“Neola left me the other day, you know.”
“I heard from Pete. Did she give a reason?”
“She wouldn’t. Just kept apologizing, kept saying that things weren’t right, that she wasn’t good enough for me, that if we stuck together, it would only end in a mess. I pleaded of course, crying. Not much of the man you supposed I was, eh?” He chuckled for a moment, then sank back into gloom.
“Things were going so well, you know. I mean, heck, they weren’t perfect – she wasn’t perfect, but I could really see a future with her. The loving housewife, scurrying kids, nice pretty house with a huge yard, the occasional trekking trips. She loves trekking. We were down at the orchards just by Eschacia Lane last week. Sat beneath an apple tree and waited till the sun set. I don’t know what -”
He fell quiet, tipped his head forward and sank it into his hands. I rested mine lightly on his back. A slight quivering was gaining momentum; I could feel it. What could I say – what should I? What if my words betrayed me and made the situation even worse?
Thankfully, he sniffed and shifted himself in the way a person does when he wishes to speak.
“There must’ve been something, right? I mean, people don’t just leave all of a sudden. Something must have happened; triggered something in her, I don’t know. We had years of memories behind us for goodness sake! Some trifle couldn’t have the strength to heave it all up and dump them into a vacuum. What was it then – what was it? And she keeps telling me this and that and this, but never the bloody truth.”
Just then, something struck me. “Look, if she would leave you now, and without a damn reason, then who’s to say she wouldn’t leave you in the future? She isn’t a good girl, Jimmy. Let her go. Let her mess up somewhere else and then regret that she ever left you. She’s a skipper – it’s pointless trying to get her to settle.”
I was strangely convinced was of those harsh words even though I had known Neola for almost as long as Jimmy did, and known her always as that sweet, charming girl whom everyone knew would eventually settle in a nice family portrait. But how wrong I was, how wrong we all were; deceived by daintiness and an innocence of demeanor, and made the sorry fools of her great escapade.
I faked a glance at my watch and began inching up slowly.
“I have to go now, alright? That old geezer’s chasing my tail again; wouldn’t rest till I’ve finished the piece on Regine Olsen. Don’t be too hard on yourself. It wasn’t your fault. But let out the steam if you have to. Just remember that you deserve better. Take care, Jimmy.”
Swiftly, I collected my bag, patted him once more on the back, then hurried out of the bar and onto the bustling tarmac beyond.
Traffic swallowed the next thirty minutes, and in the next moment, I removed myself from the tarmac. Reviewers have been raving about this restaurant – the “finest Mediterranean cuisine”. I had intended to try their baked lobsters – if only my appetite were not punctured.
“Reservation for two, under the name, Young.”
The sharp-suited receptionist guided his pen gracefully down the list, then finally exclaimed: “Ah yes, Mr Young, a lady is already waiting for you. If you would,” gesturing towards the paradise of aroma. I thought to tell him that ‘Young’ didn’t belong to me, but then felt too languorous to engage in such trivial corrections.
Following closely behind, I passed a table whose occupants were gaily lifting artichokes to their mouths, and immediately I recalled the time when I first tasted artichokes. It was with a friend. The artichokes had come grilled, with a special green olive sauce, and upon tasting them, we both thought it was the most delicious thing ever. Naturally, naively, insouciantly, we devoured plate-fulls of them. On the next day, however, I learnt that my friend had been beset by a hearty fever and some really stubborn rashes, and had to convalesce for a day in the hospital. I never dared eat artichokes again. Quickly, I made a mental note to not order them later, that is, if I had any appetite at all.
Upon arriving at the table, I was immediately received by an eclectic embrace. I inhaled deeply – the usual, redolent Chypre. She has always been fond of that. And so, recently, have I.
“How is he?”
Her gaze languished and fell to the floor, as if the optimism that held it up had too lost its will.
“Let’s leave that aside now. I’ve only just placed an order for some of those lobsters you were so excited about. Shall we?” She beckoned me to the cushioned seat opposite hers.
I stood still for awhile, contemplating the words I ought to begin with.
“Neola, I don’t think this can go on any longer. I don’t think it should.”
“What – What are you saying? We’ve been through this before. And you said it yourself that – ”
“I’m sorry, Neola. It just has to be.”
I left before she could say another word.