by Robin Wrigley
campari and ruby grapefruit juice
On one of the centre aisle tables sits two elderly ladies tucking into a meal as though it might be their last. Their table fortified by various paraphernalia used to enable their perambulations. A blue four-wheeled contraption with handlebars, brakes and a small satchel-bag made to assist the user to remain upright while walking; a pair of metal and plastic crutches for the other lady. There is very little conversation between them, their concentration confined to their eating. As their father taught them as children, ‘we come to the table to eat, not talk’.
At another table two well dressed women with a young baby in a highchair to one side. The child seems happy and well-fed; its podgy, pink cheeks gives the impression of a kookaburra chick seeking a feed from an attentive mother hen as it takes intermittent sucks on a proffered feeding bottle. After a satisfying gulp, happily pushing the bottle away and attempting a small handclapping exercise that results in a rattle hitting the ground for the ladies to retrieve.
Gerald sat there looking around as he did on the Friday lunchtime’s he had been coerced into agreeing to meet his sister, Jenny for lunch. She is late as usual. Fortunately, this assignation doesn’t happen too often and after half an hour, she would realise they didn’t really have anything in common and would invent a need to leave early. But at least it put her mind to rest that she was maintaining family ties now that her husband Frank, who passed two years ago, was no longer there to share her daily life.
Lucky bastard, Gerald thought, especially now he was the listener to all of her ailments, a myriad of minor aches and pains that nobody ever died of. He recalled with a wry smile one of the last times he visited Frank in the general hospital with his sister. Though she was there to visit her dying husband she used the time to recant her own physical ailments. Frank had looked fed up and whispered to Gerald that ‘he wished her tongue was as tired as his ears.’ Caught up in her own laments his remark escaped her.
Gerald had returned from a lifetime in Africa where at least he’d been happy as a celebrity by virtue of the colour of his skin and his comparative wealth. Also there was the lovely Joyce who joined him most weekends and never took anything for granted. They were the happiest years of his life. Now, as he looked around he wondered why he had bothered to return to this, his homeland.
He begins to think like a wildebeest, when the grazing area goes deathly quiet because the herd has shifted, unbeknownst to the animal who suddenly finds itself alone and vulnerable. For Gerald though, the maddening silence is instead replaced with ceaseless chatter which proves far more disconcerting than the eerie silence of the veldt.
He looks over to his left at the next table beyond the elderly ladies, who having finished eating are discussing possible seconds. Beyond them a middle aged couple sits without talking in that air of boredom that surrounds two people whose only common attachment is a band of gold. They are both well dressed for such a time and place; the small feathery headwear on the lady probably indicates they are about to attend a wedding or some such occasion and need to kill some time.
One table down from them sits another couple acting out a familiar scene of the Spratt family. They are casually dressed and the waitress is just serving their order. The man has a colourful, healthy looking salad plate while the lady is served what appears to be a huge hamburger accompanied by a miniature tin bucket of chunky chips stacked neatly on top. They are big enough to act as wheel chocks for a light aircraft.
On her return to the counter the waitress approaches Gerald’s table; she stops to say that his wife has just arrived indicating with her eyes the entrance door. He follows her gaze in a dream thinking it might be the ebony features of Joyce but no a tall thin woman dressed in mauve is waving to him, a cool smile under newly coiffured hair.
‘Oh that’s just my sister.' He sighs. 'Thankfully, not my wife. She won’t stay long.’