Nothing else in the world sounds like the noise, the din of the school cafeteria at lunchtime. And, like a thing so unerringly itself, all school cafeterias at lunchtime have the same merry chaos when filled with kids at long tables, collapsible, with reddish-coral coloured formica tops, benches running down either side.
If the benches are occupied, the surfaces are covered with food wrappings, hardboiled egg shells, open lunch boxes, drink-boxes, peanut butter and jelly mingling with ham and cheese, cheetos traded handily for oreo cookies. Carrot and celery sticks present, but rarely eaten. Conversations elbowing into each other, shouts tossed with glee that would only be passed like forbidden notes, like sly looks in the classroom.
If the benches are empty, the surfaces are either scattered with crumbs and small spills or recently wiped and still smelling of cleaner. The damp circles where the lunch lady or custodian wiped the table are an echo of the motion, cleaning up all the mess left behind with a gesture quick, efficient, not without love, but not wholly patient either, shuttling uneaten crusts of tuna sandwiches and sticky liquids of lunchtime diplomacy into the trashcan with a clean sweep. With a similar wave, the kids are swept out the door and on to the playground to continue this hard work of playground politics.