The elevator pinged on the thirty-fourth floor and Kira stepped out.
Arman walked ahead of her with his hands deep in his pockets as he followed the waiter; she glided behind them, her heels sinking into the soft carpet. She specifically picked out the white So Kates he had gifted her for their second anniversary. Beautiful, but rather uncomfortable, and so reserved for only the most special occasions.
A quiet murmur of voices enveloped her as she walked further into the room, a sound that only occurred when there was an unspoken rule in the air of a place that specified no shorts or sportswear. This wasn’t for snotty children and loud teenagers. You must speak as quietly as your lover has learnt the way your lips move.
The restaurant was beautiful. It was certainly no place for the ground-dwellers fiending for fried food at three in the morning to soak up the remaining alcohol that hadn’t been used in their night of debauchery, or for hipsters looking for the most photogenic vegan rainbow sandwich that costs more than they want their thrifted outfit to look like it’s worth. It towered above the surrounding buildings, but it was within reach for those who bothered to get their priorities in order, those who wanted to climb more than they wanted to stay comfortable. His priorities were always in order, he always told her. But he was comfortable.
Kira flinched as she felt an unfamiliar hand on the small of her back. A man in a black, perfectly pressed suit smiled at her as he shuffled past to reach a table ahead. He smelled of ego, expensive cologne, and a fresh cigarette. She hated that it dazzled her. The warmth of the stranger’s touch lingered on her back for longer than she wished; it felt comfortable and exciting, but oh so wrong to be enjoying someone else. She shook the feeling off her body, keeping her eyes on Arman as he paved her a path through the tables.
The air felt smooth, like an aged whiskey with a drop of water, like a deep, full-bodied merlot, like the skin of a fat leather wallet. As the young waiter led them both to their table, which seemed to be an entire journey away, Kira continued to stare in awe, ever-impressed by the grandeur. She felt as if she were in a different world. The clink of glasses, the chandeliers, the city lights as they sparkled outside the huge floor-to-ceiling windows. The evening sky was dark, but the room was bright with vivid oranges and yellows. It was modern, rich in colour and taste; she couldn’t help but savour every frame her eyes captured, her jaw dropping at the beauty she was now part of. Various abstract artwork hung dotted around the room, huge ornate vases were strategically placed in corners, every table had a single white rose in a glass, but the real decorations were the people dwelling within its walls for the evening.
‘Here we are,’ the waiter smiled, as he stopped by a small table by the window, setting down three different menus.
As Kira took her seat, she watched Arman’s eyes glance over a woman walking past their table, her curves barely contained in a taupe bandeau set, her silky black hair falling by her waist, the strong scent of flowers and vanilla trailing behind her. Kira fidgeted. Her dress started to feel tight and uncomfortable and she suddenly hated it more than anything in the world.
‘I’ll be your host for this evening,’ the man continued, drawing both their attentions back and clasping his hands together. He was used to seeing beautiful things all day and they did nothing for him, Kira thought. Perhaps he was numb to the grandeur and he longed to go home where the curtains needed changing last year and his wife lounged on the sofa eating last night’s pizza, waiting for him to come home and watch reality TV with her. When you find your vision of beauty, you become blind to everything else, even when they grab your face and parade around in front of you in bandeau sets and tacky perfume.
‘My name is Sean. Please take a moment to look through our menus and I’ll be back in a few minutes. Can I get you something to drink?’
Kira sighed as she sunk into her chair. Her mouth puckered at the taste of passion fruit in her syrupy martini and she carefully plucked out the hints of vanilla as it rolled down her throat. She smiled as she looked around the room, discovering a newfound vodka-tinted appreciation, almost love, almost adoration, for the room again. There was so much beauty, and she decided that she knew she looked beautiful in it; her white dress that exposed her bare shoulders (that she’d tactfully highlighted to draw attention from whoever towered above her) and draped modestly over her curves, her silver necklace and pearl earrings that made her skin look iridescent. She belonged in that room on that very night. She was the art. The room was adorned by a hundred different men and women that evening, and she was one of them.
Arman hadn’t taken his eyes off the menu and was muttering something about ‘not that hungry’. Kira uncrossed her legs and stretched her arms out further on the table.
The other tables were occupied with lovers and friends, but mostly lovers; women were in cocktail dresses and elegant jewellery, laughing over prosecco with men who were swimming in their eyes; men were in suit jackets and strong cologne, stroking the fingers of women who had their hearts captured in a vice.
Every corner of the room was bursting with laughter and happiness, with love, with the coy eagerness to get out of there, with shy smiles and alluring eyes that said ‘I want to ravish you when we get home’. The alcohol fizzed through Kira’s bloodstream and sent shockwaves through her legs; but she drew them away from him and under her chair. Her eyes traced Arman’s face as he scanned the menu, intently reading the title and description of everything he saw. Her body felt relaxed, but her mind began to wander. She was becoming anxious and unsettled, but she didn’t know why. She was waiting for something, but she didn’t know what. She started to feel warm, she became aware of the blood swimming in her head. The feeling of sadness threatened to take her, but she did not know why.
Arman turned the menu over, and his watch glistened as it reflected the lights off the chandelier. He bought that when he landed his last job, and it was very expensive. Kira couldn’t understand why, because he never looked at it; he never cared what time it was, he just always knew it was time to leave, time to go, time to work. But the time was written everywhere. On his phone, on computers, on wall clocks, on televisions. Why spend thousands on a piece of jewellery that serves a purpose for which you will never use it? Why should it adorn your wrist if you don’t appreciate it?
