I stared at the menu before me, purposely hiding my face from the man sitting in the chair opposite. I can’t remember a time when I felt less inspired, by both a menu and another human being. Although if I had to compare, the prospects of food poisoning from ‘Gino’s Chicken Surprise’ did seem a tad more exciting than my current situation.
‘He’s in education,’ my friend Sarah had told me the week before over drinks. ‘He is very well respected and very well paid (she winked), you definitely need to meet him. I’ll give him your number and make sure he calls you!’
Sarah had a knack for talking me in to situations I would later regret. She once convinced me that a holiday to Zante would be great for a quiet girl’s holiday with a few evening cocktails. That was definitely a hard lesson learned… However at forty years old I did not like the idea of a blind date that she was now suggesting. Having to make such an effort for a stranger on a Saturday night when I could be at home watching the latest episode of Sherlock with a Chinese takeaway seemed far too unnecessary. Surely I am too old for this?
I have to admit that after he had called I had been intrigued by Gerard’s husky voice and desire to meet me so soon. Maybe Sarah had over exaggerated to him my ‘beauty’ just like she had told me about how ‘interesting and exciting’ this man was. ‘She has these wonderful laughter lines, our Jenny has an infectious smile!’ I can hear her saying to him about my wrinkles. ‘Her long flowing locks glisten and shine so fabulously in the sun, it is gorgeous!’ It had been a while since I’d made the effort to dye my quickly greying hair. Well, I can honestly say that the most interesting thing this man had said to me thus far tonight in his ‘husky’ voice was that he should avoid eating anything too thick and fatty as he has a lot of phlegm sitting in his throat and he would hate to cough it over me. Nicolas Sparks could use some of his lines as inspiration for his next romance novel.
I had never been to Gino’s. I had never even heard of it before he’d booked it. The menu options were cheap so I was not so convinced of Gerard’s supposed wealth if this was where he’d wanted to take me for a first date. I should have turned around before we’d been lead to our sticky table. The walls were an unintentional yellow with questionable green stains. Cobwebs plagued every corner. There was a lingering smell of over used oil too. The Asian waiter handed me the menu of the Italian food while I spied a Chinese chef walking out of the customer toilets with a finger in his ear. Always a good sign. At least Dean Martin was singing ‘That’s Amore’ in the background.
The waiter took our orders. I had decided on tomato soup with a bread roll, what could go wrong with this? Once Gerard had established with the waiter, who had limited English, that the lasagne would not contain mushrooms, would have extra garlic, grated cheese rather than sprinkled (this was very important), peppers chopped up too small to see but large enough to taste and be served with a side salad of just cucumber without the skin, we could proceed with our date.
Forty seven minutes later, we had consumed our food. Well, I had finished my Heinz tomato soup and Gerard had fully dissected his lasagne for signs of mushrooms before attempting to eat it. Conversation had been fast flowing for quite some time. Fortunately it was not between Gerard and me but instead Gerard and the waiter who we now knew was named Israr. They had discussed in detail Israr’s life and why he had come to this country (he was born in England) and why he had started working in such a respected profession (he was a full time student and worked here to help support his family) and what his hopes and dreams were. I don’t think they would have noticed if I’d left. They seemed quite content with each other’s company.
‘Well then Jenny!’ Gerard said with far too much energy, he’d startled me as I’d been wondering what Benedict Cucumberpatch had been doing in this week’s episode of Sherlock. The bill had just arrived at our table and he’d been studying it very hard. He must be making sure that his discount was applied for leaving mushrooms out of his food before paying it in full. ‘Your share is £12.98 exactly, do you have the cash?’
I hate Sarah.