, no matter which way you shift. Looking down, the menu is hard to decipher – the words seem to pull in and out of focus. You flip the double-sided paper back and forth to check that it’s not your own eyes causing the problem. But each time you come back around, the items listed will have changed. Filet mignon? You were just reviewing curries.
You excuse yourself from the table to use the restroom. A mild-mannered attendant standing near the kitchen smiles and points you towards a curtain in back. You slip inside to find a dark storage room, certainly not the hall to the toilets you were expecting. Coming back through the same piece of fabric you find you’re now in the busy kitchen. Confused, you look for an exit. A door to your right appears as if it might lead you back to the dining room. You squeeze behind the line cook, give your apologies to the head chef, and butt your shoulder up against the swinging door, only to cross through to an empty employee office. Two desks with ancient computers and a wall of filing cabinets. And no other way out.
Turning back once again, you’re shocked - but mind you, certainly not dismayed - to now find another maroon curtain in place of the swinging door you just came in through. A gust of wind blows from the other side and the fabric billows gently, sunlight peaking in through the crevices each time they appear. Suddenly without shoes, you push the curtain aside and step forward onto soft soil, knowing very well you will not be finding your way home tonight.