The more she stared at him, the more she noticed the people around them. Every pair of eyes was gazing into another, every mouth was speaking or eating, and, for the eager, it was both. The low murmur of the room began to break the rules as she heard flirty exchanges and comfortable laughter – but his face was devoid of the passion that saturated everybody else. Other men were engulfing the image of the beautiful woman in front of them. He was trying to calculate whether green beans were a better idea than calamari.
‘So, what are you thinking?’ Kira asked, trying to shake off the creeping sadness.
He listed a few dishes on the menu; she didn’t care to listen because she didn’t care for whatever he ordered, and he didn’t care whether she agreed with them or not. She was happy to be dining in such beautiful settings, where she knew the food would blow her away, and she was grateful. He always knew best because he frequented these places a lot. Trust me, I know what’s good.
‘That was good,’ Arman said, setting his knife and fork down on the plate. ‘I’m stuffed. Shouldn’t have had that burger before we came out.’
‘Well, I told you. Who even has a pre-meal before an actual meal?’
‘It’s called a starter.’
‘Oh, what was the calamari, then?’
Arman pondered, theatrically stroking his chin.
‘…that was a palate cleanser.’
Kira smiled, her eyes becoming heavy. She stared at the man in front of her, observing his quiet handsomeness; she didn’t want the moment to end. The only closeness she felt to him was physical, and she knew that as soon as they parted ways he would return to the loveless, cold version of himself that lived in her mind. He didn’t give much away, and Kira had once thought he had an air of intense mystery about him.
Four years had passed and she learnt that he wasn’t mysterious at all.
He was everything you saw, he just wasn’t ever there. There was no depth to Arman, there was nothing more to him; what you saw was what you got. There were no walls to be broken down, no comfortability that had to be earned, no deep secrets that he could confide in her to show her she had earnt his trust. He lay everything out on the table, literally. He lived entirely in the real world, but Kira spent more time dreaming; she laughed too much, enjoyed her life too much, wanted love too much.
Her eyes followed the contours of his face and her heart felt light as she explored the man she had devoted her life to. There was a delicious excitement in secretly admiring the person you were betrothed to as if it were the first time, in rediscovering the primal attraction that had been lost in comfortability. Something she also only felt in his presence. There was nothing striking about his features, and she never felt the jealousy that arose because of another woman. The harlot in the bandeau and stripper perfume wouldn’t look at him twice and that made her love him more. He was only hers and he was barely interested in her at that; he didn’t have time for anyone. The faint smell of his cologne reminded her of when they first met and every feeling came rushing back to her down a slide of alcohol.
Suddenly she perked up, full of an intense desire to bring him into her real world. Maybe he just needed to see what life was like when you actually lived it, maybe this time he would let her show him how love could be found again and again in the moments where memories are being made, maybe he would realise that spending time is all you need. She tapped his hand where it rested in front of her.
‘Oh my God. Hey. We should go to this dessert place, they have amazing cakes. I saw their page on instagram, a girl that I–’
‘I have work in the morning,’ Arman said, as he brought a napkin to his lips.
‘What?’ Kira blinked. ‘It’s Sunday tomorrow, you don’t work on Sundays.’
‘I know, but I just have things to do and want to get a head start, we can do that another time, though.’
‘You always say that.’
‘Kira, this is important. Obviously I want to stay, but I can’t.’
Kira felt anger starting to rise in her body, but it quickly amassed into a heavy lump of pitiful embarrassment. Why did he bother spending the evening with her if it was going to be spoiled by urgency? Why did he bother spending time with her if only out of duty?
‘You can stay, you’re just choosing not to. Can’t you just… not?’ she asked. ‘You’re always working and you’ve finally got some time off, why don’t you just relax for once.’
‘Kira. This is important.’
‘No it’s not, you can literally have a day, a morning, an afternoon off. Do it in the evening.’
‘I’d rather start it early.’
‘Rather?’ she repeated, incredulously. ‘I haven’t seen you properly in weeks. You don’t have to work tomorrow morning, you could’ve even done it yesterday.’
‘I did do it yesterday. And I would be doing it now if I wasn’t here.’
Kira was hopelessly lost for words at the man in front of her.
She felt small. She felt like a burden, an obstacle in his life. She looked at the women around her, oozing confidence that their men freely afforded them and wondered why she couldn’t have that effect on him. I bet they don’t have to beg for attention, she thought.
‘You really need to be working more, you know,’ he continued. ‘Instead of going out with your friends and having fun all the time. Maybe then you’d understand what hard work means and you wouldn’t be so offended.’
‘Fine,’ she resolved, quietly.
‘I’m just trying to help you. I’m doing this for the future, I won’t get anywhere if I don’t work for it now.’
Kira nodded, her mind already wandering elsewhere. The small of her back still glowed with warmth and it amplified the nothingness in Arman’s face; it was a feeling she so desperately wanted from him, but he didn’t value these things the way she did. He valued his time until it was time to look back and see what you’d done with it. Kira wanted to be long gone by then, and she felt no way about leaving him with regret. But whenever she tried to walk away, familiarity drew her back to him. He was just a flawed man who loved her in his own way, he was thirty years old and depriving her of affection for… the future? She knew there was nothing there. Every day was a new opportunity for him to love her properly; it was also a new opportunity for her to restart her life without him. Neither of them seized what was dangling right in front of them, but only one of them was trying to.
She looked up at the clock that was perched on a marble end table, perfectly positioned in the centre of the far wall. It was beautiful; flowers and dolphins were intricately engraved into golden ormolu, weaving around a box of tortoiseshell. It was nearing 10pm as Kira began to yawn. She drowned out the sound of Arman’s words as she watched the second hand make it’s inevitable journey around the clock.
The feeling on her back will never disappear, Arman will never love her like she wanted him to, but the clock will always tick into a brand new hour.