Couple days ago I met up with a friend. We'd been pretty close in the past, but had eventually drifted apart. Still, over the years we've got into a routine of doing a bit of catch up now and then. On such occasions we'd get moderately drunk and talk about how our lives were going exactly according to plan and what lousy plan-makers we obviously were.
Two years ago she got married. Her husband is a wealthy businessman who made his fortune in the early nineties. He is slick, polite and keeps his cards close to chest. We get along well enough.
On that day I was tired because of some minor emergencies at work, but I didn't want to let her down: we hadn't seen each other for, give or take, seven months.
My friend looked gorgeously fresh, but pissed off. She told me that her little sister stood her up earlier even though they were supposed to go looking for new bedside lights or something and how she hates going shopping alone.
I suggested a little restaurant close to my work: my colleagues and I go there sometimes. It's tiny, tucked away in a back alley, almost completely hidden from the public eye: one has got to know it to find it. It looks smart: minimalistic, yet in dramatic black and purple, with a narrow smoky mirror on one wall that makes the room look bigger.
As we went in, she took a look and pulled a face.
- What's wrong? - I asked.
- Well, nothing. - But she wrinkled her nose in disapproval.
- Don't you like it here?
- Well…now that you asked … it looks so juvenile.
There we go.
I mean, Sunday morning I woke up with a zit on my chin. It was so huge I'm sure it would have talked back if spoken to. Same day I had a row with my mother (basically about nothing, but it was a fierce one nonetheless) and ate a whole box of old pralines I stashed away three weeks ago in the futile hope that they'd have the decency to disappear before I'd get hot and bothered about my life again and butcher them to wraps.
But does that make me juvenile? Well, maybe.
I let the remark pass anyway. Mainly for the sake of the evening that was laying ahead. Plus it rained and I didn't want to get soaked while looking for something more appropriate.
– Come on, - I urged her. - Give it a chance.
Reluctantly she gave in. We found a table; an easy-on-the-eye girl appeared, bringing along the menu cards and a basket full of crispy fresh bread.
My friend took her time going through the menu. I settled for a glass of red wine. She asked for some special sort of water they didn't have. After much ado she ordered an Insalata Rucola.
-Won't you have some wine? - I asked. - Are you pregnant?
- Are you crazy? We are leaving for Bali next week. I couldn't afford it.
I chuckled. – Come on, it won't burn a hole in your wallet.
Now she was talking in a patient tone that made me want to bounce all around the place.
-I'm talking about calories, dummy. Besides look, they don't even have a wine card here.
Yeah, right. Silly me.
She has never exactly been the whippiest hippie ever, but easygoing enough to drink a beer straight from the bottle, maybe even spill it. How things change.
She went on talking about bed lights, and how she was looking for a lampshade in some particularly bluish blue that apparently doesn't exist, but it can't be, can it? - Because look, the cushions I bought last month – they were exactly that colour and absolutely gorgeous, though it took ages to find them.
I drifted off and back to her soliloquy without her noticing as much.
- And what have you been up to lately?
Her question caught me off guard.
- Well, not much. - Somehow I couldn't come up with anything interesting to say.
She sniffed suspiciously at her plate then stabbed the lonely little rocket leaf that strayed from its friends in distress with the fork. She nibbled on it and pushed her salad aside.
The waitress reappeared. My friend handed her plate back.
-The parmesan was way too ripe. For this kind of salad one is supposed to take a younger one. Now we are done with starters, I'd love to have… do you serve beef? But make sure it's not a beef jerky on arrival.
As the girl darted off (not without giving us an evil eye) my companion turned her attention back to me.
- Are you still dancing?
- Oh, yes, – I answered.
- Really? - She looked uneasy.
- Why not?
- Oh, well, I don't know. I always thought that sooner or later you'd kind of grow out of it. Like, move on.
- I don't know. Do you think I should?
- Well, yeah. After all it's not something you are going to do till you are all old and rusty. I mean, wouldn't it look a bit pathetic?
Our food arrived. I ordered another glass of wine.
…She let her beef congeal on the plate in front of her, while musingly watching me eat.
- How is your fish?
-Oh, great, great. - Discretely I moved my plate closer to the table edge: I was half expecting her to fork in my potatoes so she could start moaning on my behalf.
By the time we ordered coffee I was exhausted, craved my bed and some crappy book. Finally, the waitress brought our check over.
-Let my pay. – I grabbed my purse.
- Please, don't. Don't, - my friend said. - I'll pay, ok?
She left a generous tip.
The rain stopped, but the humid air wrapped itself heavily around our shoulders.
-You must be hungry. - At once I felt guilty.-You didn't eat much. Next time you choose where we go, ok?
Oh, no problem. - She smiled lightly. – Anyway I haven't been eating much lately. - She slipped into silence for a moment. - Sorry if I was a bit on a whiny side today. Sometimes I just can't help it. - Briefly she turned away and I noticed the almost girlish thinness of her neck. - Doesn't it suck to be so … She was looking for a word.
- Mature? – I threw in quizzically.
She glared at me and then we laughed.