Ceremoniously upset, Mitch pulled out the phone vibrating in his pocket. He hated these devices, like tiny crying babies which always needed to be tended to urgently. He knew nothing good would come out of the speaker. Either she would cancel on him or tell him the evident: that she was running late. He answered with a sarcastic “Who is it?” to imply that the phone call was unnecessary: That there was nothing for her to say and that he would’ve waited for her anyway. But she was too frantic to understand sarcasm at that moment.
“It’s me, Mitch. I’m going to be late. Could you wait for me please?”
The tone of her voice was the actual message. There was agitation, plea, apology and, above all, warmth. She hadn’t said: “It’s me, Suzanne,” as she should’ve done, but she’d managed to utter his name, even though it took away from the logic of her answer. She’d unconsciously understood his sarcasm, that’s why she hadn’t given her name. Who else could it be, after all? They’d started dating just a few weeks before, but her confidence had already consolidated. It felt as if his lifelong wife was calling him, and he found this extremely charming in her. As every man, he enjoyed being trusted, and the fact that she never doubted that she was the only one filled him with instant joy. She was like a magician, performing a trick in front of him which consisted in making disappear all other girls from the world. As with any magic trick, he was always aware that it wasn’t real; he knew there were thousands, millions and even billions of girls other than her, but he really enjoyed the show and he wouldn’t have ruined it for anything in the world.
“Yes, no problem,” he said, and he also felt like easing the tension by joking; maybe saying: “Take your time, I’ll go on chatting with this cute girl till you come,” but he didn’t think it was clear or punchy enough and he didn’t want to risk saying something unfunny. She didn’t know him well enough yet and sometimes she didn’t know when he was joking. He watched too much deadpan comedy and he was a writer, which meant that he had a mild contempt for reality. Throughout his evolution as a writer, he’d been tragical like Goethe, and melancholic like Dostoevsky; after all, he was a romantic, like them. But then he’d inclined towards comedy, and now he was rather a jokester like García Marquez, because life is too tragic and melancholic as it is.
While he waited, he thought about the case of that American kid at the beginning of the twentieth century. He’d gone missing from his house in Louisiana and his parents, who were quite wealthy, hired detectives to look for him. After a while they found a kid with his characteristics in Mississippi, more than two hundred kilometers away. The people who held him argued that it was their son, but they couldn’t pay for a lawyer, so the kid went back to the original family. The couple who’d held him served a two-year sentence for kidnapping. Only in 2004 a DNA test was made, proving that the kid wasn’t related to the rich family that had won the case. “These things happened a century ago,” he thought. “Yes, rich people will always be assholes, so incapable of accepting the disappearance of their own child that they need to steal another one to replace him, but this madness could’ve been prevented by modern technology.” He couldn’t imagine someone trying to pull off such a sham today. Reality was so different from virtuality back then. Nothing could replace your eyes and memory.
Up to now, the wait had been shrouded by romanticism: Love is patient blah blah. But he checked his phone to see whether she hadn’t sent him a message and he saw the time by chance: thirty minutes late. He checked the time of her last call: 20 minutes before. He got worried so he decided to call her. The phone rang for a while, but she wouldn’t pick up. He hung up and called again. No answer either. But this time he couldn’t help noticing that someone’s phone had rung both times he’d called and had stopped when he’d hung up. “Can it be that she’s here already?” he thought. And he scanned the whole bar. But he didn’t see her. He called again, standing, his head pivoting like that of an owl, trying to see where the ringing came from. He didn’t have to look for long because a girl picked up the phone this time. He stared at her while he muttered:
“Hi, everything OK?” He saw her utter her response:
“Yes, I’m sorry, there’s a huge traffic jam because of the fair.”
“Oh, and how long do you think it will take you?”
“I’ll be there in five minutes maximum. I’m really sorry.”
“OK, no worries,” he said, and hung up. He saw the girl hang up after him and he didn’t know what to think. It was her voice, her phone number, but who was this girl in front of him, and why was she lying so brazenly to his face? What kind of cruel joke was this? Had she given her phone to a friend to pull a prank on him? But why? It wasn’t funny at all. Besides, it was her voice, he was almost sure. He thought of going up to the girl and asking her what was going on, but on second thoughts, he decided to call again.
