Samuel could barely believe he had agreed to this, it went against all his instinct, it was really quite a bizarre situation when he chose to think of it the morning after Emma had cajoled him into a blind date. He had been stung from behind, caught off guard, Samuel thought that his sister had rather unfairly taken advantage of his vulnerability. He had carefully allowed his emotions to seep out rather than maintain their confinement, which was usually where he let them fester. And Emma had grabbed them, interrogated them and decided that what he needed best was a date with her best friend.
Having never been on a blind date before Samuel was slightly flustered as to what to expect. He had booked a table for dinner at a restaurant where he knew he could afford to pay for them both, it wasn’t very fancy but decided that it was better this way than going somewhere a little more up market but then inducing the possibility that he’d either have to pay more than he could, or politely find a way of encouraging her to pay her way. Probably not the impression to give Samuel reflected as he weighed up his next dilemma. He starred straight into his wardrobe and for all the good it was doing him he might have well been starring through glass and out the other side. Samuel was faced with a suddenly myriad set of combinations for what to wear, all composed from the meagre contents of his wardrobe.
He plucked for the smart but not too smart option and hoped that he would neither be over or under dressed. At every turn Samuel was faced with the option of bailing out. He thought of phoning the restaurant and cancelling the booking, of calling Emma and asking her to tell Kathy he wouldn’t be coming. It was his sister that stopped him from pulling the plug. He wondered if she would actually pass on the message, if out of some tortuous learning game Emma would let Kathy turn up all alone and Samuel would become hated by a tiny subset of the female population he had never known and was now likely to never know.
Samuel decided that this was the longest he had ever spent in front of a mirror and all for a girl he had never met. It didn’t occur to him until later that despite his sustained and unrelenting interest in Alex he had never put in such effort when he knew they were to meet. He had always argued with himself that he didn’t want everyone else to know that he was interested, so scaled back any moves that might uncover his motive. On this occasion he had even bought some aftershave, the first time in a decade since an ill fated experiment at the end of school prom, the torments which ensued had plagued his memory since. As he dabbed the strong scent his senses kicked off some memory receptors in a reclusive corner of his brain and he was overcome with another wave of doubt and almost at this last minute bailed, and thought perhaps he’d just not turn up.
In another bedroom in London Kathy was preparing. When Emma had first broached the subject she had not quite been sufficiently fulsome in explaining that it was a date she was setting her up on. Kathy’s initial assumption was that she was being invited by Emma to keep her company at a something her brother had in turn invited her to. It had only been the day before last that the truth had murkily emerged.
“What’s this thing we’re going to with your brother?”
“Well, it’s not really a thing, and I won’t be there, because that would be a little bit odd.”
“Odder than me going to some social event with your brother and you staying at home, is there something that I need to know, I’m usually pretty keen for most things and I don’t really need an excuse but I’ve heard that the Holland Park bunch can be a bit stuffy and I’m not sure I can face an evening full of discussion of imputation.”
“I thought I said,” Emma hesitatingly began, “it’s just with Sam. You’ve said you wanted to get asked on more dates, and we were chatting last week and I thought you’d make a good couple.” Emma stopped speaking knowing that she had been less than honest when the date had been arranged. She had always intended on telling the full truth but had pulled out at the last possible moment and swiftly concocted an alternative plan which seemed less offensive and which she was now having to deconstruct before her supposedly best friend.
“So basically, I’m going on a blind date with your brother?”
“Well it’s not really blind, he’s my brother.” Emma realised that this was a rather weak response as Kathy’s eyes glowered into her. “Okay, well it is a blind date, I know you’ve never met, but it’s not as though he is a complete stranger, is he? You can just imagine you’re on a date with a female version of me.” Emma stopped speaking, accepting she was rambling and not making sense, and also because she was not entirely sure she approved of the descriptor she had just ascribed to herself.
Kathy was silently fuming, and visibly annoyed but made an ostensible show of acceptance as she agreed to the date. Now as she prepared she was having doubts yet again. If the prospect of an evening with a group of stuffy Christians talking theology was her nightmare, what hope did she have one on one with someone who was working for the church.
As she left the house and checked where she was going she texted Emma to say that she was on her way to meet Sam. That was another point of rather confused discussion, whether to call him Sam or Samuel, he had apparently always been Sam until he got the post at the church and seemed to have been coerced into using it’s full form. For Emma and those who had known him for years apparently he didn’t make too much fuss over it, but to all new people he met he was now always Samuel. Kathy couldn’t decide which to use, everything she had ever heard about him was about Sam, but then she thought, perhaps if I start with Samuel I’ll make my own mind up rather than filter everything through Emma’s anecdotes and frequently critical asides.
