‘What about this place?’ she asked, pointing to a quaint little French restaurant on the corner, ‘have a look at the- ‘
‘-woah, watch out!’ I pulled her back out the way of a brazen cyclist, who rang his bell a little too late as he zoomed past angry people and blaring horns. We walked around a bollard towards the menu, muttering obscenities under our breath.
We both stood there shivering, our eyes scanning the small, cursive letters. Carpaccio, calamari, and Soup of the Day. Angus burgers, T-bone steak, and walnut salad. Lobster. Lobster and steak. Lobster roll. I turned to her, and she was already looking at me. We both burst out laughing.
‘I mean, if we’re gonna have it, we might as well have it here.’
She peered around the side to look into the huge windows. A party of five were sitting at the table beside it, laughing. The woman closest to the window took a mouthful of pasta; the man opposite her took a sip of red wine. The interior was dark, and I couldn’t tell if we were being pulled in by the ambient lighting, or the bitter coldness of the January air.
‘It looks nice,’ I said, noticing a fireplace further in. ‘Let’s go.’
I walked through the front door and was immediately smacked in the face by a heavy, velvet blackout curtain. In the split second that the midday sun poured in through the open outside door, I saw that I was surrounded by a thick sea of burgundy, and I waved my hands around until I could find the opening to the restaurant.
The first thing I felt as I stepped through it was the heat. Warm and inviting, I almost broke out in a sweat. The second was my eyes adjusting to the comfort of the soft lighting.
‘It’s so nice in here,’ she said, looking around the room, shaking the remaining coldness off her fingertips. There were a few tables scattered around and I immediately felt at home as my shoes sunk into the carpeted floor. It was a swirl of bottle green and wine-red and pastel pink; like an oil painting. My bright white and green Stan Smiths felt like they shouldn’t have been touching it. The tables were set with glass bottles containing single flowers, and tea lights were flickering in ornate holders, whilst end tables placed sporadically held antique green lamps with chain switches. Bankers lamps. If a renaissance painting was a room, it would be this.
‘Tafel voor twee?’
I snapped back to the woman in front of me. She was tall and had deep brunette hair in a pixie cut, with bangs that grazed her left eyebrow. She wore a perfectly pressed black button down shirt with a black apron tied around her front. She wore clunky boots. She wore one of the warmest smiles I’ve ever seen.
I didn’t know if it was the fact that I responded in English, or the split second in which my eyes found her hands holding up two fingers, but she beckoned another lady as she led us to our table, on which there were already two huge menus set out in between six sparkling pieces of cutlery each.
‘Can I get you something to drink, ladies?’
The new lady was smaller, with blonde hair tied back into a short ponytail. Her smile was just as sincere, but a little less warm, as if she was tired of always being pulled away from her job to wait on the tourists.
‘Oh, er-,’ I said, as I rushed to get the rest of my jacket off, ‘a lemonade please.’
‘Coke for me.’
‘Lovely. I will let you browse the menu and will be back to take your order in just a short while. Please don’t forget to look at our lunch menu, and we have at the moment roasted butternut squash and chilli as our soup of the day,’ she placed an A5 piece of card in front of us, boasting the words ‘LUNCH MENU’ in the same typography as the menu outside. ‘Would you like to see the wine menu?’
‘Oh, no thank you.’
‘Okay, that’s fine. I will be back shortly.’ She smiled as she tucked her pen into her pocket and walked away.
‘Well this is a bit shit.’
‘I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t this. Like it’s nice but… I dunno.’
‘It’s cold. But also not. Is it meant to be cold or hot?’
‘Yeah, why is it lukewarm?’
‘I should’ve gotten the steak.’
‘We should’ve gone McDonalds.’
We both laughed into the lobster rolls in front of us. Of course, this would happen to us. I sawed my knife through the unforgivably hard brioche roll, trying to scoop up as much lobster mayonnaise as I could to soften the bite.
‘Could you imagine if we just moved out,’ she randomly mused, as she also started to saw through her roll. ‘How good would that be?’
I thought about leaving home many times before. In fact, almost every single day. Everybody had always told me that I’d get bored moving from a big family to loneliness, but I’d always known that I couldn’t make sense of anything in my life unless I could hear myself think. In cultures where family and reputation are the forefront of life, it was never proper for a woman to move out of her family home unless she was getting married. But I desperately yearned for my own space; I enjoyed my own company way too much. I enjoyed freedom.
‘Yeah, we wouldn’t have to worry about anything,’ I told her, before taking a sip of my lemonade. It was cloudy and still. Thick and almost syrupy, sour but also very sweet. Definitely homemade.
‘Nobody to answer to. Nobody asking any questions,’ she raised her eyebrows and I saw the potential future flash before her eyes. ‘We could literally do whatever we want. Bring over whoever we want, have pre-drinks at ours. Wouldn’t even need to go out so much either. We’d be able to just… chill.’
She prodded her roll and continued, ‘we’d probably spend less money eating shit food because we’d be cooking more too.’
I smiled as I thought about how cooking made me lose more pounds and gain more lbs. Gone are the days where living off Pot Noodles and energy drinks until five a.m was acceptable; but those were my skinniest days. Although, being nineteen and largely stress-free might have had something to do with it.
I longed for the day I could come home to silence, instead of complaining, gossiping, and the berating of a child for having fun and making a little bit of a mess in the process. I longed for the day I could cook for myself without being called selfish because I didn’t want to eat your white bread and drink your full-fat milk. I longed for the day I could cook up a lobster roll without hearing ‘why you making that? I don’t like that, make something we can all eat.’
I longed for the comfort of the bottle-green and the wine-red and the pastel pinks. I’d have taken the smack in the face everyday if it meant I still felt welcome.