By my middle years I had built a living through using measurable skills, habits and routines so I could live, celebrate or exist in some safety, away from the shellfire endured by those who are careless of their wellbeing and happy to venture beyond those boundaries created for our survival by common sense.
On Wednesday I ate chicken on a bed of freshly boiled spinach. Thursday was mince and peas on a bed of rice, with onions,spices and chilli for a bit of heat, and so it continues. I played golf with the same group of people every Saturday afternoon and my handicap was unchanged in fifteen years. On weekends at breakfast I would have nothing but toast and marmalade. The marmalade brand might differ, but that was all. I could sit there with my paper, always delivered, and discuss the merits of one brand against another with anyone who would listen, or a fly.
I was not a risk taker, adventurer, free thinker or explorer but if you wanted an opinion on the use of alloys and protecting cement abrasions in construction work I was the man to ask. I never took a risk in my entire life, but, armed with my skills, I skirted round visible dangers and moved quietly and determinedly towards a well-planned retirement, and then there was you.
Every Saturday I took my coffee at the local café and one morning you were there, speaking in some eastern-European accent. “Are you living Mr” you asked me and I looked up and saw your impish challenging face: the very look of you was demanding, and seemed to be asking, “Is this all you are ?” and I grinned uncertainly, because you made me feel ashamed of my choices.
You were like a moth, a bee, a flower or muse, who would challenge me to cast aside the apparel of boredom and face life with demanding urgency. Like all adventurers you gave advice without a thought for consequence, but we know how stupid men can be don’t we, and I was nothing special.
Beautiful, quirky and personal, you talked to me as if I mattered. As if you had been looking out for me to enter the café and I felt myself laying aside my caution and willing to risk anything for a sense my life could still be beautiful, enchanting and unplanned and make me worthy of your attention.
I had a wife of sorts. Someone who grumbled at my every movement, and who was quick to observe how boring I was. We ground against each other in that habitual way so many of us describe as “Being happy with our lot.”. We were predictable, but not uncaring of each other’s welfare, but now there was you: smiling, flirting, taking an interest in a man who did not merit it. Seeing something in me which no one else had seen until your smile became the highlight of my week and then its ruin.
For some reason, as I passed you to buy some ketchup from the shop one morning, you reached up and kissed me, or bumped faces or something: a clumsy joke of sorts, nothing and everything, but with just that hint of danger thrill-seekers like a taste of on occasion. I was baffled more than anything, but also touched.
Someone saw it happen, on the street and in broad daylight. She must have told my wife because two days later my wife met me at the door when I returned from work. Her eyes were dark and had the anger in them it takes a generation to create. She said, “You disgust me,” and I understood her. It was the first honest conversation we had held in a number of years. There are so many ways to be a fool I’ve discovered, but later I found out you were just saying goodbye. You left as abruptly as you came, leaving the questions you posed as your parting gift.