As told by Mel
The week after Jonathan and I leave Naivasha, I find myself at a golf club on Monday evening. The clouds have taken on a blue hue that is absent of any warmth, keeping in tune with the day that has been. My shoes clack against the wooden floor as I enter a reception area with a better aesthetic than my living room. Its walls extend to the first storey so that the ceiling is high and imposing. On one side of the upper storey is a green vine crawling along the wall, its tender tendrils hanging loose like a woman’s hair on a summer day. Opposite it are open windows from which laughing voices and the rousing aroma of a sauce that makes my stomach rumble, are drifting out.
I haven’t eaten, because Sally and I were at the office all day compiling the photographs I took from the helicopter ride with Jonathan into a photo essay. As I was off the clock when I took them, we hoped to pitch the project to Makena and have a Travel Magazine she publishes buy the photos from us. In addition, Jonathan talked Bram into buying some of them to advertise their charter plane experience so I’m looking at a handsome payday at the end of the month.
I sit on one of three white couches in this reception area and straighten my dress over my knees, conscious of not giving Harry the wrong idea. I have had to respond to his calls. Even though Sally warned me to set the meeting in a public place of my convenience during the day, I was too keyed up to put it off another day. I agreed to link up after work at a clubhouse vastly out of my way.
I had time to go home for a quick shower and a much needed change of clothes. In any other place it wouldn’t matter if the security guard and I were both wearing cargo pants, but in places like this it matters. In places like this a gnarly supervisor in a crisp shirt might spot you and point you to the staff entrance in the back with instructions on how to carry the egg crates.I have nothing against egg crates but I do not fancy carrying them today nor explaining my work clothes to anyone, so I picked out a black, medium-length dress with a high neckline.
I had every intention of driving my van, but it still coughs and moans and has picked up a host of other afflictions since it last broke down. Now when I start it, I have to pump the gas pedal to get it going and the clutch screeches like a strange bird whenever I change the gear. In addition, it’s engulfed in this burning smell I can’t trace. My mechanic, in an attempt to reassure me (I think), tells me it is just the smell of old cars. Suffice to say, I left my van at home.
On the third wall are three paintings. Two seize my attention. One is of a closed door, an ancient door that appears to be sealed in place not only with heavy metallic latches, but also silt and cobwebs that have gathered up over the years. The other is a simple painting of a waterfall. I can’t help the connection I feel to these paintings. In the space of a week some heavy, creaky doors in the cosmos have given way and the life I have been waiting for has come crashing out. Everything’s changed.
To the side is a platter of hot, citrusy towels for the picking, and I’m contemplating taking one, if only to ease the raw cold from my fingers, when Harry walks in. Has it really only been a week? It feels like an eternity ago.
He hugs me and presses his freshly shaven chin on my cheek; it’s like sleeping on a pillow of pineapple peels. He’s wearing the same aftershave, but now it offends my senses. I even find it a tinge repulsive. If there was ever an attraction between us, it’s gone. The blinds have fallen and now the man stands stark before me. Now I notice the dirt under his uneven fingernails and the way he foams at the edges of his mouth when he speaks. Goodness! And we kissed?
He looks dapper in his blue, pinstripe suit, I’ll give him that. It’s crumpled now from sitting all day in court before this judge he swears has it out for him. The fatigue is evident when he rubs the folds on his forehead. A weight tugs on my heart because I’m not here to make his day better.
“Quick. What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you look at that door?” I ask him and point to the painting.
“Hodor,” he says, without missing a beat.
“Tsk, you’re a fanatic!”
“I am,” he says brimming with pride.
He does love Game of Thrones, I was counting on that to break the ice. He leads me towards the laughter and the sweet, tangy sauce upstairs. We have to stop at three tables to say hello to people he knows from work or golf. The orange light against the rustic, stone walls has a warm feel complimenting the dark, luxuriant, oak chairs upholstered in brown leather. The tablecloth, a brilliant white satin, caresses my shins as I settle in. There are freshly cut roses in a ceramic vase, next to a silver candlestick from which two scented candles are emitting a harsh, lavender scent. It’s a fantastic location, and if I weren’t here to break up with him it might even be romantic.
A waiter comes to our table and rattles off the menu, which we listen to keenly even though we both know we’re going to order a steak and no, we would not like to try the Chef’s special.
“So what have you been up to? It’s been a quiet few days,” he says, direct as always.
“Oh just…reconnected with an old friend, that’s all. You?”
“Work, home, work, home.”
I have nothing to say to that. I unconsciously start to crack my knuckles. He takes them in his and resists flinching when they burn him like ice.
“I’m sorry,” he says.
“What you’re mad about.”
“What am I mad about?” Silence. “You don’t know?”
