She came to the Asian restaurant with a man who, I later learned, was soon to be her ex-husband. They sat down at the table next to me. Had they been talking or not, I wonder now.
He stood up, slowly, but with an air of drama. Without as much as a single word, he put on his jacket, shawl, and hat.
She watched him. For a few moments, it was impossible to tell whether she was going to follow his lead – had they both suddenly decided to have dinner somewhere else? – or not.
Then he left.
Our eyes met. “Men”, she said. I nodded sympathetically, but not too sympathetically, for the one voice in my head was saying that no, I did not really condone such gross generalisations, and the other said, Christ, don’t say this out loud, it’s not the time for this. “You’re also on your own, aren’t you?”, she asked.
I moved over to her table. Was I eating out on my own a lot? Not a lot lately, trying to save money, but in general, yes. Did I not feel awkward? Alone? In a restaurant? Not particularly, though, since you’re saying that, if ever I felt awkward eating out by myself then it was in this very town. She understood that.
About six months ago, she had finished her studies at university. Political science. Then she ran a gift shop in a mall, for a few months. It had been fun, she said. But the contract was over. She had applied for a post in a research project in another town, but they took someone else. It was not a good time to be starting things, she said. Oh, and did I live by myself?
Yes. No, not the best time to be starting things, not the best, really. No, I’m not feeling lonely, living by myself. Her own sister had filed a court case against her? Really? All over an asbestus-ridden house left behind by their grandmother? Sounds bizarre.
She had spent some time in “Aussendienst”, driving around the country on some business I didn’t bother to find out about. Yes, she had also eaten in restaurants, naturally. But she quickly gave up on that. She was too embarrassed. So now she would just grab some food on the way to her hotel, and eat it in her room.
The divorce, yes. She was hoping for an amicable relationship with her soon-to-be ex-husband. But the signs were not good, she said. Partly her own fault. After all, she had all of a sudden kicked him out of the apartment. She wasn’t proud of that, no. But still, isn’t your husband the person you know best, and aren’t you the person he knows best, and would this not make you perfect best friends even when you can’t stay married anymore? Hm, I said. Hm. Hm. The one voice in my head mocked me (“haha, what would you know about marriage”), the other mocked her (“good grief, that woman could be your grandmother with all this marriage bullshit”).
Had I gone out to eat by myself tonight because I didn’t know anyone in town?
No, I said. I was just hungry.