she walks into the tiny chinese restaurant with him like he was cholera. they sit on the same side of the table but she could’ve been wearing a coat of armor.
“what are you having?”
“whatever you are having.”
“i’m not hungry.”
“but you have hardly had –“
“i said i’m not hungry.” everyone in the tiny chinese restaurant turn to look at her. he gets up, smiling, he heads towards the restrooms. when he returns three minutes later, she is sitting on the other side of the table flipping through the menu like a bad school report card. their backpack is now on the seat previously occupied by her.
all their arguments always boil down to this single indiscretion. since it happened, nearly three years ago, she’d provoke him and when he eventually responds, she hits him with the same question.
“why did you do it?”
“why are you holding on to something that has already happened?”
“you never understand.”
“look, i said i’m sorry. i know it looks bad that i traveled with my ex, but it was nothing. nothing happened.”
“how can you travel with another woman, stay in a hotel with her for two days and you tell me nothing happened?”
“i keep telling you, nothing happened. i made a mistake, and i have already apologized for this so many times. why won’t you just let it go it’s almost three years now? take us, for instance -”
“i don’t want to talk about us.”
the ratty smell in the tiny chinese restaurant is particularly strong this saturday afternoon. he picks up a menu and flips through it. he looks up at her, she averts her eyes. the only sound between them coming from the gurgling of the hideous fish tank beside their table and regular lunchers’ noise. he raises his hand and the waitress walks towards them.
“noodles and prawns please. this one.”
“still water.” he looks up.
“ice tea for me. do you have wifi here?” the waitress produces a slip of paper from her pocket, hands it to her then picks both menus and walks away.
apart from the fish-tank gurgle, the clinking noise of cutlery on china, whispered mandarin, deep-belly laughter of other lunchers, there is a loud silence between them.
“you and i have been traveling now for a month but we –“
“can you please just drop it.” she gets up, everyone in the tiny chinese restaurant turn to look at her, she sits back down.
silence, except for the fish-tank gurgle.
“if you insist on telling me a lie, i will walk out.” he looks at her, her words – wax on raw skin.
he smiles, looks around, then reposes in his chair and starts to fold a serviette. she brings out her phone, inputs the wifi password and starts to text. several texts later she looks at him like a painting on a wall.
“i would like to go back tomorrow.”
“but we still have a week here. the operation is only on wednesday.”
“you’ll be fine. i have to go back.”
face up, he closes his eyes. visions of their future together that they had discussed many times, even that morning, run through his mind like ozymandias staring torsoless unto the vast expanse of desert sand surrounding his wasted pedestal. he opens his eyes and stares at her, she averts her eyes. he unzips the backpack and removes the laptop. putting it on the table, he powers it on.
“i found this in the email trashcan when i used the laptop this morning.” he turns the laptop to face her. she looks at the screen and then looks up at him.
“what is it?”
“an email you sent yesterday. read.” she stares at him – eyes narrow and steady.
silence except for the fish-tank gurgle, the clinking noise of cutlery on china, whispered mandarin, deep-belly laughter of other lunchers.
he turns the laptop towards him and reads:
“hey boo! i’m so sorry i didn’t tell you when i was at your place on thursday night that i was leaving for joburg on friday. so sorry you had to find out from thuto. you see, he asked me to come with him to joburg because he has an operation on wednesday. i couldn’t tell him no because he has no one else to go with him. i’m sorry if i have betrayed your trust in me, but you know i have been with him now for three years – but we are done. you have to understand, three years is a long time and i just cannot do away with how i feel for him in the six months you and i have been together. i know i haven’t given you my complete attention because i’m still with him. but the promise i made to you is true. i still have feelings for him, but my heart belongs to you …”