I have a very unique relationship with the Egyptian. I have known her for nine years and I sincerely want to be her when I grow up. She is cultured and elegant and gentle and clever. She is trilingual. She is very good at what she does, which is taking photographs. She is aging with style and confidence. I seriously covet her jewelry collection.
There is nobody I know who doesn’t adore her.
For a long time we worked in the same building. We would have conversations about movies and books and clothes and Palestine. She has very strong opinions about Palestine.
Yet we never met outside of work. Not once, not for coffee or a meal or anything. We often talked about it. We never did it. She would tell me to go and see a movie and I would and we’d discuss it afterwards, but we never went together.
Until a couple of years ago when I got it into my head that I wanted to keep bees. So I signed up for a course, which took place over several weeks in the frigid depths of winter. It began at some unseemly hour on a Sunday morning, and the entire class would stumble in, clutching coffees like they were the last life rafts on the Titanic.
Bees are amazing in many, many ways. Not the least of which is that we wouldn’t be here without them. If the bees go, the human race is for the high jump. We will cease to exist. More people should know this. It seems kind of important.
But I digress. The point is I told the Egyptian how great bees were and she thought they sounded pretty great too. So she came to the course. And we saw each other outside the office for the first time.
I don’t know why I didn’t follow up with the bees, I think it might have been one of those community garden issues. Bees are great in principle, but getting a hundred or so community gardeners to agree to a hive seemed like a gargantuan task, and I had quite lost my stomach for the delights of community garden politics.
So I dropped the idea of bees. The Egyptian did not. She retired and put bee-keeping quite near the top of her to-do list. And now she has hives in Battery Park City and on the Upper West Side.
The bees give her joy there is no doubt about that. And she remains inexplicably grateful to me for putting the idea in her head.
Every now and then I would get an email from her, inviting me to come and see her bees. And I would reply that it was a good idea and that I would like to do it. I didn’t do it.
About a year ago, shortly after my ex husband had left, I ran into the Egyptian and I told her the news. She didn’t offer me any sympathy. She didn’t even seem particularly surprised. She talked instead about adapting to life’s changing tides and how important it was to meet the challenge of not holding onto the past. I don’t know if she learned this the hard way. I know almost nothing about her personal circumstances, except that she has family in Cairo and she wants to live in the Hudson Valley one day.
I ran into the Egyptian last week, she was attending the party of another colleague who was retiring.
You are often in my thoughts. You must come and see my bees and I have a friend I want you to meet, she said. All in one breath.
Fine, I said. Love to. I’m starting to dig my life out from the rubble. No reason I shouldn’t visit a beehive or two.
A couple of days later, I get an email setting the time and place and mentioning that her friend will also be there. And then I get another email, bolting extra elements onto the original plan, “Please wear socks, long pants, no bananas nor perfume,” it read.
I read the email though, immediately discarding the banana-themed outfit I had picked out for the visit, and saw that she had mentioned the friend again, by name.
It’s a foreign name, and one that I have never heard before, I can’t even pin a nationality to it, but I’m going take a wild leap into the unknown and assume that he is male. And that I’m being set up.
To say that I have mixed feelings about this to say that the Grand Canyon is a rather nice hole in the ground.
First thing’s first. The I’m-my-mother’s-daughter part of me thinks I’ve never been set up before and am not sure what the etiquette is. How is one supposed to act? What exactly is the form? What if I fail the set-up etiquette test? I hate failing tests.
The single-and-enjoying-it part of me is weeping and wailing and gnashing her teeth and whispering that I should invent an exotic illness and run as far and as fast as I can.
I text the jazz singer for advice. “Be as picky as you like,” she shoots back. “Think of it like clothes shopping.”
Valid counsel, for sure. Still, it seems slightly, I don’t know, complicated. When there are trusted friends involved. And I do trust the Egyptian. I don’t want to do the wrong thing. I don’t know what the right thing is.
But this fretting may be for nothing. I may have it completely wrong. It’s possible. I’ve been wrong before. Wrong and me are on quite intimate terms, in fact. Maybe the man with the exotic name is her gay BFF.
Mulling it over as I rode home tonight, I decided to relax and proceed with the plan. I’ll go, banana and perfume free, and meet the bees and the man with the exotic name. Because of the way I frame things these days, there’s really no choice.
When you bolt endless curiosity onto my insatiable craving for a good story, I can’t say no.
If I sit home, if I don’t be brave, I don’t keep recovering. And I don’t have anything to write about.