Stories from New York: Nicolas

Nicolas effortlessly slides down the railing of the tastefully extravagant staircase on the 43rd and 2nd, and as the only grown man who could do so without looking like a tiny brat from some Wall St family. His shoes reflect his enthusiasm, shiny to the point of justifying the poor sartorial choice of the fopdoodle behind me who is still in his Ray Bans. Or is he blind? I am terribly sorry in both cases, perhaps more so in the first. I digress, but is there not something terribly unholy about wearing sunglasses indoors? That, and playing loud, distasteful music out in a public place. I get so vicariously embarrassed.

Anyway, Nicolas, my dear boy, who today is in a white suit and a black bowtie. He has always looked dapper in his pressed white suits but I believe my favourite look of his is the faded salmon shirt paired with a palatinate blue tie. That combination should objectively look hideous, and it does, everywhere but on him. He glides through the spaces between the tables; tall, strong and confident. Everyone looks up to see him at one point or another. He nods, he smiles, he asks how they’re doing — and just as they’re longing for him to join them for a meal, he excuses himself and move along to the next table, ready to take their order.

He sees me at my usual spot; the one towards the back of the restaurant but not its very end, next to the full-paned windows overlooking the busy hustle on the street outside. I smile and with a quick wave, he is already pulling the chair opposite mine and pouring me a glass of water as he sits down. I ask him how he has been, and he in return asks me of my work and latest travels, which aren’t mutually exclusive. I tell him how I almost caught pneumonia on my sixth day on the Annapurna circuit in Nepal, and how this wonderful Gurung family there took me in and nursed me back to health. His eyes glisten with wonder and fascination as he tells me that he is wonderfully envious of my adventures. I tell him he’s living his own. He flashes a grin as quick as lightning to cover his involuntary sigh, and asks me what I would like to drink.

“What’s a gal my age supposed to drink, kid?”

The house special, he says, with a hint of mischief in his eyes.

He swiftly returns with the drink himself, and finds his seat opposite mine again. I don’t want to intrude but I also need to know that he is doing alright here alone, so far away from home. I know that he would never let that mask slip twice in front of me, not on the same day at least, so I begin to tell him stories from my long lost youth. You know, I tell him, when I graduated from university in 1965, I was one of the only 8 women in my journalism class. People thought I was joking when I appeared for interviews, and when I finally did land a job, I got paid half as much as Daniel the copywriter. But I did it anyway because I wanted to, and things did get better, as they tend to. He smiles and nods his head in awareness. I know what you’re trying to do, he says. I take a deep breath and tell him that I just want to know if he is really doing alright, and that it is okay to occasionally acknowledge one’s feelings. He assures me that he is, indeed, doing alright, and in a moment of heady but silent frustration I ask him if he never gets tired of putting on an act.

He takes my hand in his and places a gentle kiss. Nana, how will I ever be Dean Martin if I get tired of putting on an act, he asks.

As my young Nicolas leaves the table to answer to someone’s beckoning, I am left with not concern, but all the pride and joy in this world.