It’s weird how you’ll be sitting at a restaurant, alone. Warm ambiance, walls decorated minimally with African art. They all seem to have African art nowadays. The wait staff lurk in the background until they are needed. They read your body language and anticipate a need. They are polite. They smile when they serve you. You would not be able to know that they had a quarrel in the back room after they had to return a steak that was apparently wasn’t medium rare. They had their ears chewed by an erratic client. There is always an erratic client. And the chef had to whip up another meal, the manager had to apologize profusely and offer a discount and the wait staff had to accept and move on with the fact that they would not be tipped.
In the background there is soft music playing. It is not music you know but there’s something soothing about it. The music does not compete with the attention of strangers; which means you can easily have a conversation, crack a joke, laugh, and let the music punctuate an awkward silence should you let’s say order a cheese burger for your date and hand-over-mouth exclaims she’s vegan. Vegan. That’s the new trend. Everyone is vegan. They say it with some sort of skewed arrogance and self-importance you would think they cured world hunger. Announcing you do not eat meat has become the new #WCW. Which if you have noticed died, no one posts their crush anymore. Guys only did it to score cool points but while they scored cool points with one female they lost cool points with a potential. So now the only people posting their crushes are girls posting pictures of themselves with the tongue or booty out.
In the middle of balancing a savory chicken wing between your teeth and fingers and trying to prevent the sauce from splashing on your white shirt you will see her walk in. A familiar face. A familiar gait. A familiar air of confidence around her. Someone fumbles over themselves to show her an open table but she’s seen you too. She’ll light up, amble over towards you and stretch her hand out for a shake. Let’s say her name is Evelyn. Someone you dated a while back in campus. One of those free spirited ladies that did not mind the cheap thrills seeing as it was all any of you guys could afford anyway. You guys had a short lived fling but ended things amicably. No nasty Facebook posts punctuated with bitterness and strife. Just the occasional “Hey, how are you doing” messages on off Tuesday lunch times.
After the break up you guys missed each other but were just at different places in life. She was more goal oriented. She had her eyes set on a few things and her priorities were in order. There was a plan to everything she did. An order. It was almost meticulous. You were the stereotypical campus guy. Living days as they came. Enjoying the fleeting youth and making mistakes. Though the connection was there you were just in different places. It would never work. Not without compromise. Her compromise.
Anyway you ignore the handshake, slap it off playfully and get up for a hug. She still smells nice. The last time you heard from the class what app group is she had scored some job at a PR firm. Lucrative. You guys catch up on a few things, relive a few memories and pause when the waiter comes to take her order before getting lost in nostalgia. The usual questions will fly around. The where have you been, what are you doing, where did so and so go and it will feel like a recap of your lives rolled into a conversation. You will catch up on each other’s life and when you are up to date with all their affairs you propose to take the party elsewhere. Catch a drink and then go home. You only do that because it feel like the right thing to do.
As is always with when there’s alcohol on the table conversation goes unchecked. Your conversation gets a little bit deeper as she casually mentions she has one kid and has been married for three years. You pause and think. Three years. That’s a long time for someone her age to be married. She mentions that they met right after you broke up. No shit. You say. You insinuate that the guy had always been in the picture. Your luck can’t be that rotten. That right after you the next guy marries her, gives her a kid and they live happily ever after. But it is all in good jest. So you ask about the guy. What’s he like? Deep down you want to hear that he is n asshole that swallows the toothpaste after brushing. But also deep down you want to hear that he is a good guy. That he dots his i’s and crosses his t’s. That he calls at odd times during the day to say a sweet something. That in the middle of meeting he usually texts to say he will run late but then shows up on time carrying a box of chocolates and a greasy burger.
Turns out he is a nice guy after all. Loves her and loves their daughter even more. Then she asks about you. How long you’ve been married, dating and how old your kid is. You think about it for a while. You know you cannot say the oldest thing you have is an unopened bottle of Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve. You smile and say you never really took dating seriously. That you are concentrating on other important things. She’ll laugh and ask like what. You will say breathing. And you will both laugh. You will then tell her how happy you are for her and finish up your drinks since she needs to rush home. She is a wife now. A mother too. You will promise to keep in touch. That night she will send you a picture of the daughter. You are not sure why, must be the wine still in her blood. But you reply and say they have the same eyes. Then that will be the last time you guys talk. She will say hi once in a while, you will say hi back but then let the conversation die before it even starts. At the back of your head she’s married. You do not fraternize with married ex flames. Shit always tends to go down. Planned or unplanned.
Then one day with the guys over a game, rum and fried pork you will hear in passing one of them mention an ex that got married. At that moment they will all chime in about their exes that seemed to have better luck in the dating pool right after they split. Turns out it is a common phenomenon. You will share your story and you will hear dozens more that follow the same script. Then you will all laugh and name it the while you were away syndrome.