Samuel waited at the bar. The table was ready but thought he should wait for Kathy at the bar, he also didn’t want to be seated alone at a table in a restaurant so conspicuously full of couples. He worked out he’d been waiting twenty minutes, he’d been ten minutes early, so he couldn’t hold that against her, but as each further minute went by he was frustrated at her tardiness and lack of consideration for his nerves. But he reckoned that this was still within the scope of acceptable, in fact anything up to around 30 minutes he thought was able to be categorised as ‘running late’.
He couldn’t help himself but overhear the phone call taking place just along the bar, or the half of it he was privy to. The New Zealandn girl was trying to remain measured and calm but was clearing frustrated that someone she was meeting was going to be late. It made Samuel angry that he didn’t even have that recourse, Emma had insisted that all arrangements were done through her, and only if the date was a success could they choose to exchange numbers. It meant that he couldn’t call to find out where she was, but instead stayed clasping the bar as he nursed his drink carefully not to have finished it before she arrived.
“Are you waiting for someone?” The girl from along the bar enquired. This was not a conversation Samuel wanted to get into. He suddenly visualised him talking to her when Kathy walked in, and he turned and she saw them together and immediately walked back out. A bit Hollywood perhaps, but this was dangerous territory.
“Yep,” he thought he’d keep this brief and resisted the natural reaction of shifting closer to make conversation beneath the din of the restaurant more plausible, “I’m waiting for someone. They should be here soon,” he felt it was necessary to add.
“So am I.” She paused and Samuel thought that might mercifully be the end of it. “He’s going to be late,” she added with purposeful emphasis on the masculine pronoun.
“At least you’ve got that comfort, I’m waiting for someone I’ve never met, whose number I haven’t got whose face I just about think I should recognise.”
“A blind date! How fun.” Samuel immediately gave away with his eyes raised to the ceiling that he disagreed with this optimistic assessment. “I’m Talitha,” the girl along the bar slid a little closer and offered her hand in a polite greeting.
“I’m Sam,” pausing before deciding not to extend it, worried at how natural it had become in just a few months to have to force himself to only go by the name he had used for the previous twenty six years. “I’m not convinced it’s going to be fun, my sister’s set me up on a date, and now I’m here waiting alone.”
Awkward silences penetrated the staccato conversation that ebbed and flowed as it ranged from polite pleasantries to abstract discussions about the protests taking place across the street outside St Paul’s cathedral. One such silence was suddenly disrupted by her phone buzzing on the counter when Samuel was trying to decide what else he could say to this complete stranger.
“Well, looks like I’m done here.” Talitha stood and made to leave before turning back, “how long have you been waiting?”
“Er, just over an hour, I’m sure she’ll be here soon.”
Talitha moved back towards him, “I don’t think she’s going to come. Do you want to get some food?”
“I should wait a bit longer, I don’t want her to arrive, and me not be here.”
“Or having dinner with a complete stranger?” Talitha read his mind and he nodded his ascent. “It’s okay, we’re just two people both jilted at the alter, well, at the restaurant anyway. If I go home now I’m going to be on my own and I’ll just get more and more frustrated that Theo’s left me waiting for him.”
As he weighed up his options Sam grabbed his phone to see what time it was, and check for the twelfth time that hour to see if Emma had any news of where Kathy was. “Okay, let’s eat, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be rubbish company, mopping over a failed date which I didn’t really want to go on.” Talitha laughed in an almost hysterical tone and they made their way to their table.
Kathy walked past the entrance for the seventh time, carefully staying out of sight, hiding beneath the shadows of the trees. For the past hour she had circled the restaurant, sat on a park bench, ignored numerous calls from Emma undoubtedly enquiring as to her presence. And she was finally about to go in when he saw him pick up his coat and not make for the door as she had thought he was about to do. The challenge of walking in as he was about to leave was obliterated with the revelation that he was about to sit down to eat with another girl. Devastated she walked away, heading over Millennium Bridge towards the station, and home to face Emma, and to decide before she got there exactly what she would say. The truth she thought was probably the best option, that she was bottling it, but when she made to go in her wonderful brother was already making moves on another girl.
Meanwhile Samuel, oblivious to this perception that Kathy had taken home to share with his sister he sat down confident that he would now have to pay for only his dinner. “I hate dates,” he declared with a flourish as he sat down, “far too much pressure, completely destroys any chance of actually getting to know the person.”
“How else do you get to know people? Anyway I wasn’t really waiting for a date, Theo’s just a friend.” Samuel almost got up and left as he felt he’d been coerced into having dinner with someone in the same position as him, and Talitha sensed this and moved to fill in the details. “We’re not exactly going out, it’s, well, it’s confusing.”
Samuel was partially reassured that she did not have designs on him that she had obfuscated to secure this outcome. “It’s okay, I don’t need to know, I was just venting my frustration.
