By Konstantina Sozou-Kyrkou
I really like you, Korina,’ Manos said, staring at the amber worry beads coiled round his right index finger, then holding them in a vertical position, letting the beads slide, click-clack against each other, like shifting shingle on the beach. He didn’t glance up at me and didn’t raise his voice enough to cover the roaring sound a motorbike made when it passed outside the café we were sitting in, making the misty windows whirr. I didn’t like the tone of his voice. He said it like a pediatrician promising a kid the injection he’s giving her won’t hurt. I squinted at him, ready to ask, ‘But?’ There must have been a ‘but’, I thought, when the waitress brought us his hot cappuccino and a piece of chocolate cake for me. Her smiling eyes lingered a bit longer on Manos’s handsome face but he paid no heed and gazed at the surface of his coffee as if reading his life story on the patterns of the foam there. She made a swift turn and let her ponytail swing from left to right and right to left, like a mule’s tail brushing against pesky flies.
The cake looked ambrosial and I decided to take a bite. The velvety, savory, chocolate topping started to numb my senses when Manos said,
‘We can’t go on like this.’ The black string of the worry beads was choking his thumb now, bad circulation turning it into a radish.
‘Like what?’ I said, wiping the extra chocolate off the edges of my mouth with a paper napkin. I knew there was something wrong the moment I laid eyes on him that morning. He kept his head down and avoided eye contact. He had found another one. That was it. A new person in his life. How couldn’t I have noticed? There were signs everywhere. He came late on our dates and left early, he looked tired and rarely made love to me. I thought he was going through a bad patch at work.
‘Who is she?’ I said, patting the cake with my fork into a layer of rotten mince.
‘No one,’ he said. ‘There’s no one else.’
‘Then what is wrong with us?’ I said, biting my thumb nail.
‘I really like you… but…’
‘You’ve said that already,’ I said.
‘But… we can’t be together anymore.’ His eyes were still clapped on the contents of his untouched coffee.
‘Why? Why not?’ My voice croaked its way out of my throat, way above the din of the crockery and the drone of the other customers’ chit-chat. My left palm flew against my mouth.
‘Is it me?’ I said, quietly now, pointing to my chest, which was starting to hurt, my heart hammering its way up to my dry mouth.
‘No, no. It’s me. I just… I just don’t feel anything anymore. Blank, nil, zero. How can I explain…’ he raised a hand and rubbed his right temple.
‘Then it’s me.’ I said.
‘No, no! It’s not you,’ he rushed to utter, for the first time looking me in the eye, full of kindness and compassion, as if consoling a terminal patient. ‘You’ve got everything a man would want in a woman. But…’
‘Are you gay?’ I dared whisper.
‘No way!’ His face puckered. ‘You know me well enough.’
‘Yes, of course,’ I said.
‘We can still be friends,’ he said.
‘Yeah, yeah, sure,’ I nodded, knowing we never could. He placed a ten euro banknote on the table, got up, lifted his trousers at the waist, peeled his jacket off the back of the chair and left, a plain ‘see you’ trailing behind him.
His worry beads were lying on the table, half-hidden under his coffee saucer. I picked them up and started counting the beads. If it was an odd number, I said to myself, he was gay, if it was an even one, it was just me. Seventeen beads. Well, I knew it couldn’t have been me. I twisted the worry beads round my right hand, dangled and rattled them, watched them sparkle like a woman’s costly necklace.