On the cab ride home, I keep checking my phone for a call or text – anything from Harry explaining why he left our date like a mother ostrich to its threatened egg. The cab driver keeps talking to me but I am too rattled for idle conversation. I just want to get home. It’s been an emotionally taxing night having to keep calm during a surprise meetup with Harry’s snarky ex-wife. I feel the exhaustion setting in when I walk through my door. The Shiraz I had with my steak puts me right to sleep.
Nina’s key scratching the door lock wakes me up at ten in the morning. She’s come home from business school for the weekend and I’m glad for the company, groggy and hangover as I am. I had expected Harry to at least text or call by morning, but there’s still no word from him. Sigh. We’ve hit a slump in photography work so Sally comes over to hang out over lunch and an Anna Kendrick movie marathon. By the time he calls, it is afternoon. He glosses over the night’s events. Listening to him is like watching someone apply a fresh coat of varnish over dusty wood. He says one of the twins had a stomach ache but she’s fine now.
“Did you see a doctor?”
“No. We gave her some chamomile tea. I don’t think she’ll need to see a doctor.”
“Oh. Okay,” I want to leave it there but I have a question so burning that I can’t bite it back. “Couldn’t the mother have just done that though?”
“No, no. It’s better that she called. I prefer to be there because sometimes Vivian overreacts.”
“Oh, okay.” So that wasn’t an overreaction? “I’m glad she’s well.”
“I got home safe,” I say when it becomes clear that he’s not going to ask.
“Right, right. Yes. You took a cab?”
I consider telling him off but I just can’t summon the anger. I’m not angry – I’m disappointed. I feel like I just discovered the first scratch on a new car, a poignant reminder that new things get old just like everything else. My bubble has burst. I had hoped that because he’s older, and he has a failed marriage under his belt, he’d have learned by now that it’s the little things that chip away at a good relationship. A misstep can be forgiven if it is corrected in good time, but he hasn’t done that.
If there was a part of me that was beginning to yield to him, it has turned back hard. He won’t know that though because I won’t say anything. He’ll think that he’s gotten away with it. Relationships can sometimes be a game of hide and seek where you have to call each other out, but they are powered by connection. And human connection is an ember you have to keep blowing on otherwise it dies out and the relationship stunts. Has he learned nothing at all?
“What are you doing later?” he asks.
The way he ambushed me with meeting his ex-wife was unpleasant, but the date afterward settled the silt in that puddle. Then he leaves and comes back to me with this lousy call? It’s like he’s jabbed a stick right back in and muddied it. I’m not doing anything in particular later, but I don’t want to see him. I tell him I’m chilling with my girls.
“We can meet up,” he says, not in his usual lets-do-it way. He’s just throwing it out there as a possibility which tells me he’s not too keen on it. That’s all right. I’m looking to wriggle out of it anyway.
“Nah, it’s a girls-only kind of thing,” I say. “Another time perhaps.”
Nina and Sally make faces when I tell them what happened.
“It just sounds like this ex was trying to ruin your date,” Sally says.
Nina agrees. “It sounds like she was trying to show you she has him wrapped around her finger.”
“Right?” I say. “That’s exactly what I thought! And he played right into her hand. The kid probably wasn’t even sick, and even if she was I think she saw an opportunity to take advantage of the situation and leapt at it. Then he says ati he’s glad she called because ‘sometimes Vivian overreacts’. Tsk! I swear, if he’s one of those men with a soft spot for the ex, I can’t deal. I don’t want to be in the middle of that.”
I feel confident in my stance with my compadres backing me. Sally suggests that I need a good old rager to quell my sour mood. She’s going out with Leiyan and his friends later and she thinks we should all go. Leiyan is the flight dispatcher she’s dating. If it’s anything like some of the parties Kagwe took me to, it sounds like a riot. I’m in.
The hang is in Westlands – one of those hipster joints that sell craft beer. It smells of onions and debauchery – just what I need tonight. There are seven of us huddled next to an outdoor gas heater on the terrace sharing platters of lamb chops and chicken. There’s a live band playing funk that I’m sure Harry would be thrilled by. I’m tempted to send him a video clip of this lit session but that would require me admitting that I blew him off. Bummer.