“Everyone else who I’ve ever been interested in I’ve met through church. I get to know them, become friends with them and decide whether I like them more than that. But it usually is a bit more impetuous than that, I suddenly realise in the middle of a conversation that I’ve become obsessed with her, and clock how much time she’s been consuming in my brain.”
“But you’re going on a date tonight, or were supposed to be, with someone you’ve not met before. You not interested in anyone else at the moment.” Samuel felt her investigations were gaining ground on his reservations, it was odd for him to be talking more to a complete stranger than he usually would to a close friend. “Sorry I don’t mean to pry, I’m just thinking about it a lot at the moment, you’re right dating rituals are all a bit odd.”
“It’s okay,” Samuel found himself saying against his better judgement to bitterly resist opening up any further, “it’s complicated, the person I like doesn’t like me, we went on a few almost dates, and I thought it was going well but she turned me down when I actually asked her out.”
“So your sister set you up on tonight’s date to compensate?”
“Yes, guess it’s not really that complicated!” Samuel laughed, and surprised himself as it was more than the regular dutiful laugh that he had grown accustomed to imitating at necessary intervals, but a laugh that came from the soul as this stranger’s insight cut straight to the heart of the issue. And Samuel realised what chaos he caused himself when he wrote melodrama into his life in every conceivable way. None of which properly justified the extent to which he elevated them. Perhaps Samuel wondered as he decided to switch the conversation around, perhaps life was easier when lived out loud than ruminated in silence.
“So tell me about Theo, is that a complicated arrangement?” Samuel decide it was about time to turn the tables and while openness might be a good thing, he thought to himself, you can have too much of a good thing.
“Me and Theo are friends, and I’m not sure if it’s ever going to be anything more than that. I’ve come back from six months back home in New Zealand, and I know that it’s not the same as when I left. And just when I think he’s really into me something like this comes along. He’s been working like crazy, he kept saying he’d be along soon, but soon sure enough turned into never as another crisis erupted at work.
“So we kept in touch while I was away, actually we’d skype most weeks, message most days and I started to feel my day had not been complete if it went by without having contact with him. I even tried to shut down all contact, just for a week or so. I wanted to see what it was like, how I’d cope without speaking.”
“How long have you been back in the UK? Have you had any sort of indication from him of how he feels?” Samuel felt slightly voyeuristic peering into someone’s life who a little over an hour before he had never met. He was also uncomfortable talking about relationships with anyone, never mind a stranger, but somehow this was different. Cathartic maybe.
“I’ve just been back a few days, we’ve seen each other, just not alone, there was some family function which I rather surprised my father by going to, it was his cousin’s birthday, but I knew Theo would be there.” She paused as though to pose the same thought as had gone through Samuel’s mind, but seemingly decided that she was content to share this story with him. “We couldn’t talk too much there, I’ve never seen anything like our families for a goldfish bowl. All I would have to do is spend fractions of a second alone, or have two separate conversations with him for some aunt or another to start interfering and deciding on how we should get married three weeks on Friday.”
“I know I’m being pretty impatient, but I was so sure that he was into me, and then he goes and blows all cold all of a sudden. You decide what to prioritise in life. If he had wanted to be here, if I had really have mattered to him he would have let his work sort itself out and come and had dinner with me.”
“It’s not dinner you wanted from him, it was a declaration of love.” Samuel wondered why he said that, and even as he pondered it later couldn’t decide if it was profound or pointless. “You wanted him to come here tonight and say to you that he loved you and wanted to go out with you. And how do you think he felt about that. How hard would that be?
“I’m not trying to make excuses, he’s acted like a jerk, but that’s not it. He’s faced with seeing you in the flesh. Your relationship is going to be very different than it has for the past half year. He’s got used to you being at the other end of a screen, mediated by technology, available to turn on or off. To access at his whim, decide when he wants you and when he can remember you are on the other side of the world.
“But now he’s faced with you here, with him, as a person that he has to interact with. Someone who demands all of who he is and not just the part he can transmit across the airwaves.” Samuel paused to wonder if skype worked on airways or not before continuing in his new found vein of rhetoric which surprised him with each word he spoke. “He’s got to decide if he really likes you, or just likes the idea of liking you. And you have to. This is not just his decision, you can’t leave him to do all the hard work. If you like him, and know that you like him then there’s a responsibility on you to say something about it.”
“Not sure my parents would be too keen about that, they’re hardly the most devote Jews but women are meant to take the back seat in this line of work.” Talitha wondered how she had ended up here, in a restaurant half a world away, taking dating advice from a guy who had to be set up by his sister, and even that didn’t work out.
It was later as they left the restaurant after each paying their share that Samuel thought it completely natural to ask for her phone number. Just as he did and she pulled out her phone to check her new UK number he realised he’d never been quite so forward. Talitha caught the sign of what he had realised as he started to hesitate and put his phone away, correcting him she punched her number in and walked away.