Who: Jaya, Brielle
Where: Near a taco truck in New York City
When: Summer 2021
Usually, Jaya packed lunch, but between her last temp job and her current one, she'd just barely run out of grocery money the day before pay day, and she had no time to stop anywhere inexpensive to pick up a reasonably-priced sandwich on her way to work after the paycheck actually hit her bank account. It was undeniably frustrating, but that was why she was out around a new office building looking for a new restaurant for lunch, crossing her fingers she could find one that was priced for temp workers, not CEOs.
Thank goodness for taco trucks. With any luck, this one wouldn't be full of disease or rats or cockroaches. She couldn't afford to lose any days of work right now.
After she checked the menu on the taco truck window, she decided that her budget could take it. She was the sort of freshly-paid rich that always made her feel a little bit risky. Besides, if she ran out of money for meals Earth side, she could always find a fairy circle, dive over to Eventyr, and feast with her gold coins aplenty. An hour in Eventyr was half an hour on Earth, well within the confines of her little lunch break.
Once she had her chicken burrito in hand, she turned and spotted a convenient stone ledge surrounding a planting box full of flowers where she could sit and enjoy. There was a woman already sitting there, but it was a city. There was enough space. Invasion of a little bit of personal space could only be expected, and really Jaya didn't want to go back into the cubicle yet. This was her break, and no one could make her digitize files on her break if she was nowhere near her computer.
She unwrapped the top end of the burrito, took a bite, and smiled. Not bad.
Brielle might have looked like she was balancing a taco in one hand and her phone in the other at level Expert Millennial, but she was in fact taking notes about the very food she seemed to be neglecting. Flavorful - marinated and cooked off-site, she guessed - but a bit messy, which was less than idea for a food truck. All their customers were dining on the go, so why would they leave the carnitas stewing in their juices before serving...?
But just when her notes turned to the decidedly negative and she started formulating a joke that involved an analogy between the carnitas and an obese senator, a young woman sat down beside Brielle. With a burrito! She hadn't tried the burrito, but this was make-or-break. If the eating experience was half of the taco's, this truck was off the list of ten best budget lunches in NY for sure.
"Hey, are the burritos good?" Brielle asked, with a friendly, charming chirp in her voice that tempered what she knew was an invasive violation of social norm. After a beat, she smiled and excused herself on the back end. "Sorry, I'm Brielle. I'm writing a culinary review for El Diablo here. Nice to meet you…?"
Jaya did not expect the woman she sat down next to to start talking to her. It wasn't really proper etiquette--or, maybe sometimes it was, if you were in downtown Manhattan. There were more than enough YouTubers making funny question videos out here that it shouldn't have startled Jaya quite as much as it did. She finished chewing her bite of burrito and swallowed carefully, so that she wouldn't choke on her words or embarrass herself too much. Brielle's camera was at least faced down, not recording, as far as Jaya could tell. Food blogger? That wasn't so bad. She put on her best polite office smile--the one that apparently wasn't quite enough to get her a permanent job anywhere.
"Jaya," she replied, not offering her last name. "As for the food, it's a cheap street burrito, so I'm not expecting much here. They spread the toppings throughout the length, so it feels like I'm getting a decent mix of rice and beans and everything else in each bite. The meat's well-seasoned, not offensive..." She looked down at the napkin she was holding around the burrito and its aluminum wrapping, and she could see that it was already getting damp from burrito juices. "Little bit drippy. I should grab another napkin." She noticed Brielle's tacos as she said that, and she had to laugh. "Maybe you should, too."
"Right?" Brielle laughed - the sound more aggressive than feminine and she made no attempt to apologize for the fact - and she nodded as she gingerly set the taco down on the concrete beside her. "Drippy is not good for street food. Are you going to hit up a job interview with pico de gallo and carnita stains on your blouse? Come on, this is the hashtag big apple…"
Yeah, that was a good angle for her post. That box checked in her mind, Brielle tucked her phone away and looked over at her dining-slash-bench partner. "Jaya, huh?" Her mind wandered to another world and the very compact little woman by the same name that her alter-ego Brandy had sold a room out from under once or twice. "I know another Jaya… but she lives abroad." It was kind of a unique name, though, and so Brielle wondered. "You travel much?"
Jaya laughed with Brielle, the food critic's commentary resonating with her experiences in a satisfying way. Words could be a meal all their own when they were well-spoken. Although she didn't think she'd ever heard of Brielle or her blog before, she was tempted to pull out her phone and look it up right then and there. That felt like some kind of bad form, though. So instead she did her best to manage the burrito drippage with the napkin that she had in hand.
