I ate a lot of egg salad sandwiches in grade school.
Mom packed them for lunch several times a week.
Always on white bread.
Prepared the night before.
So the mornings would be less hectic.
I hated egg salad.
It was a texture thing.
And a taste thing.
Also a smell thing.
The sulfuric scent of mashed up hard boiled eggs and mayonnaise permeated the lining of my backpack.
It was there all the time.
I wondered if others could smell it too.
I told my mother I did not like egg salad sandwiches.
“That’s why it’s called lunch,” she said, “and not ‘most favorite thing in the world to eat.’”
And so, the egg salad sandwiches continued to appear.
One day in 3rd grade, as our class was getting ready for lunch, a boy named Kevin told the teacher he had forgotten his at home.
The teacher asked the class if anyone would be kind enough to share their food with Kevin.
Heather raised her hand.
In the cafeteria, I watched Heather and Kevin split a long hero stuffed with sliced meats, cheese, tomato, and shredded lettuce.
Mayo and oil and vinegar ran through their fingers when they took bites.
The sub looked like it had been made at a deli that morning.
Heather offered Kevin an open bag of chips.
He took a handful, ate one right away, and put the rest in his half a sub.
I looked down at my soggy egg salad sandwich.
An idea wormed its way inside my head.
The next time mom packed me an egg salad sandwich, I tossed the whole brown bag into a garbage bin on my way inside the school.
The hands of the clock over the classroom door moved slowly that day.
As soon as the lunch bell rang my hand shot up.
I told the teacher my mom hadn’t packed me anything to eat. She’d forgotten.
The teacher stared at me for a beat longer than I’d expected.
I thought I’d been caught.
That she could somehow see through my lie.
Maybe she saw me throw out my sandwich that morning.
But it was all in my head.
The teacher clapped for attention.
Asked the class if anyone could share their lunch with me.
My plan had worked.
I was already wondering if I should try this more often when a boy named Ramsey raised his hand.
I couldn’t believe my luck.
Ramsey always had good stuff for lunch.
Chicken fingers, fish sticks, leftover baked ziti or pizza, apple pie, cans of soda, a thermos full of chocolate milk . . .
sometimes he’d even bring fast food.
If he had stayed with his dad the night before, they would go through a drive-thru on the way to school.
One time Ramsey brought KFC.
11 herbs and spices.
The smell of greasy fried chicken filled the cafeteria.
Everyone wanted some.
I’d hit the lunchtime jackpot.
I wondered what Ramsey had that day as I trailed him in the hallway like a lost puppy.
We sat across from each other in the cafeteria.
Ramsey was a peculiar looking kid.
Had these long arms.
Much too long for his body.
Shirtsleeves ended halfway down his forearms.
Sometimes kids made fun of Ramsey’s long arms.
Called him names.
Like Plastic Man.
But those arms were good for playing tag.
Ramsey was never it for very long.
I didn’t call Ramsey names like the other kids.
I didn’t stand up for him either.
Now that he was helping me out I kinda felt bad about that.
As I watched Ramsey pop the latches on his lunchbox I thanked him for sharing his food with me.
“No problem,” Ramsey said.
He took out his thermos.
Set it on the table beside the lunchbox.
Then reached back inside for something wrapped in crinkly tin foil.
Ramsey laid it on the table in front of him.
Unwrapped the foil.
Grinned and held out half a sandwich.
The smell hit me.
“I raised my hand because I know you like egg salad sandwiches,” he said.
“I see you eat them a lot,” he said.
“They must be your favorite.”
Ramsey pushed the egg salad sandwich toward me.
It hung there in the space between us.
Alan ten-Hoeve wrote Notes from a Wood-Paneled Basement (Gob Pile Press). Twitter @alantenhoeve
image: MM Kaufman