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Olivier

Coffee with Olivier was the first thing scheduled for Saturday morning.

I met Olivier at tango.  He was doing a Ph.D. in Fabian’s department and was coaxed into taking tango classes when his girlfriend Claudia took an interest in joining along.  I had met Fabian at salsa.  Bruno, a Brazilian guy I had seen in a carnival party, was with him and we bonded as the Latin Americans.  One night, I made a negative remark about the class and, when Bruno started calling me “the critic” as we walked to our homes after the class, Fabian told me he hoped I wouldn’t join his group.  So I did.

When I joined in, Fabian’s tango group was already together for 4 months and Olivier and his girlfriend were among the loyal regulars who had been there from the start.  Most of the group took their seniority very seriously, as a right to attention, and treated us new dancers with suspicion and distance.  Girls were especially adverse to newcomers, which was understandable as we always exceeded guys in numbers and waiting for a turn to dance in class was a boring reality.  Guys were much warmer, but Olivier was by far the nicest man in the group.  He and I were compatible in height for dancing so we often paired up for the second warm up dance (after he had danced with Claudia) and managed to laugh at our mistakes or at childishly obstructing other dancers.  We did not disrupt the classes; we just liked to break the seriousness of the day when we started.  We danced for fun and that was all we had in common at first.

It was Fabian who brought us closer.  When Fabian and I started going out, we were a secret.  He was the instructor and he did not want to be seen in a relationship in the same measure he probably did not want to be in one.  But he wasn’t always consistent about hiding our proximity and he started praising my work to some of his friends and then asked me to help Olivier with my knowledge on language and social interaction.  Pretty soon, Olivier was my best friend in the hostile tango group.  We started with academic topics, but soon abandoned them in favour of more personal subjects.  It wasn’t planned, but I somehow asked the right questions and he ended up disclosing more than I expected.  I learned his love life was crumbling down and when he figured my own was on the ropes, he was the one checking if I was ok.  We were a big tango cliché, suffering because our pathetic love lives, but our own personal tango consolidated our friendship.

"Friends... in despair!" by Pierre Andrews

Coffee with Olivier was, hence, top priority.  I went to his flat and found him with an out of bed look.  Not the big sexy hair depicted on women’s magazines, it was puffy eyes and creased cheeks and T-shirt.

“Have I woken you up?”

“No, I was already up, grinding some coffee for us.”

“Smells good actually.”

“Vietnamese. My mum brought some last time she came visiting.  I really love your hair red, Gena. You should keep it like this.”

“ You know I find it too rock’n’roll, but thanks Olli”

“Yes, it’s wilder, but good. You should keep it red.”

As he went on with the coffee making, I told him about life in London, the milonga and Marcos.

“I did not really pay much attention to him when I we met.” I said well aware I was leaving a Mr. Gorgeous-shaped gap on my telling,  “But when I was about to leave the milonga, he came after me and he was so sweet, saying we should go to this class together.”

“Oh, cool!”

“And then on the next night, I met him on a bus in London!”

“No!”

“Yes, in a city as big as London I met Marcos by chance on a night bus.”

“So, what happened then?”

“Not much really. I went to the class but he didn’t. I don’t know if I mistook the day or if something happened and then I came here, so he might have been to the milonga yesterday, but I wasn’t there so…”

“No, but you can see him another time, right?”

“Yes, sure. But I am blabbing. Tell me about you.”

“Well you know.”

“What? You won’t make me ask all sorts of questions to get you talking will you?”

“But this is what we do!”

“Olivier, this is nonsense. We’re past that. Six months past that! You cannot tell me, oh yes I would really love to talk to you and then force me to interrogate you when we finally see one another.”

“It’s just awkward like this Gena. I need you to take it out of me.”

“No, it is awkward that we have to get back to zero when we start a new conversation! Go on.”

“I don’t know.”

“What did she do to you?”

“She didn’t do anything. I don’t like when you make her sound mean, ok?  But, yeah, he paused for a deep sigh,  “she took a job in France and she moved out last week. So, it’s all over and finalised for us.”

“I am so sorry, sweetie.”

“It’s ok, I knew this was supposed to happen. We were just waiting for it.”

“I know, but you’re staying here and it must be hard to still feel her all around.”

“Well, it was harder when I thought she loved me and she told me she could not see us building a future together. But since that, we’ve sort of been waiting for us to find our ways apart.”

“But it’s never easy, though is it?” I put my hands on his arm. “To see the future we don’t want materialised in front of us.”

“No, but what can I do?”

“If I knew the answer I’d write a book and become a millionaire.”  I answered even though I knew it was rhetoric.

He wasn’t perking up; so distracting him from the girl seemed like a better idea.

“I’m supposed to have coffee with Fabian soon.”

“Oh ho!  Are you ok with that?”

“Well, yes, I mean, we got closer after the binding hoo-hah, so I sort of owe him a proper thank you.”

“Oh shit, Gena, so sorry I couldn’t help with it. If I knew that was why you were calling, I would have done it for you”

“It’s ok. I know that. And that’s why you were the first person I called, but you were taking Claudia to the train station, I mean, you had enough on your plate”, and there we were back to the last goodbye scene, his eyes getting teary.

“Yes, but I didn’t know you’d have to call him to sort it for you just because I couldn’t talk then. I thought you were calling for a chat.  I wish I had been there for you.”

“It’s ok really. It brought us closer again and it’s been good. We hadn’t managed to patch it up after the break up, and it’s better now.”

“But you cried so hard when I called you later.”

“Well, it was hard to call him, but you were not in much better shape.”

“I know, but my goodbye was predictable and scheduled, whereas you having to call Fabian was unexpected.”

“Yes, but you know what’, my eyes were brimming over by then, “It was kind of dignifying to know I could trust him to be there for me, you know?  That I wasn’t just stupid to like him or suffer so much, there was something there and it made it better to know he dropped what he was doing, printed my stuff, left the office and went straight to the binders for me.” I took a pack of tissues from my handbag and put it on the table so we could help ourselves to it. I needed plenty of them.

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