She enters the restaurant silently and scans the room from beneath a sweep of straightened-to-perfection hair, her black-lined eyes gingerly scouring the seated diners. She looks nervous.
The approaching waitress jovially offers assistance, and quietly the girl asks for a table for two.
“I’m meeting someone.”
After a brief exchange the girl is led, as desired, to a window seat. Slim fitting dark jeans over heeled boots, a lace-trimmed black top — low cut, but not too low cut. A swipe of blush on porcelain cheeks, dark red lips. She spent time getting ready this evening.
In her preferred seat she can watch, if she likes, the passing walkers huddled under umbrellas as they stride through an evening misty with rain. She chooses instead to gaze at the menu, the forced coolness of the apprehensive. The slightest sheen of sweat on her brow exposes her as she takes a series of deliberate breaths and lightly wipes a palm on her thigh.
A leg crosses another, a back arches slightly, an elbow rests on a table, a head dips and a hand meets a cheek. In this pose she lingers, graceful. Her eyes rest vaguely on the menu before her, lips pressed in an imitation of thought.
He enters the restaurant, confident and alert. Removing his hands from his pockets and briefly appraising the room, he picks up a nearby menu, reading the back as he stands in wait.
The approaching waitress jovially offers assistance and, leaning in conspiratorially, he makes his request.
“Do you have a table for two near the back?”
He follows in long casual strides to a low-lit corner where, hitching up his black chinos, he lowers himself into a chair. As he sits he orders a drink and, with a smile and a nod at the waitress, shuffles into a comfortable position. On the wall beside him is a mirror: the opportunity to watch, without being watched, the room behind him.
In the reflected scene he checks his manicured hair, the brown strands swept back in perfect unison and fixed in a glossy peak. Blue checked shirt, buttoned to the top, meets a neatly trimmed beard. His face — perfectly symmetrical but for one slightly raised eyebrow, giving a sense of the faintly quizzical — holds itself high.
He shuffles once more, stretches out his legs. His forearms rest on the table, fingers clasped loosely on top of the unopened menu, eyes gazing forward.
Fifteen minutes tick by and she orders a juice.
A more relaxed demeanour now shrouds the girl as she observes the passing foot traffic from her window. In comfort she is beautiful, her nerves replaced with the lightest suggestion of impatience.
He takes another long taste of his drink and sits forward. A social media feed dances blurrily up his phone screen, flashes of imagery spinning by disregarded in the unrelenting digital ballet of the millennial.
His foot taps beneath the table, the only hint of anxiety in his otherwise cool performance.
He gestures to the passing waitress. Another drink. And an appetiser to keep him going.
His main course arrives and he settles into an enjoyable dinner for one, perfectly at ease in his own company. Between mouthfuls he returns to the world on his phone, consuming its content as hungrily as he consumes his plate of food.
Her juice, meticulously sipped as she occupies herself with thought, is dwindling. The menu, still sat open before her, is all but memorised. The waitress approaches and the girl adjusts her expression, replacing disappointment with a friendly smile. She orders food and closes the menu with a flourish.
It’s been ten minutes since I paid my bill, and I’ve got tickets for a different show. I’m late, but it’s without haste that I leave this scene.
Perhaps they make their leave, one at a time and in separate directions. Perhaps their eyes meet across the room as they both take a spoonful of cheesecake. Perhaps they are amused. Perhaps, in two other locations, two other people eat alone who should have been their companions. Perhaps it is fate, or coincidence, or perhaps it is nothing.
But it’s a good story…