A while back I received a call from a friend who, if I’m being honest, I hadn’t spoken to in a few weeks as the last time we had spoken things had been just a little… strained. But she got me worried because there was this earnest tinge to her tone that suggested she wanted to discuss something important. The strange part about it was that she asked me to meet her at a café that was just a few minutes from where I lived. Normally, she would have just hammered on my door (no bell) and be done with it. So, on the basis that something must have been wrong, I agreed to meet up.
I arrived a little late to find her brooding over a mug of something hot and couldn’t help but imagine that she was listening intently to whispers in the steam. I waited in front of her table as a passive attempt to garner some attention but it didn’t seem to work, so I bought an orange juice and a pastry and sat down in the opposite chair. After a few minutes she looked up.
“Oh, hey. You came.”
“Well it sounded important. You okay?”
“Yeah, fine I suppose.” She turned silent and I bided my time for her to strike up a conversation, or at least offer something akin to an explanation. She remained impassive though, simply staring into her mug with a slightly cocked head and furrowed eyebrows. I gave up.
I offered her some Danish.
“English Breakfast actually.”
“Oh. No thank you.”
“Watching your hips?”
“Maybe, you could say that.”
“You seem a bit out of it. Are you sure you’re okay?”
She huffed and then looked up, jutting her chin out and widening her eyes so that she looked like a frightened rabbit. “I really want to go for a walk; shall we go for a walk?”
“I just want to take a walk outside.” She sort of smiled manically when she said this, so I decided to appease her.
“Okay, that sounds fine.”
“Thanks.” She got up, gathered her coat and bag and started toward the door. I had to down my juice and wrap the rest of the Danish in a napkin and stuff it into my jacket pocket. By the time I caught up with her she was already halfway up the street, walking with her eyes focused entirely on her feet. We walked in the clear light of a spring afternoon with her leading the way in an awkward, silent meander. It was one of those days where the sun seemed distant and a slight wind meant you had to wrap a scarf around your throat so that you wouldn’t catch a cold.
She led me down to the river where we sat on wooden benches and she stopped to stare at the mundane. And each time, when I had almost figured out what it might be that she was looking at, she would move on and then again I would follow like a puppy dog on an invisible lead.
Eventually, we came to a bridge and she stopped like every time before, but rather than simply zoning off into the middle distance, she asked me a question.
“You ever feel like you’ve sailed too far down the river?”
“You ever feel like you’ve made one little mistake and now you can’t turn back? That you have to just accept it and get on with life?”
I tried mulling over her words but drew a blank.
“I don’t get what you’re saying.”
She sighed deeply and looked at her watch.
“Late for what?”
She didn’t reply and began to zone off again.
“What are you talking about?” I wanted to grab her by the shoulders and start shaking her until she made sense.
“Doesn’t matter.” She dug her hands deep into her coat. Then she looked up at me and smiled gently. “Can I ask you one more thing?”
“As long as it isn’t some kind of… cryptic metaphor.” I don’t do well with metaphors.
“We’ll always be friends, right, no matter what?”
“Good.” And then she brightened up. All of a sudden, there she was; the friend I knew, just back to normal as though the past hour had never occurred.
“Let’s get some food; we’re feeling pretty hungry.” She gave me a gentle kiss on the cheek and carried on back the way we came, with her head held a little higher and her arms wrapped around her stomach, keeping it warm.