The Lonely Lunch

“You swiped it the wrong way,” the West Side Dining cashier at the front of the line said. She was referring to my faulty attempt at swiping my ID card. This was never a responsibility I had to worry about before.

When I finally got the correct orientation and swiping speed right, I walked through the roped-off area and into the deserted dining hall. Feeling like a prisoner confined to the thin stretch of linoleum before me, I got in line – six feet behind the person in front of me.

The once-bustling dining hall – usually crammed with tables and chairs filled with chattering students going on about their classes and upcoming exams – was virtually empty. Barely five students were scattered about the place, seated at single tables to comply with social distancing rules, gobbling their lunch by themselves. Before the coronavirus, a variety of foods from different cultures were offered up at multiple serving stations. Now, it’s been reduced to two. On this day, I must choose between the burger I have every day or chicken and rice. 

The silence is eerie – no music, no chatter, no laughter, just the occasional clanking of metal catering pans to break the quiet. 

I resort to bringing my take-out to my dorm, away from the reminders of how much the energy of Stony Brook University has changed. I pity the freshman who have yet to experience the liveliness of this campus and its crowded, noisy dining halls – where I reveled in my guilty pleasure of people watching. Perhaps they’ll find out next year when life at Stony Brook – and around the world – may be better.