February 18, 2015 [Wednesday]
I am getting to know the interns better as the days go by, and the workload is heavy – due to time constraints – but also steady. My desk is large, gray, and surrounds me on three sides, with the half wall of the cubicle giving me breathing room and allowing me to have whispered conversations with the dark-haired girl in the cubicle next to mine. The computer upon which my monitor rests is covered in yellow sticky notes; work emails and database passwords and lunch date agreements.
I am intern number 1 at the DPADM. Is it a sign, that circumstances in life have eventually brought me here? Or are all these external trappings we believe to be meaningful completely meaningless, because life is going to end anyway? Is asking God for a sign like taking a placebo?
It is only the second day at work, but I can already feel the habits beginning to form. The deli store at the corner of 44th and 2nd, for my morning Arizona iced tea; the badge around my neck with my name and picture, for the 2 UN Plaza lobby; the coat hanger near the warm entrance to our department, for the puffy black sleeping bag of a coat that keeps me warm outside.
We go for lunch around midday, heading towards the cafeteria in the main building of the Headquarters. I have read somewhere that this is international territory, and that it is under the administration of the United Nations, not the United States. The biting cold air, coupled with the wide open spaces and the security guards dressed in blue, only seems to reinforce that point altogether.
The cafeteria is filled with people of all ages, races and nationalities, people speaking so many different tongues and people ordering so many different types of food, and I am nearly overwhelmed. I feel at home, and I remember my high school, and it is as if I am fifteen again.
When I am done ordering my sushi, nodding blankly at the kind man who prepares it for me as he speaks in sentences I do not understand, the cafeteria suddenly goes dark. The power is out, and everyone is confused as to what is happening. An unintelligible voice sounds over the intercom. I smile wryly at the thought that the United Nations Headquarters might not have working backup generators, when almost every building and business in Lebanon does.
I try to pay for my sushi, but the lady at the cash register shoos me off. “Go, go,” she says, almost winking at me.
“Do I come back and pay later?”
“No, no, no,” she says, a knowing grin on her face.
I find my friend outside, the cafeteria still dark and now off-limits. We search for a place to sit, until we find ourselves in a smaller cafeteria downstairs, sitting at a table with a pretty girl who has a scarf draped over her head. She is with the permanent mission of a country to the UN, and lunch hour passes by quickly as we speak.
I leave work late, around six o’clock, but I am adamant that I will discover the city, and so I start with a little place called Momofuku Milk Bar. I fight my way through subways and cold sidewalks, cultivating my love-hate relationship with Google Maps until I arrive. It is a tiny shop that I otherwise would have missed, and the girl at the cash register is friendly. There is a wooden counter that overlooks the street, upon which you can momentarily place your things so as to street-watch while you eat.
The soft serve really does taste like cereal milk, with the thickness of ice cream melting into the deliciousness of cold milk with crisp corn flakes to top it all off. I am eating with a wooden stick, and when I scrape the bottom of the cup, I find more golden cereal to go with the leftover ice cream.
I leave the store with a frozen tongue and the taste of school mornings on my mouth. The air is crisp and bone-chilling, but the sky above me is black and peppered with light glittering stars, so distant that they make my heart expand. My breath leaves me in brief puffs of white, pale against the uncharted heavens, and I am thankful.