First the good news: The Jamaican has a brother. All right, well, not really. More of a cousin. Okay, so they’re not actually biologically related, but in a spiritual sense they are dead ringers.
The other good news is that I had a couple of idle hours in a small European city this week, so I decided to pass them at a sidewalk café.
I sat down and realized my good fortune almost immediately. The café was the European equivalent of my local bar in New York; patronized by a similar crowd of boozy, gossipy vagabonds and layabouts.
They were drinking, smoking and laughing with the ease of people who spend too much time together. I ear wigged to the best of my ability. French is not my language. I took two years of it in high school and am patiently waiting for the day when the little I remember will come in handy. I can, for instance, ask someone to open a window and be fairly confident that my request will be comprehensible. It’s just that I’ve never been required to ask someone to open a window. And if I needed a window to be opened in Switzerland or Luxembourg or France or Belgium or any of the former Francophone colonies, I can just as easily do it myself.
But I digress.
The Jamaican’s spiritual twin was white with combed back dirty blonde hair and matchily-dressed in a red polo shirt, red sneakers and blue jeans. He was seated in pole position at a table outdoors and made not even the slightest effort to conceal his ogling of the women walking by. A busty young black woman in glued-on white jeans had him actually craning his neck to cop a better view; I half expected his eyes to pop out on stalks like a cartoon character. After the women had passed he would quickly compare notes with his male friends. Did they have a scoring system? I wondered. Not beyond the bounds of possibility, judging by the body language.
“Thank you, universe,” I thought, and settled in to enjoy the show, and a small glass of cheap rosé. It was a warm and sunny afternoon in the centre of the small European city—the first sun in weeks, according to the locals—and women had wrestled their tiny, flimsy sundresses from the backs of their closets and hauled them on over their pale, white northern European skin.
Eventually, all of his friends drifted away and so, lacking other options, the Jamaican’s spiritual twin turned to me. He asked me something in French and I dusted off one of the other phrases I know, which is, (I’m paraphrasing); “Don’t waste your breath because I haven’t a clue what you just said.” He switched fluidly to English and we talked for a bit. I told him his English was very good. He laughed and, hamming up the accent that I’d been unable to detect, said; “That’s because I’m Oirish.”
He then set about charming me. Expertly. I always enjoy watching somebody do something well, it doesn’t matter what it is, and the Irish have a leg up in the charm department. Is it the accent? Is it the self deprecating humor? Is it the names that have way too many vowels? All of the above? Whatever the answer, it was very apparent that the Irishman had been handed his license to flirt at birth and had never let it lapse; not even once.
With me he gained the advantage early on—I took a pounding because I should have inferred from his knowledge of words like ‘bollocks’ and his love of Paul Weller that he was not from mainland Europe. But I parried and finished strongly, I thought. Even match, I thought.
Then the Irishman trounced me. Audaciously.
I had got up. I had somewhere to be. I shook his hand, said I had enjoyed talking to him and asked him his name. Diarmuid, he said. (See my earlier comment: How can any woman have any defense against a name like that? That is just so not an even playing field.) He asked me my name and I told him. My name is kind of ordinary, and has the minimum amount of vowels. And it rhymes with kiss.
He stood up.
“Can I have a kiss, Chris?” he asked, grinning. Standing too close.
I was slow on the uptake; I should have struck back, hard. I should have snogged him right there in the street.
He laid down the gauntlet. Me? I flaked. I fumbled. I failed.
I kissed him on the cheek, daintily, like I was thanking him for an absolutely wonderful dinner party, darling, and you must come to ours next time, I have this fabulous couple that I’m simply dying for you to meet and whom I know you will love.
That kind of kiss.
The Irishman couldn’t stop bloody grinning.
I slunk away; that grin seared into my brain.
Game, set, and match to the Irishman.