Day 26: smidgins of joy
Today’s vignette of joy comes from a reworking of something I scribbled exactly five years ago.
The two women were mere acquaintances and occasionally sat down for espresso together at the village coffee shop. The open-air verandah has a good view of the street below and the square in front of the Church opposite.
Today, they shared a new closeness, for it was the first time they had seen each other since they had both elected to leave the Church choir: neither of them could guarantee attendance without fail at every single practice. New rules. Such is life.
Frieda liked Jess, a few years younger than herself — not that it matters much in middle age — because she recognised in her a fellow non-conformist. Possibly Jess had seen the same in her. They didn’t care to explore this aspect of their characters in much depth. It is what it is.
Frieda worked hard, freelancing from home. On this particular morning, she had only had three hours’ sleep. Such is the nature of deadlines. Jess worked hard too, night shifts mostly, at a local restaurant.
They stirred their coffees and each lit a cigarette in the ritualistic way one does when intent on relaxing and enjoying a moment of leisure. Frieda noticed two old women in the square taking in the fact that they were sitting together on the café balcony.
She gestured with her cigarette hand, “I bet they’re thinking that you and I have a nice life, not having to work, and being able to sit and enjoy a coffee this late in the morning.”
“I don’t give a toss,” said Jess. “Neither do I,” replied Freda, “What’s up with you today, anyway?”
Jess exhaled. “Today is the sixth anniversary of my husband’s death”. As if Frieda already knew she had had a husband once, and that he had died. Frieda murmured sympathetically but saw a shadow of something else that wasn’t about loss. “Have you ever wanted to get married again?”
Jess smiled, and took a sip of her coffee, deciding how much to reveal. “Maybe. There is someone. When I got married, back then, he was still single. I could have chosen him, but I didn’t. By the time my husband died, the other guy was married.”
“That’s too bad,” said Freda.
“Well, we do have a chemistry together — you know — a spark, even now.”
Freda picked up her cup, crossed her legs and settled into her chair, waiting for Jess to go on. “He’s not so much married, as living in the same house with another woman, who happens to be his wife. Yeah, I do live in hope that we can be together one day. But neither of us want to force change in our lives. We’re happy for now, keeping things as they are.”
“The chemistry…” mused Freda, thinking of her own good fortune in that department.
“We send texts to each other. We meet from time to time. We’re ever so discreet.”
“Well, you have to be, around here,” said Freda, “his wife is the least of your worries.”
Jess nodded, “Damn right. These village gossips — who know nothing! — have nevertheless labelled me a prostitute.”
She does not say whore, she does not say slut. She says prostitute. She says prostitute quietly, with an air of resignation.
Freda looked at her and shook her head, “I’ve known a few prostitutes in my life, you know — Africa, where I was once, is such a rich, colourful place — and you don’t look like any prostitute I have ever seen.”
They chatted on about the narrow-mindedness of what is deemed acceptable by the gossips and what is not, and how that differs from the doctrine of the Church they attend so devoutly. And how the doctrine is in some respects quite different from what they find in the Bible, and so on.
The coffee and chat were over, and both had things to get on with. As Freda made her way to her car, she felt touched by something else Jess said.
She said she does not think she is sinning. When we all confess our sins as part of the Liturgy, she does not confess this chemistry, this spark, as a sin. But during this ritualistic, formulaic public confession, all she can think about is him – her lover. The one who softens her face.
©2019 Allison Wright