It’s early. I’ve done the walk. Visited the shops I care to, swiftly passing those that have no interest, cursing under my breath for those that are already closed, chased out of those that are closing. Not enough time to decide on something to buy. Just as well, since the card is getting slightly loose through those swiping slots.
I’ve walked to the meeting place, and I’ve stood against a wall across the road, to be obvious in my light clothes against the dark brickwork. Six minutes to go, time to play with my mobile phone, to check whether some errant numbers have slipped through the spring-cleaning from last month. Every so often I look up to see whether he has arrived.
Four minutes after six, and now I’m mildly concerned as to where he is. Three years is a long time to try and recall whether he was a punctual person, so I give up and assume he was never punctual. Life does that, I guess. Your brain makes up stuff you can’t remember, but feels right. Did your grandma touch you there? I don’t remember, but it feels right, sort of thing. No, my own grandma never did touch me there – I’m simply trying to make a point.
Another three minutes. Now I’m walking around the meeting place. People are interesting to watch, especially when they are oblivious to it. I make and break eye contact with some of the better-looking people; amused at the expressions some of them have on their faces. My mobile rings. Is it he? No, it’s an ex of mine, who is still not really an ex. Listening to my conversation in the third person is my guardian angel. You still love him, he says. He still loves you, the ex says. You still love him, you think. Damn those hormones.
Six minutes again, and the phone call is over. I walk around the meeting place again, backwards and forwards, tapping my phone against my mouth in time to the beat of the music being played in the meeting place. It’s not a restaurant or a pub unless I am inside. For now, it’s a meeting place and so it shall stay. And I won’t go inside until he arrives, because then I will become lost in the crowd, and that defeats the object of standing out from the crowd.
Crowds are uncomfortable animals for me. They have their own conscience, and that is stronger than the individual will. People are like sheep in that way – the herd instinct takes over and they become part of the crowd. That’s why people are amazing to watch. He begins to fade from my thoughts as I take a more interesting view of the crowd. Almost one hundred individuals. Loud ones, fat ones, thin ones, black ones, women, white executives, old men, Australians. They must be here for the cricket, I think. But I must be wrong. The cricket is being played in Australia, isn’t it? Who knows?
More people, more eye contact, less place to stand at the bar, less place to sit at the tables. He enters my head again, but more of a vague uneasy feeling. Perhaps I don’t want to see him again after all. Sure we met up again after three years a couple of months ago, but then we were part of a crowd, not two individuals, so it didn’t count. Had our photo taken as well, but it didn’t count. We didn’t exchange phone numbers – email seems so much easier, doesn’t it?
I walk around the meeting place, inside the main building, down the street, around the corner, but still in full view of the entrance, perhaps because I’m meeting him here, and I don’t want my waiting to be in vain because he missed me as I went around the corner and out of sight. God forbid. So I’m always in full view. The executives look at me as I walk around, and yet I ignore them, despite some particularly cute ones being at the table. That’s the problem with trying to check out guys – they’re always with ugly friends.
The clouds in the sky are starting to threaten some form of excessive moisture. I decide after endless pacing to sit down. By now, it’s almost seven. A table that wasn’t there before appears, with three stools. I choose one where I can look into the restaurant. I’m now part of the crowd. The two people outside begging for money to save up for college are now outsiders looking in. I’m just another sheep. A waiter, cute enough to be stupid, asks me what he can get me. I ask for a menu. Now I contemplate calling directory enquiries to get his number (not the waiter’s), and I only hang up once someone answers. I decide that I do want to see him, but not that desperately.
What kind of idiot arranges to meet someone without having some form of contact number anyway? So I sit for ten minutes. The waiter sees me, remembers that I asked for a menu (see what I mean about stupid?), and brings me one thirty seconds later. They’ve changed it since I was last here. New prices are usually the reason, unless it’s a place with very little budget, in which case they use silly little stickers, or correction ink, and write the prices over. Tacky, tacky, tacky. It reminds me of the place I went with the ex and a friend, where the menu was strictly chalk on blackboard. Original, but impractical, since the waiter had to drag it to each table. I ask for a filter coffee.
My dumb waiter returns with the coffee and disappears again, and I decide on a glorified steak roll. When the waiter returns, I ask him how big it is, and he explains how it’s actually two flattened steaks on a piece of French loaf, smothered with this and that. I ask for one. He offers a refill for my coffee. I never take refills. I say yes. The clouds are threatening excessive wetness again, and I swear at the sky. I tell the clouds to fuck off, imagining that I could actually do that. I ask for a little patch of blue sky while the sun is still up.
The coffee comes and goes, the clouds come and go. I look up, see my patch of sky, and ask why he couldn’t be here either. If it were that easy, I would have asked for him over an hour ago. Meanwhile, the food arrives. I watch the people. I see a cute waiter inside. Blond is my favourite, despite the ex being Mediterranean. Who knew? The food is brilliant. Flattened steaks or not, they go down a treat. I lose interest in everything but the meal.
My dinner is over in fifteen minutes. Sad when I think that I’ve been in the area for two hours already. I hope the parking won’t be too expensive. Then I wonder whether they have a flat fee after five. Probably. The waiter comes back and asks if I’d like anything else. I tell him my chips are the undefeated champions as he takes the plate away, and order a gin and dry lemon. He asks double or single. I tell him single, making the action of driving. He smiles, I smile, he walks away, and he still hasn’t arrived. Am I angry? Disappointed? Worried? All of the above? Yes. But not really. Angry for not having planned this better, but I still get a great (albeit expensive) meal, some amusement from observing the sheep and then becoming one.
My drink lasts me half an hour. I make it last because I want to wait until eight, just in case I misinterpreted the meeting time. Eight arrives and departs. I mutter that it’s time to go, and I ask the waiter for my bill. It’s not a lot for one person considering the area, but for the amount I could have had two full lunches. I still give him almost twenty percent tip. He deserves it. He takes away my card (loose as ever), and brings it back with the paper to sign. I sign it, he makes small conversation because he’s never seen that particular brand before. I mention the lower interest rate and he understands. And he never arrives. I’ll decide what to say come the morning.