It’s a blanket apology, a preemptive ‘I’m sorry’ that prevents us from getting to the crux of the matter. Thus, it can’t possibly be borne out of genuine remorse or a willingness to learn what not to do next time. It’s a game with preset moves and I’m supposed to play along. Because he has apologized I must now retreat or risk seeming irrational, unreasonable, demanding…
The waiter comes back with two bowls of oxtail soup, briefly interrupting our standoff. We nod appreciatively, tight smiles on our faces, and then go back to facing off as soon as he walks away.
“Maybe you should tell me. The way you’re looking at me, I have a feeling that whatever I say won’t be right.”
I think about it till a tightness takes over my temples. The whole thing is a lump of dung I wouldn’t pick at with a stick. I didn’t come here to hash things out. I came here to end things.
“It doesn’t matter now. I’ve changed my mind. I don’t think I can do this. It’s too much, too soon for me.”
“All of it. Your life.”
He looks as though a crack has split open and a different man is looking at me now. He looks stung. His voice deeper and softer around the edges, he says, “It’s all right if you’ve changed your mind. I said you could and you’re free to do so, any time. If you decide this is not for you, I’m all right either way.”
He’s all right either way? If I had come here looking to be swayed, that train has certainly left the station now. He ponders a moment and then looks through me, at nothing in particular, and says, “Take your time with decisions though. One wrong one and it changes the entire landscape of your life.”
I am confused as to whether he’s giving me advice or giving me insight into his life. Perhaps it’s a bit of both. I don’t much fancy this model of intermittent earnestness. As I sip my soup and give myself over to silent contemplation, I suppose that I could learn how to love him. I could learn how to placate him with his favorite meal, which hot button issues to steer clear off, what doe-eyed look to wear when I’m asking for something, or hot piece of lingerie when I’m asking for something big. I could learn how to do these things, but only for him. I couldn’t possibly do the same for his ex-wife and kids. It would be too exhausting, and only for a sliver of this man who only shows up erratically at best? I don’t think so.
“I don’t like who I would become with you. Your wife –”
Whatever. “She would turn me into a viper. I know it, I can already tell. And that’s no way to live. This is not what I want for myself.”
There, I’ve said it. I’ve said what I came here to say. What a load off. I heave. I hate that it has to end so tastelessly, like the crust of a melon, particularly because the melon itself was sweet. But what am I to do? It is what it is.
I feel strange staying for the rest of the meal, but it would’ve been worse if I’d waited till the end of it. Should I leave, or would that be adding insult to injury? I’m chewing on this conundrum when the waiter comes back to take our drink order. I look to Harry for answers but he excuses himself from the table and says to order what I want. There are pillars all over the restaurant blocking my view of where he’s gone. I can’t be certain that he’s even coming back.
“A glass of white wine please,” I say feeling brave. If he’s bailed and I have to pay for it, I’ll pay for it.
“Uhm, we only serve by the bottle.”
“Oh.” This changes everything! “Eer, just give me a moment to think about it.”
He purses his lips and walks away looking teed off, but I am determined not to feel out of my depth here. I tighten my chin, take the last sip of my soup and dab the edges of my mouth. Then I reach for my social crutch, my phone, and angrily peck out details of my night to Sally. She reacts with just the right amount of outrage, I feel so heard. Harry eventually comes back to the table with whiskey on his breath.
“Did you order?”
I shake my head.
“Bring the lady a bottle of whatever she wants,” he barks. The waiter, who was indignant only a moment earlier, scampers away with a ‘yes sir’.
“So you’ve changed your mind,” he says. I thought he had left but he must’ve been at the bar. “That’s not a problem. There’s no reason we can’t be friends, is there?”
I shake my head again. He’s gotten louder and sharper and is beginning to make a spectacle of us.
“Are you still driving that beat up van of yours?” his tongue has picked up a slur.
It is a beat up van but he says it with such venom, I can’t ward off the sting.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” he’s rambling now. “I promised I would help you find a new one and I will…even if you don’t want me,” he adds quietly, as an afterthought. “Even if you’ve changed your mind.”
“I would really rather you not trouble yourself with that,” I say.
“Of course, of course,” he waves me away. “Pardon my forgetfulness. Men line up at your doorstep offering to buy you cars, isn’t it?” he downs the glass of whiskey in one swig and burps. “Sindio Melissa?”
For the first time since we met, he’s actually called me by my name instead of some variation of it. I find it comical, given the circumstances, and have to bite back a chuckle. My mood lightens up as I realize that in a moment, the zap of the breakup will wear off. Harry will feel foolish for being so sour and we’ll continue to have a bearable dinner, after which I will call Jonathan on my way home and wish him the best on his final round of his upgrade interview. But for now, I have to sit it out and wait for this kindergartener to finish throwing his tantrum.
Taste of Mel continues here: Renegades