‘What is love?’
What sort of question was that? We had to sit through five minutes of getting to know each other and this girl asked the dumbest question on the planet.
She stared at me with the saddest brown eyes I’d seen outside of a spaniel. They were so deep and brown I almost (almost) became distracted enough to look away from the voluptuous hot blonde with the tits to die for - now she had hair down to her arse and a wiggle that made my mouth water, she sashayed between the tables like a Turkish belly dancer. I thought she’d be coming to my table second, but the daft old biddy with the stopwatch sent everybody around anti-clockwise. Who the hell chooses to go anti anything?
Ah, on the other hand, maybe that might be a good thing - keep her late perhaps.
Five minutes is a long time listening to women out on the pull. I’d been sure to tell the first few I was only there to keep my mate, Dave, company. ‘He didn’t want to come on his own,’ I said, ‘but how are you?’ It soon became apparent nobody was there voluntarily; we’d all been dragged along by our sad little mate. So by the time I got to Brenda, twenty-seven, recently-divorced, three kids, I’d shut up about Dave and was just biding my time until the hot-legged blonde made it to my table. Meanwhile, I had to field daft questions like what is bloody love. I looked back at the skinny, raven-haired girl in front of me. Her eyes had a ring of black around the outside of the bronze iris. Like huge marbles or liquorice flavoured gobstoppers.
On traditional nights out, normal ones in the pubs and clubs and what-have-you, when I got fired daft questions I always fell back on the shrug, the grin and an offer of a drink. I tested the shrug for size but she kept staring and I squirmed under her gaze. Sod the grin, just give me the drink.
She glanced over her shoulder at the blonde before staring harder, deep (and I mean real deep) into my head, like she could read my ideas or something. ‘Any thoughts in there?’
‘Um.’ I breathed in through my teeth. ‘That’s the most personal question I’ve been asked all night.’
She tucked in her chin and put her head on one side in a just-answer-the-question sort of way, as if I was breaking the rules and she’d tell Miss Anti-clockwise if I didn’t sort myself out. The gesture caused her hair to move further down her shoulders, and when it caught the light it flashed a silver crescent moon just above her ear. ‘Um,’ I said again. She was intense all right, big capital ‘I’ intense. ‘It’s a four letter word,’ I said, ‘that can mean pretty much anything.’ Stupid answer but hey, stupid question, right? I raised my eyebrows at her and tried to chuck the hot tatty back. ‘You agree?’
She sat forward, her hands clasped at her chest, wrists against the edge of the table, as if I was about to share the deepest, darkest secret in the world. Her head was much lower than mine now, and she looked up at me with her mouth slightly open, showing perfect white teeth and the wet pink tongue of affluent clean-living. I watched her lips move as she said, ‘Explain.’
‘Well, to my mate, Dave,’ I gestured vaguely before I remembered I hadn’t mentioned Dave yet, ‘he seems to think it’s a tool. He even uses it on me.’ I adopted Dave’s deep growl. ‘“You’re my best mate, you are. Loves you. Lend us a tenner.”’ I laughed.
She didn’t. She looked fascinated. ‘And?’
‘And then there’s my dad,’ I said, ‘he used it on my mum as an excuse. “If I didn’t love you so much I would let you go out, go to work, party all night, but I want to keep a close eye on you, make sure you’re safe.”’ I looked down at my fingers. ‘And then there’s my mate, Sam. He thinks it’s not a word to be spoken but demonstrated.’ I smiled into her eyes, I fancied they were no longer quite so sad.
‘Tell me more about Sam.’
‘Well.’ I leaned forward so our faces were inches apart and I smelt her skin, cool and fresh, and her hair, warm and peachy. ‘Sam thinks love is all about demonstration. Flowers, chocolates, cups of tea in bed, that sort of thing.’
Her eyes shone bright - the pupils like black granite. ‘And you,’ she said, ‘what do you think love is about?’
‘I think it’s unique. Different for everybody. Like beauty.’ I glanced behind her at the blonde. ‘Subjective. It can’t be boxed, quantified or caught. It’s spontaneous but takes time. It takes commitment and yet you can’t force it. It’s complex yet simplicity itself.’ I felt my face heat up in a blush and I shrugged. ‘It just is.’
My hairline prickled and I fidgeted. God knows where all that came from, but she’d listened.
‘So how do I recognise it, if it’s all those things?’
I pretended to muse but only for a fraction of a second. Five minutes is not a long time. ‘By the look.’
‘A look between two people who don’t need to speak, or excuse, or demonstrate anything. One can’t love on one’s own. You need both of you to get it.’ I had her full attention. It was the first time I’d done the talking all night and I was warming up lovely. ‘It’s like when you’re at a very boring function and you catch her eye from the other side of the room and know, just know, that she is as bored shitless as you are and you exchange a look that says, “Not long now and we can get the hell out of here.” And the people around them have no clue as to what they’ve just witnessed because only those two people in their own unique blend of love can give, receive, get that look.’ My breathing picked up pace, I felt desperate this tiny, bovver-booted girl didn’t take me as some soft sap and understood what I tried to say. ‘It’s when you’re in bed with flu and your hair hasn’t been washed and smells of stale coffee rather than sweet like peaches...’
She touched her hair, her mouth and eyes opened ever so slightly wider.
‘... you’ve no make-up on and you feel like shit. It’s not the tea he brings you or the words he speaks, it’s the look. The look that says, “If I could be ill for you, I would.”’
Her head tilted and she smiled, gently, but still a little sad. ‘Any more?’
‘It’s the look he gives you when you’re at your Granny’s house for tea and she’s put salt instead of sugar in the custard, but you both eat it anyway. He tells her Granny it’s the best thing he’s ever tasted, but you see his look and know he’d eat anything to make you happy. And it’s the look you share after a tough day’s work and you both know, KNOW that it’s going to be a take-away for tea. And it’s the look he gives you first thing in the morning when you’ve got morning breath and feeling heavy with your period - you’ve got a spot on the end of your nose and you feel like the ugliest person in the world and he looks at you like he fancies the pants off you. Because he does.’ I raised one eyebrow and winked.
She laughed, her eyes shone and her hair bounced as she clapped her hands.
‘And,’ I kept going wanting her to clap and laugh again, ‘it’s the look that says, how proud he is of you when you get a new job or promotion, and how lucky he is to have you when you’re out at some do where some model type woman is stealing the floor, probably some blonde with her tits on show, grabbing all the attention.’
She turned her chin towards the blonde but I held her eyes with mine and smiled. ‘It’s all in the look.’
The bell tinked and she stood up, smiling back at me. ‘Interesting.’
I watched her walk away, and a brunette with giant jugs spilling out of a satin boob tube sat down opposite me. ‘Hi, I’m Janette.’
After Janette there was Cindy, then Carol and finally the blonde. ‘Hi, I’m Diane. I came with Sharon, she didn’t want to come on her own.’ She chewed on the end of her pencil and studied a sheet of paper. ‘What music do you like?’
When Miss Anti-pants tinked her bell for the final time, the girl with the love question was sitting opposite an older guy with glasses. The bloke was gibbering on, as much with his hands as his voice. Surely talking after the bell was cheating. But then the girl flicked that witch-black hair over her shoulder and looked straight at me, grinning.
And that is how two people know what love is.