Khalid wakes up especially early on Thursdays. Normally his wife prepares breakfast for him on weekdays (and he returns the favour over the weekend, albeit not particularly well…). Thursdays are an exception to their usual tradition of eating three-course breakfasts atop their new oaken table, while bingeing on episodes of their favourite Netflix shows. On Thursdays, however, Khalid gets into the office early, and prepares breakfast for every single person there…

Maureen likes her Cornish pasties very well-toasted. Nadia likes her muesli drenched in condensed milk. Paulo likes his milk…vegan. And Khalid loves making breakfast for them; they are his family away from his family (i.e. his wife and their pet guinea pig).

Khalid likes the way his life revolves around systems: on days that are not Thursdays, he follows pretty much the very same routine: wakes up; kisses his wife on the cheek; picks his hamster up for a few minutes and feeds him; waters his plants; brushes his teeth in circles; sings very badly in the shower; cycles to work – via the exact same route each morning; enacts his work-based system, a whole different sort of daily protocol. Papers stamped; coffee made; stationery drawer organised… Sigh. Systems are just so wonderful, Khalid thinks to himself.

Things that rely on cycles, on consistency, on systems are just so much better than those that rely on chaos and randomness. Systems, systems, systems. Khalid would write a song about their beauty if only he possessed the creative abilities to do so…

Cogs in the machine; dominoes falling so gracefully, so predictably. On Fridays, Khalid likes to enjoy a solitary lunch at the bistro adjacent to his workplace. He orders his usual: pasta bolognese, tomato juice, some extra bread. But he likes to peruse the menu first, as if he does not already know exactly what he is getting.

The waiter comes around to take his order. Khalid notices a difference in the young man’s appearance: a left side-parting in his hair. A drastic change from his usual right side-parting.

The tomato juice now only takes up half the glass. Normally the drink comes closer to the top. The pasta portion seems bigger than usual. The bread a little too fluffy. The old woman at the till does not smile at him today. The newspaper stand is almost completely bare…

What on earth is going on?!

Then, the last straw: a purple straw instead of a green one. Khalid storms out of the restaurant in sheer fury: his systems are now in disarray.

Sadia Ahmed, 2020

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