“I met a Colombian guy today,” says The Husband.
“Oh yeah?” I am at the kitchen table, working my way through my inbox.
“Yeah. We’re going to meet for coffee next week.”
“That’s nice.” Typing away.
“Yeah. I was working on my report when the doorbell rang. It was this guy fundraising for the Asthma Foundation. He had this big card around his neck with his name on it. It was [The Colombian]. So I said, hola, com est as? And he just stared at me. And I thought ... oh no, I’ve made a mistake. So I said, sorry, do you speak Spanish? And he just starts talking to me in Spanish, doing his whole fundraising spiel – in Spanish. I think he thought I was Spanish-speaking. You know, that it was my native language.”
I have stopped typing.
I am staring at my husband in a kind of awestruck amusement. What I like best about this bizarre story is the fact that he’s telling me about it as if this is a perfectly normal way to behave. I don’t want to interrupt or alter the flow, so I just watch and nod, acting as if this is the most ordinary story in the world. All the while, I’m thinking this is shaping up to be the kind of thing I might pay to hear at a comedy club. I congratulate myself on having married such an interesting man.
“Anyway, he’s from Colombia, he’s a student here, and he wants to stay. He’s actually an engineer.”
“Wow, really? And he’s knocking on doors fundraising?”
“Yep.” He shakes his head. “So I gave him some money, and he was leaving, going out through the gate and onto the street, and I thought ... hang on ... so I chased him onto the footpath and stopped him and said do you want to meet up for coffee?”
I have broken the spell. He is starting to ponder the strangeness of his behaviour. I watch his expression flicker and regret my reaction. I was really enjoying this.
“So, what did he say?”
“He said okay. We’re meeting at 11am on Thursday.”
“Wow. Was he surprised?”
“Actually, he was a little.” He seems on the cusp of crestfallen.
“I think that’s fine,” I assure him. “There’s nothing WRONG with it. It’s really nice. I’m just surprised, that’s all.”
My husband is a softly spoken man, friendly but reserved. I don’t think of him as the type to befriend strangers on a whim. Although, come to think of it, in Mexico he once followed a man in a Socceroos tee shirt while he worked up the nerve to approach him. “Are you Australian?” And he was. And my husband earned the blessed relief of a conversation in English, amid the waves of sped-up Spanish that crashed over him daily, along with the breakers of homesickness.
He must have been driven by empathy – and, maybe, a rare moment of reverse homesickness, for Mexico.
I am daydreaming in the shower the next Thursday morning when The Husband arrives unexpectedly through the steam, making me jump in fright.
“You’re back early. What happened?”
“I got stood up,” he says glumly. “He didn’t show.”
“Oh darling, I’m sorry.”
“I waited until 11.30am, thinking ... maybe he’s working on Colombian time. Maybe it’s like Mexico. But ...”
I pat his sleeve sympathetically with a wet hand.
“I guess it WAS all a bit weird,” he sighs.
It turns out that the Colombian was operating on a misunderstanding, a cultural mistranslation. He assumed they were meeting at 11pm at night.
“Really?” I laugh. “For COFFEE?”
“Well, I guess that’s probably common in Colombia.”
“Mmm, I guess so. So, are you going tonight?”
“No, next week.”
Thursday morning. I am due in the city at midday to meet friends for lunch. At 10:30am, I peel myself away from my laptop and shuffle into the bathroom in my flannelette pyjamas, holding my unwashed hair from my face in one fist. My nose is thick, my eyes prickle and my ears swim. I feel as though there is a clothes peg pinching the bridge of my nose. It will be an effort for this Cinderella to crawl out of the ashes.
The Husband is at the bathroom mirror, meticulously attacking his beard with an electric razor, centimetre by agonising centimetre. For the first time in days, his tracksuit pants are replaced by jeans and a collared shirt.
“What are you waiting for?” he asks, as I watch him silently in the mirror, the doorway propping me up.
“A shower. I don’t want to fog up the mirror and disturb your work.”
“Well, I still need to have MY shower after this.”
“Bloody hell ... what are you ... ohhhh, that’s right. You have your DATE.”
He makes a face at me in the mirror.
“Where are YOU going anyway?”
“Lunch. With The Godmother and Old Friend.”
“Vue Du Monde.”
“The cafe part. It’s $15 for lunch.”
“That’s still expensive, for lunch.”
“A bit.” I sigh and return to the study, where I wearily click send/receive on my Outlook over and over, killing time in the most useless way I know how.
Shit. I was planning to get an early train at 11.16am, to make lunch at midday.
The Husband examines himself in the disappearing glass as I step into the shower, wiping a porthole for his reflection.
“Have fun,” he sings.
“Yeah, enjoy your date. Don’t put out.”
“Even with a man?”
“Really? You’d be mad if I had sex with another man?”
“That would count?”
“But I wouldn’t mind if you had sex with another woman.”
“Because you’re a man. You’d LIKE me to have sex with another woman.”
“So, the idea of you having sex with another man doesn’t do it for me.”
And he’s off, looking very neat and handsome.
I get out of the shower and check the time. 11.20am. Loads of time to catch the 11.56am or the 12.16am and be at Cafe Vue in loads of time for midday.
I actually think that. These are the words that run through my brain.
I fuss with my clothes and linger with make-up, bothering with eyeliner and mascara. I am too tired to wear anything fancier than jeans, though I do wear my nicest cardigan. I check my email again.
And then I wander down the road just before 12 midday, feeling relaxed despite the dragging weight in my head.
At the train tracks, I see The Husband across the road, with a dark-haired man in jeans and glasses. He squints at me, as if concerned. I wave back at him.
“HI!” His friend looks at me, then back at The Husband, who shouts over the stream of cars running between us. “COLOMBIAN, THIS IS MY WIFE, ARIEL. ARIEL, THIS IS COLOMBIAN!”
“HI!” I shout back. “NICE TO MEET YOU!”
The Colombian smiles slightly, looking a little perplexed, and waves back, his movement as tentative as mine is energetic.
“WHAT’S THE TIME?’”
“JUST GONE 12!” The Husband points at his wrist and gives me a strange, concerned look.
“THANKS! THAT’S GREAT! BETTER GO!”
There is a flurry of waving, then I wander on to the newsagent to buy a new pen.
Plenty of time, I think. I can catch the 12.16am and be there at 12, not a worry. I choose my pen, testing it on the scribble pad on the counter. As I hand over my money, a switch flicks in my head.
“Um ... what’s the time?”
Oh shit. Finally, I think: 12.10, and I was supposed to be there ten minutes ago.
I go home and leave a message on my friends’ work phone, explaining the whole sorry affair and that I will see them another time. And I return to work in my study, much better dressed than usual.
My date is over before it’s begun.