“Hi,” she answered. “I see that you can’t wait to see me,” she said cheerfully. Three more minutes. I’ve parked the car already.
“OK, then don’t hang up,” he said. “I can’t stand one more minute without you.”
“What are you wearing?” he asked.
“You’ll see soon, be patient.”
“Tell me so my heart can prepare itself. Too much excitement all at once can be harmful…”
She laughed again “I didn’t know you could be such a flatterer. I’m wearing a red gown and black shoes and shawl.”
He stopped paying attention to her words at that moment. The girl in front of him had a dark red dress and, although he couldn’t see her boots, he saw a black shawl hanging near her. She’d picked up the phone, as expected, exactly when the voice on the phone had answered him. He couldn’t believe his eyes, but he believed his ears. It was her; there was no doubt. Her laugh, the way she spoke; it couldn’t have been anyone else. A friend of hers couldn’t imitate her voice that well. It was simply impossible. Suddenly, an irrational fear took over his mind: What if it was her? What if all this charade was her way of showing offence for his not recognizing her at the bar? It was dark after all, and they’d always seen each other at night, so how well could he trust his visual memory? He’d assumed that she’d recognize him and come to his table, but what if she hadn’t seen him at first or what if she’d playfully sat somewhere else so he could give the first step and approach her, as if it was the first time they met? His mind was on the verge of imploding. His nerves failed him, but he managed to cast his body forward, as if steering a bicycle through sand. She was still talking on the phone, but he couldn’t focus on what she was saying. He saw her lips move, but she never looked at him. This discouraged him, but he couldn’t give up. Whatever her game was, he needed to play it, because he really liked her. He focused on one single point so he wouldn’t get vertigo: her carmine lips shaping words in the air. He knew what he had to do. It was so simple that he wondered whether his mental faculties were in order. Why had it taken so long for him to see it? He had to break the spell with a kiss, fairy-tale like. He’d kiss those lips and she’d forgive him for his absentmindedness. He was ashamed he hadn’t recognized the girl he was supposed to be falling in love with. How could he sell his story of romance to her now that he’d failed to see her sitting beside him for who knows how long? But he kept this thought at bay: His duty was to kiss, and hers, to forgive, so he braced himself to carry out his duty.
Although it may have taken him more than a minute to breach the distance between them, he felt that he’d gotten to her table too fast and he wished there was a mile to traverse to reach her, so he could get ready. He even took a few steps backwards, as a football player would before shooting a free kick: to gain momentum. He put down the phone and saw her put down hers. He sped forward and without ever making eye contact, he kissed her. She wriggled too much so he stopped, and when she finally looked at him, surprise and offence were in her eyes.
“Why did you do that?” she asked.
“Because you’re unique, although I couldn’t see it for a while. Forgive my blindness.”
“You think I’m unique?”
“Yes, you are. Would you give me a chance to make it up to you?”
“Yes, of course. Sit down” she said, and he sat.
But at that moment he saw her enter. Yes, it was her, the unequivocal Suzanne, the voice from the phone. He jumped off his chair as if he’d been sitting on a baker’s oven and ran towards her. She saw him and smiled.
“Stop it,” she said. “I’m forty minutes late and you behave as if I’d been away for a year.”
“Maybe we could go somewhere else,” he said. “I don’t like the atmosphere here. Too much waiting for you has made of this a gloomy place.”
“OK,” she said, smiling. “Let’s go. Hope your girlfriend won’t be upset that we leave her early, though.”
“What girlfriend?” he said, his face like in a sauna.
“The cute girl you said you were going to chat with till I come.”
“Oh, I thought I hadn’t said that. Did I say it?”
She laughed. “Don’t worry. I know it was only a joke.”
“Yeah,” he said. Walking out with her.
“Won’t you take your coat?” she asked.
“Didn’t bring one,” he said, glancing goodbye at his gabardine jacket. “My passion for you keeps me warm.” He didn’t even dare to look at the other girl’s direction, but he was sure now that her boots weren’t black. He’d seen brown boots when he sat beside her, but just now he’d noticed it.
“Ok, stop it now!” she said. “I promise not to be late again, if you promise not to flatter me so hard.”
“Deal.” He said. And they left.