I'd just relocated to the countryside. The fast-paced city lifestyle wasn't for me; I felt burnt out. Belmoral was tiny, with only one main street and a population of 3,000.
On my second night, after moving in, I decided to go for a stroll down Piper Avenue, where everything could be found.
Feeling hungry, I entered the restaurant Cheerful Hippo. It was packed, families occupying tables everywhere.
Awkwardly, I sat alone at the back, towards the kitchen, where I could hear loud voices barking instructions.
After ten minutes, a waiter arrived at my table, notepad and pencil in hand.
'Apologies Mister, we are very busy tonight,' gesturing around at the packed room.
I smiled. 'No problem. I'd like to order fettucinne carbonara, thank you.'
'Water will be fine.'
I was the only solo diner in the restaurant. It was something I'd gotten used to, back when I lived in the city; there were places I'd discovered that were more accommodating for the solo diner than others.
The meal was delicious, but after paying at the front desk, I decided I likely wouldn't be back as I'd detected mutterings from nearby diners regarding the fact I was the only solo diner in attendance.
Two days later, 12pm. I was relaxing on a bench in Rosewood Park, which was just a couple blocks down from my apartment. Smartphone in hand, I was also looking for any potential job openings, but after half an hour I gave up.
The park was close to Piper Avenue, like everything in Belmoral. Being lunchtime, it'd be easier to find a spot more accommodating to the solo diner.
I passed by Cheerful Hippo, feeling awkward, possibly because I doubted I'd be returning, and knowing I'd have to walk past there many times in the future.
Eventually I came upon a tiny Japanese eatery called Bententei, who specialized in bento boxes.
I opted for bento box A, which included karaage chicken, gyoza, a nori roll, and salad.
Given the time, the place wasn't as busy as I expected, but at least I could eat undisturbed.
The food was delicious, and I left a happy customer. I'd definitely be back again.
As I mentioned, Belmoral was tiny, so there wasn't much to do. There was a school, a post office, a park, a supermarket, the Cheerful Hippo and Bententei, and not much else.
So I walked back to my apartment and opened Instagram, then performed a search for Solo Dining Adventurers.
You may be surprised, but there's a lot of people who, even if they don't choose to at first, eventually embrace the idea of dining alone. So they check out different restaurants, cafes, bistros, and document their experiences online as a solo diner.
While living in the city, I got into solo dining as a way of finding peace and time for myself. When you're dining alone, there's no one to bother or rush you, you can go at your own pace, and it quickly became my favourite manner of dining.
I didn't have many friends in any case.
The following day, once more Bententei was my lunch spot of choice. I discovered they offered okonomiyaki, Osaka-style savoury pancakes. The ingredients consisted of shredded cabbage, egg, spring onion, and topped with a special okonomiyaki sauce, mayo, powdered nori, and Benito flakes.
If that wasn't enough, the lady serving me asked if I'd like any additional ingredients, such as crispy bacon or karaage. I said yes to the latter.
While waiting, an older lady entered the eatery and proceeded to order the exact same thing as myself: okonomiyaki, with extra karaage. Trying not to look surprised, I kept my eyes locked on my table.
A few minutes passed, and I received my order. As I made my first bite, I felt somewhat self-concious, hoping the woman wouldn't notice I was eating the same thing as her.
Upon finishing, my mouth felt dry, so I bought a Mount Franklin spring water to quench my thirst. The lady was almost finished with her okonomiyaki when I returned to my table and had a sip of water.
I paid at the front and when I turned to leave, the lady was standing in my way.
'Oh, sorry,' I stammered. It had long since become instinctual for me to apologize to people.
'No need,' she said, smiling slightly.
I stepped past her awkwardly, and outside to Piper Avenue. As before, I couldn't think of anything to do, so I decided to head home.
Before I could, though, the door from the eatery opened behind me, and I saw the woman appear from it.
'First time I've seen you around,' she said to me, totally casual.
I blinked. What should I say?
She smiled. 'This is a small town, as I'm sure you've gathered. When there's someone new around, they're easy to spot.'
I cleared my throat. 'The food here is good.'
'Agreed. And it seems we have similar taste.' She winked.
The sky was dark and overcast, and as forecasted the rain began to tumble down. The lady waved goodbye, and we turned in separate directions, my mind full of various thoughts.
Bententei wasn't open tomorrow, unfortunately. I spent the day indoors, listening to the steady pounding of the rain.
The day after, the rain had stopped at last, though the weather was very cold. I wondered if Bententei made miso soup? It would really be ideal on a day like this.
Stepping inside, I asked them as much, and the owner confirmed that yes, they do make miso soup. Tofu or no tofu? Tofu, please, I replied. I hoped it'd be especially chunky tofu like they served at a place I went to in the city.
Bententei was busier today, and it was soon filled to capacity. There was still a chill in the air, though as my soup was served, I could see the sun breaking through the clouds.
It was around this time that the lady entered the eatery. She quickly noticed me, and walked towards my table.
'What did you order? Miso?'
I nodded. 'Seemed ideal on a day like this.'
She smiled. 'Agreed.'
Walking up to the counter, the lady ordered herself a bowl of miso soup, then noticed the place was completely packed.
'Can I sit here?' she asked, placing her hand on the chair across from mine.
I smiled. 'Of course.'
'My name's Meredith.'