She was a little surprised when Brielle said she'd met another Jaya, but maybe somewhere abroad it was a more common name. There was no way that this random stranger could be talking about abroad as in Eventyr, after all. If she were, though, how would Jaya know? Jaya looked different on the other side. And, even though she used her own name in Eventyr, maybe if others knew how to cross over, they didn't. Still, she covered he surprise with a fresh laugh.
"Oh, travel?" Jaya asked, shaking her head. "Sure, when I have a couple of pennies to rub together after I pay rent and student loans, I go to the travel agency and drop them in the tip jar just so I can stare at the pictures of exotic lands. Be right back." Was she as witty as Brielle? Probably not. She grabbed a few more napkins, set them down between herself and Brielle, and then shook her head. "You get to travel much as a food blogger? Must be like taking on a whole new identity."
Brielle laughed wryly in commiseration about millennial finances, and turned an appreciative glance toward her lunch-mate. That was a smart joke! Brielle might find herself using it with a loosely-cited credit to a pretty young woman with what she pegged as a Bollywood sort of charm to her. She added, "And if you're lucky, the air conditioning is busted and you can pretend the sweat pooling off you is from the Caribbean sun… No sticky sunscreen needed!" With a laugh, Brielle offered half-hearted jazz-hands. "Hashtag win-win, right?"
Attempting another bite of her taco was kind of a disaster and the poor thing fell apart completely, which left Brielle trying to wipe up pico- and meat-juice from her chin and fingers awkwardly, although her total absurdist laughter at it mitigated any embarrassment in the direction of the cooks. Wiping up, Brielle shook her head, "Nah - I stay-cate when I can," fairy circles made that easy, "but even bankruptcy doesn't wipe out student loans, so, seriously, the struggle is real."
When Brielle built off of Jaya's joke instead of dismissing it or making her own, Jaya felt herself relax just a little bit more. You could meet a lot of clever strangers in the city, but it felt less common to meet tones who made her genuinely laugh, who really understood the situation. What it meant to be post-college, not have a stable job. Not have that omnipresent parental safety net to fall back on, either.
"I hear you," Jaya said. And then, playing from the taco truck, she heard the latest super-pop summer jam of the year performed by that awful wanna-be boy band. Jaya groaned. "Okay, the burrito wasn't half bad, even if it was soggy but their taste in music? No. Not eating here again. How can anyone tolerate this, let alone call it art?"
"Oh. My. Effing. Gawd," Brielle seconded with her own groan, loud and obnoxious as she tried to drown out the song with her own voice. Standing hastily, tucking her phone in her back pocket, Brielle continued to complain. "What did we do to deserve this? They should keep this garbage exclusively for interrogating Isis in Club Gitmo…" One more bite of her taco and then Brielle was gathering up leftovers with garbage to toss away. "It's inhumane because it's so catchy, it gets stuck in your head and then you're forced to torture yourself all day long. Downright insidious."
Jaya broke out laughing at Brielle's incredibly accurate assessment of the music. Who had given this random woman on the street the permission to be so clever and witty, just sitting there and brightening everyone's day? Jaya would have to make sure that she followed her blog now, if only to get a little more of this humor in her life.
"It's a dangerous mind toxin," she agreed. "And you know it was factory-produced by committee, too. 'Let's throw together the beats from Get Lucky with the sense of the horn section in Uptown Funk and lyrics about your beautiful girl that any boy band from the New Kids on the Block through One Direction could be caught singing. It's all stealing success, not making anything with actual depth or meaning."
"This is what old people must feel like," Brielle said, when her laughter died down, and then she raised her voice to a higher pitch to imitate a child. "Why does everything have to have depth and meaning, moooom?" And then lowered it again to respond, "Because I have one life to live and zero time for ear-garbage!"
Impressions done, Brielle looked back at her companion with a deadpan expression: "Mortality, huh?" Then a chuckle, but it was time to move on. She had her notes and a local review, and more than a few jokes in mind to spice up the commentary, so she stood up. "Nice to meet you, Jaya. Follow my blog!" She beamed and added, "I can tell your comments are going to kick ass."
Jaya had lost track of time, but as Brielle stood, Jaya pulled out her phone and realized she needed to get back to the office. She wouldn't be late if she hustled--and hustle wouldn't be a problem, considering she had a full stomach, a smile from good conversation, and an upbeat earworm to escape.
As she stood, she flicked open her phone's browser and did a quick search for Brielle's blog. "On it," she replied with a grin. "See you around, Brielle."