They agreed to meet in a pub near where she lived.
It is what he does from time to time – asks her out for a drink or a meal, depending how much money he can spare.
Only rarely he lets her pay and only if she insists and he judges that she can afford it.
She was late and reproached herself for it; the place is only few minutes from her flat, while he probably had to walk all the way from his downtown office. She really should have been more organized. The whole day she was aware of that engagement. And it was after four in the afternoon.
She tried to remember what was she doing all day; it took an awful long time to peel herself off the bed, the wind rattled the front door all night – she hardly slept. Sweating was terrible too. Must be withdrawals. Her doctor said something about that last time she saw him which was not long ago but she could not remember what. She remembered him (the doctor) standing very close to her and stroking her arm then brushing his hands over her breasts. Which, she briefly thought are still rather firm and responsive.
Only later it occurred to her that she should have probably said something. Like – what do you think you are doing – or something like that, like those English women say. Easy for them – their mothers probably taught them how to do it.
Then there was business of washing and dressing. It took even longer. She felt big and ugly and lazy. Every move was like wading through the thick undergrowth. Paddling through swamp. In the end she threw well-worn dress over and shoes she once thought boring. It does not matter she thought – he is just a friend.
The place was empty but for a few middle-age men loudly betting on horses under the giant TV screen. Interior arranged to match shabbiness of their living rooms. Working-class pride.
She spotted him immediately – caressing a pint of a pale-yellow beer at one of the tables close to veranda. So she can easily go outside for a smoke.
He had a fresh haircut and a new looking shirt.
His greeting was of a familiar, carefully rationed warmth. She once asked him about it and he explained that he must be careful not to encourage her feelings for him since he cannot possibly give her what she truly wants and deserves, which he pronounced to be; ‘all consuming passion’. He is just not capable of it being of Anglo-Saxon stock and raised by a war-veteran father and an overly strict mother.
At the time she thought of asking him what does he really mean by it, but thought better of it. She learned that, every now and then he would say odd things like that.
By the time she sat down and managed the smile, beads of sweat were traveling down her spine soaking her back and making stripes of her bra cutting into flesh.
He walked to the bar to bring their drinks and hot chips. She watched him eat in a way he does; with an apologetic greediness. A little boy comforting himself – hands deep in his mother’s most precious jar before she catches him. Guilty.
Yeah, not too bad. You?
Ok, I guess. Still on holiday.
Wow that’s long.
Yeah, coming to an end, dreading going back.
Work is good – pays rent.
You should do something with yourself.
Here – it is your local I am introducing you to.
Look around; see those men over there where TV is?
She laughed hysterically; high pitched, uncontrollable outburst. Covered her mouth with hand and rubbed tears (supposedly from laughter) from her face.
What are you laughing like that for? Don’t you know what happens in pubs? You look around, flirt a bit, they buy you a drink or two, have a chat, take them home and if you still like them in the morning – do it again.
Really? I think I rather stick to my hourly rate.
You still doing it then?
Nah, just kidding. Too tired.
Nicking you mean? Nah, lost the touch. Too slow. Got scared of cops after the last time.
Good. Stay scared. Don’t get into any more trouble.
What’s to you?
They left the pub and he walked her into the nearby dairy where loud noise announced their arrival to an Indian man standing behind the counter over-stocked with sweets.
He insisted on buying her a bar of chocolate before walking her home.