Wednesday, November 02, 2005

I love you. You're perfect. Now change.

It was one of those days. There were more than six dishes to get through and so far, I had only managed dessert (though not the sauce for the dessert). And there was still some shopping to do. The lady at the fish market picked out a suitable fish (don't ask me what, my knowledge of all this piscine is abyssmal) and shovelled 600 grams worth of tiger prawns into a plastic bag. She looked at me, hopping from one foot to another:

"Dinner party?"

"Yes. Someone I really need to impress. Dunno if the food will turn out OK though."

"Look love, when someone cooks for you, it's always delicious. Don't worry so much about it."

"Yeah, thanks," I nodded, not believing her.

I am a chronic worrier; I guess you could say that anxiety is my normal state of mind. I worried as I was on my knees on a very grubby bathroom floor, scrubbing away. I worried as I made the special paste for the fish, rubbed it deep into the fillet, wrapped it in a banana leaf and shoved it in the oven (what if it didn't turn out, what if he didn't like it? Even worse, what if his wife didn't?). I worried as I made a mistake with the butter prawns (I put in the grated coconut before the Chinese wine and the soy sauce, rather than after). Aaaaaarrrrggggghhhhhhh! I worried as I fried the parathas which insisted on coming apart in my hands. And the papadams, which kept burning.

I kept glancing at the clock. Oh dear, only an hour and a half left. And I knew, I just knew he would be incredibly punctual. Back home, when you say six o'clock, you would be lucky if your guests rocked up at 6.30. Here, it was punctuality to the minute. His classes, for instance, always started on the microsecond.

With an hour to spare, I had a quick shower, blowdried my impossible hair (thank God I had it all chopped off recently) and changed. No costumes, although it was Halloween. I opted for a black turtleneck (but let us be conservative, or die). By this time, there was only about a half hour left and I had started to squeak as I shoved the table into the hall (student house, what can you do?) and tried to set it.

It was groaning under the weight of the dishes - Portuguese baked fish, butter prawns, Italian-herbed potatoes, creamed broccoli, nasi kemuli (a Nyonya wedding rice), roti paratha (onion and plain), papadams and there was a glistening sticky toffee pudding on the kitchen table for dessert. There was hardly room for the plates.

Like I expected, he arrived with his wife on the dot. This, my favourite lecturer. 60-something, grizzled, and often cantankerous, but brilliant, funny and surprisingly warm when you least expected it. His wife was a tiny, vital person with short hair and flashing eyes. As I expected (despite his professed MCP proclivities) she was a fighter and would not let him get away with making a sexist remark. I knew he wouldn't have married a pushover, no matter how he ranted against feminists. Another tick on his list of perfections. My other guests arrived (actually there was only one another, my friend Lisa, who took his classes as well and liked him) and it was time to begin.

We dug in. I was too nervous to eat, having dined off the smell the whole day. I held my breath and watched them out of the corner of my eye. Lisa was ill but even she was managing to tuck something away. As for my year-long crush, he was eating, complimenting and asking for seconds. I was ecstatic.

"The food is really delicious. Where did you learn to cook?"

"Back home. I decided to, when I couldn't take my boyfriend's cooking one minute longer. His philosophy was 'everything but the kitchen sink' and all the dishes were so incredibly rich they had me running for the bathroom almost instantly." Hahahahahaha.

Did I imagine it or did he look a little sad when I mentioned a boyfriend? (of course, it is an ex I'm talking about, all my boyfriends are exes)

Amici Forever was playing softly in the background and I saw a faraway look steal into his eyes as he zoned out. I leaned over and whispered, there's also dessert to come, you know. He turned to me, coming back to earth and said, sorry, I just know this song, it's Ungrateful Heart. Yes, I grinned, nodding cheerfully, it is. Another sigh of relief. He liked my music selection. You may think I was being overanxious, but this was one fussy professor. An Elizabethan scholar. He disliked nearly everything contemporary - finding them brash and vulgar and just plain dumb. I fell in love with him over Shakespeare and Socrates.

After dessert, we watched the Othello bits in Stage Beauty. When I first watched Stage Beauty I was riveted. At the startling denouement I remember being pressed into my seat, hardly daring to breathe, going no, no, no, no, no! Of course I had to know what he thought of it.

"I loved it, but then I am easily pleased, wouldn't you say?"

He flashed me a look, suspecting sarcasm. We watched the beginning, where Desdemona died "beautifully". We watched the end, where she fought for her life. My other guests were as riveted as I had been. I stole a look at my lecturer. What did he think?

"That was really good. It was also very historically accurate, you know, the way the stage was set up and everything. They obviously did a lot of research. That was supposed to be Edward Kynaston?"

He had obviously heard of Kynaston. And when I mentioned Nell Gwynne, he nodded sagely: "Yes, the king's mistress." That's what it's like having an Elizabethan scholar watch bits of a period movie with you. They know all this stuff before you tell them. "What's it called again, Stage Beauty? I will have to get it out. Looks very good."

It was nearly eight and the two of them had to leave. His wife said: "We have to be up at the crack of dawn."

He said: "And these girls need to prepare for their exams."

We went out to his car to say goodbye. He thanked me for the lovely meal and the lovely evening. He opened the car door for his wife and saw her safely in. Then he came around to say goodbye and gave me a hug. It was long and satisfying. And I felt sad all over again.

I thought I was over him, but I guess I'm not.

I love you. You're perfect. Don't change.


stretch td said...

coveting your neighbor's spouse? Oh my! You naughty girl.

Jenn said...

I know. But I only covet. I don't do anything about it. And you can't help where you love.

lily said...

this was really cool. I was reading it till the end and waiting to hear what happened next. Its like a movie scene... or something like that.
Will come back again.

Jenn said...

Wow thanks Lily. And welcome.