Sally is feeling herself in this little red dress and is so engrossed in conversation with Leiyan I have to roll my eyes at her the way she’s head over heels for him. He does appear enthralled with her, seeing how she’s doing most of the talking but he hasn’t touched his ribs. I’m thrilled for her. I hope she’s found a good egg. Nina is talking to a flight attendant that looks like he wouldn’t say boo to a goose. She will swallow him whole ha-ha! I seem to be the isolated one even though I’m sitting next to this graceful giraffe that keeps offering me her vape.
“It’s vodka, right?”
I turn around to look at the familiar voice whisper-shouting in my ear.
“I thought that was you,” he says pressing his scruffy, stubble beard against my cheek. “Vodka girl.”
“Jonathan? Is that you?” I squeal.
Jonathan and I have history. It’s a short one. We went out a few times and then he left the country for a job with an air freight company. The end. He was a first officer then. Now he’s pulled up a chair next to me and is telling me he’s got his flight hours in order, just got back to interview for a new job as a Captain. He calls the waiter over and orders me a bottle of vodka despite my protests. I wasn’t planning on hard drinking tonight.
“We’re sharing this though,” I say.
“No, no. That’s for you. I’m more of a beer guy.”
What can I tell you about Jonathan? He’s cut from the cloth of men who can pull off chubby cheeks and fill out a dusty-pink blazer. He has a cheeky, boyish smile and a strong presence despite his low-pitched voice. He wears a silver watch which is deceptively modest, because he’s pinned an onyx brooch on the collar of his coat like the Queen Majesty herself. It’s a curved king chess piece set in sterling silver that has matching cufflinks to go with. If that’s not male accessorizing, I don’t know what is.
Turns out, he’s friends with the vaping giraffe’s boyfriend – they all worked together before he left. He asks a lot of questions about everything I’ve been up to since he left and challenges my answers so that I have to defend them.
“Are you still friends with that lad?”
“Oh don’t be coy. You were so smitten with him you wouldn’t even look at me –”
“What do you mean look at you! We went out, didn’t we?”
“…wouldn’t even look at us poor three-stripe fellas when you were with hanging with the big, bad captains –”
“That’s not true!”
“It is too!”
On and on we go. The vodka isn’t helping matters either. He’s circled his arm around my chair such that every time he’s driving a point in some stimulating debate he has roused, he draws circles around my shoulder blades with his fingers, sending tremors down my back. He has many points to make and they’re all perfect sense. Mehn. I’m in trouble here.
When we’re not debating, we’re dancing and he’s winning at that too. He doesn’t settle for groping and grinding like other insufferable characters I have met. He has fun with it, makes just the right amount of eye contact absent of suggestiveness. He doesn’t let his hands stray. Instead he twirls me around, occasionally leading me in a dance and singing along to the parts of a song he likes. It’s dancing, not foreplay. And yet, if you lean in close enough you can almost hear the hum of the current between us.
Even though we all left the house together, when Jonathan showed up it turned from the kind of night you call each other when you get home, to the kind you text each other when you’re safe. I don’t have to worry about Sally, and Nina says to stop mothering her so when it’s time to go, I leave with Jonathan. He says he’s in the mood for pizza, so there we are in his 2010 Fortuner looking for a 24-hour pizza place.
The seven-minute wait when the post-drinking munchies have hit and I can smell the cheese melting off the bread is unbearable. I tell Jonathan that I need a distraction, otherwise I might just climb over the counter and make the pizza myself. He turns me towards him and says he’s testing a private helicopter the next week and would I like to come.
“Am I allowed to come?”
“Sure. I’m the captain. It’s my craft. I’ll bring whomever I want.”
“Yes! Now you’re my kind of captain.”
“Oh now I’m your kind of captain?”
“Come here,” he pulls me by the waist right between his thighs and plants a seismic kiss on me, I swear the lights in the pizza place flicker. They flicker. Or maybe my brain short circuits a bit – I don’t know. I have to bite my lips afterwards to keep from teeming with euphoria and spontaneously combust right there.
Whoa. Way to confuse things Mel. Way to confuse things.
Taste of Mel continues here: Grown Folk18