This is a short story from ‘A book of misunderstandings’:
It was the third of January and already dark at four pm. I was just about to close the door of my boutique, when I recognised a face beaming at me through the window. It gave me such a fright, I jumped back a step.
‘Nicole, it’s me…how are you, it’s been such a long time!’
‘Omg, Joan…! What are you doing here? What a surprise! Happy New Year! How are you?’
We hugged each other. It was my Irish friend, who I have not seen for over two years since she moved back to London with her family. We were not really that close before she moved, maybe we would meet once in a while for lunch or just for a quick coffee, catching up as if we had a long-term agreement to report to each other, but when we did, we always had a fabulous time. She could make me laugh so much; I could still feel the muscles hurt in my belly the next day. She was witty, intelligent, strong, and I liked her take on life. Sometimes, she could make me see things in a different light.
‘Happy New Year to you too! Have you got time for a quick drink? I had to come to Brighton to visit a friend in hospital, she is really ill, I got so upset I was going to drive straight back to London, and then I thought of you…hoping, no, praying you would still be here in the shop.’
‘Yes, I have! It’s so good to see you. Let me lock up and we can go next door, there is a nice delicatessen, they have great wines too.’
Settling down at the table, I had a chance to look at her properly.
‘You look fabulous Joan, have you lost weight, are you working out?’
‘Yes, actually, ha ha, so good to see you too, I knew you would cheer me up, I miss you! When are you going to move to London? You can’t stay here in Hove, there is a much bigger world out there, you know. And to live above the shop, that’s so ‘Open All Hours’!’
What?! What was she talking about?
But it got better as she continued and did not give me any time to rectify.
‘And you did not invite me to your wedding, but…I forgive you!’ Her enormous smile completely threw me.
What?! Is she having me on?
‘But Joan, I am not married, I…’ She did not listen, her mind was made up.
‘Who is he, I need to know please, I have just cried for the last two hours, I need some good news!’
This made me feel bad, I did not want to disappoint her. I hesitated, which was not a good idea as she is a fast talker, always has been.
‘Where did you meet him, and…yes, I heard…, you beast, he is so much younger, how did you manage to catch a toy boy?’
Omg, this is getting stranger by the minute.
‘No, he is not younger, he is…!’ Again she did not let me finish,
‘Don’t worry, it’s ok. And you look so happy, does he make you happy? Of course he does, look at you!’
A waiter came and took our order. This gave me time to think.
So, within the last ten minutes my whole life had been re-written. I now live above my shop and I am married to a much younger man. I wonder what else she had heard about me and from whom, I want know!! Maybe I should just change the subject.
‘But Joan, enough about me, tell me about you…’
I could hardly follow the journey of events, as she gave me a quick breakdown on her situation. After she guzzled down her second glass of wine, she suddenly jumped up declaring, ‘Oh no, my time is up, I hope I have not got a parking ticket! I’ve got to go, so sorry, it was good to see you and to catch up with all your news, Nicole!’
And with that she nearly pulled me off my chair, hugged me, turned around, grabbed her bag and coat and rushed out, leaving me behind with a completely new identity.
Collecting myself and reflecting on what had just happened, I ordered another glass of sparkling and toasted myself to the new year and my new life. She was so convincing, I started to believe it myself.