My daughter is here, in the midst of a hysterical, screaming crowd of protesters; no doubt adding her comments to those that blast through a loud hailer now and again. What else can you expect of a daughter who at twenty-six is making a career of being a student? This year it’s Political Science. She is protesting at the dismissal of her University Dean. Next week it will be climate change.
I sit here pretending to read while keeping an eye on the crowd.
I rang her father this morning.
“Georges,” I said, “Arbella is protesting today, at the square. Can you join me there later?” He said he would. However, he’s not that reliable.
I don’t like Arbella going to these protests and I know she will be furious if she finds out I’m here. “Spying on me, Mother?” she will shout.
A young man stops beside me, leaning on the picket fence that divides the eating area from the square. His breathing laboured and his hairline damp. The smell of his sweat fills my nostrils then fades as he bends away to retrieve a camera and take a photo of the protesting students.
My heart leaps in fear. Is he an undercover policeman? I move my chair around to face the crowd and watch as he hurries to the edge. He moves forward, stepping over limbs, pauses to apologise occasionally until he drops out of sight. A student then, a participant - not a police spy. My pulse slows and I gesture to the passing waiter.
I have already drunk two coffees so I order a pasta salad with grilled sole. If I don’t eat I will be politely asked to move on. These chairs are for diners – not watchers.
My lunch arrives and over the waiter’s shoulder I see Georges holding a wine bottle aloft to tell me he has our liquid refreshments. He snaps his fingers at the waiter and indicates that he wants two glasses. Typical Georges, everyone obeys him – except our daughter.
I lean forward to receive his formal kisses of welcome.
“Susannah” he says, and I smell a new aftershave. He has changed women again – always a new aftershave for a new liaison.
“You came. I’m glad. Thank you.” I murmur.
He nods, sits down opposite me and pulls my lunch towards the middle and helps himself to mouthfuls before passing me the fork. Given our history I’m surprised I’m enjoying his presence. There is a lot to be said for a glass of wine and companionable silence.
His arrival has slipped the coat of concern from my shoulders. I’ve been wearing it all morning but now I feel physically lighter and the day is warmer and brighter. We sit like an old married couple, which we are – and yet we aren’t. There is no need for conversation. We have thoroughly thrashed most topics
I look at his profile and recognise, yet again, how handsome he is. No wonder the ladies love him. His thatch of dark hair, greying at the temples, frames a Mediterranean face, deep dark eyes and an aristocratic nose. I nod slightly to myself confirming that love still lingers faintly in my heart and I sigh at the futility of it all. My movement prompts him to speak.
“She has your stubbornness, Susannah, and from me she has inherited oratory skills. But she needs to learn caution. Sometimes her causes are too public and too far to the left. It’s a pity she hasn’t my ability to make wise judgements”
Except for your love-life, but I clamp my jaws shut to prevent the thought escaping.
“By now she should be settled and presented us with grandchildren – not attending protests. She should have been a boy - a son.”
I reply as I always do: “But she is a girl and she is ours.”
We have just completed a verbal ritual that occurs each time we meet. I know his comments always lead to his deprivation of a son. He uses this and my infertility, as an excuse to have affairs - and the stubbornness he refers to is my refusal to have him return to our bed. I miss the comfort of his arms but I wearied of perfumes different to mine. His women leave their scent on him like a cat sprays its territory.
We no longer live together and I no longer have to pretend he’s been working late when he eventually arrives for a rare family meal with Arbella and me. Now he is free to ‘tomcat’ and I am free too.
I know by now that whispers will be weaving around the square from policeman to policeman.’
‘Judge Collado is lunching at the café,’ the whisper will say. What it won’t say, but all policemen will know, is that there will be no sudden mounted charge into the protesters, no raised batons felled at random on the students’ heads. This protest will now follow a non-violent course until the students give up, hot and weary, and trickle home.
This was my reason for ringing Georges. His presence in the square will be enough to quell the anger and impatience of policemen called in from leave; their weekend ruined, to watch a bunch of students bellow their views on their current topic of concern.
“I think I will go now, Georges. You will stay on?”
He nods. Of course he will stay –and probably ring his latest love to join him. They may even parade, like fashionable flamingos, and so polish his male ego.
I pick up my book and bag then lean forward to peck his cheek. Georges will pay for my drinks and lunch. He settles all my bills.
This is the cost of his freedom—the price I pay is unseen.