A Final Drink
B looks at me, smiling. "That was some party wasn't it?"
I unbutton a few more top buttons from my shirt and smile back. "Thanks to you."
She removes her right hand from her hip and waves my suggestion away. "No way. My cooking was just okay, but you were a great host. I think I put my foot in it a couple of times with your Iraqi friend."
"No you didn't. Saïd is who he is, you are who you are, and I saw respect on both sides of that."
"You were a good referee, but I hope he didn't decline the offer to stay here because of something I said?"
I shake my head. "No, of course not. You have to know Saïd well. If this was my place you wouldn't move him for love nor money, until his few days here was over. As it isn't my place he feels he would be imposing. He'll be comfortable at the local mosque he's found. I'm going to take him sightseeing in London tomorrow."
"Good luck with that. Hope some copper with an over-active imagination doesn't decide to play a turkey shoot with you. You should tell him to shave his beard and wear a Union Jack shirt or something."
"Honey B, that's in bad taste."
She dips a finger in the remnants of her home-made sauce on her plate and grimaces. "Like this?"
"That was definitely not in bad taste. You're an excellent cook. And if you call your cooking this evening just okay, I want to be there when you believe you've outdone yourself, because in my opinion you did that tonight."
She sticks out her tongue at me. "Says the eating expert!"
"Well I'm an expert on your cooking. I've tasted it so many times."
B looks away, and starts to pick up some of the empty bottles. "Will your brother be coming back this evening?"
"No, he spends the weekends at his wife's house."
"Yeah, what is up with that?"
"It's a long story. When I was away they were estranged for a while, but I think things are warming up again-"
"Well, living separately from my husband is crazy. If I love him and I want him, then I want all of him, not only at the weekend!"
"Now B, let's not judge lest we be judged."
B gives off one of her familiar snorts. "I haven't been a very good girl tonight, have I?"
I walk over to her and place both hands on her shoulders. "B, you were wonderful tonight and you know I don't say these things lightly. But, I couldn't help noticing that something is bothering you."
"Nothing really, just let's tactfully call it my time of the month," she says with a swift smile, as swift as her sudden change of subject. "I liked it when you quietly said that drinking and celebrating Christmas isn't anti-Islamic, but killing innocents in the name of Islam was. Now had I said that, I think your friend would have got offended. You seem to have a way with him."
"I don't think he would have got offended. He isn't like that. And we have shared too many nights over a single plate of rice to let any differences in thought offend the other. We know each other too well, because we met at the very basic level of dignity."
"You don't often talk about those days."
"I didn't do it to have an interesting topic over dinner, B."
"I know that! I mean you haven't really talked about it with me. Apart from what I read on your blog... sometimes as long as I've known you, even I have to click on to your blog to find out things about you!"
I smile as I help to clear up the empty bottles. "Are we on that subject again?"
"We've always been on that subject as long as I've known you! You're not an easy guy to get to know, y'know?"
"I don't do it on purpose. This is what I am. But as on my blog, I once gave you my solemn promise that you will hear nothing but truth from me. You remember?"
She looks at me for a single moment without speaking. I can actually see a light shine in her large, dark eyes as the memory registers in her mind. "My boy lawyer that would die for the truth... Yes, I do. You climbed up to my bedroom's balcony and swore to me you were different, and as with every other promise you've ever made me, you haven't broken that, either. But I always have to pull everything out of you! It's like pulling out nails."
"Ouch!" I grin. "Am I really that bad?"
B sticks out her tongue. "Pig! You know you are."
"Thank you for the compliment B. Pigs are lovely animals."
"Oh shush mister! Did you get a chance to call home?"
"Yes, I did."
"And is that what's been bothering you? How to tell me?"
B takes hold of one of my hands. "Did they tell you?"
"No, they never would. I realised it from the way Mum and Dad were speaking."
"I knew you'd get it from just one phone call."
"How did you find out?"
"I- I went to visit your parents, just to see if they were okay. I saw straight away your father was in a bad way. He is such a gentleman, lovely person-"
I grip her hand. "He is nearing eighty, B, and he had me late in life. So, I guess I should have been preparing for the worst for some time, but I've never heard him sound so frail. When I pushed the issue Mum told me it was a visit to a new dentist to pull a tooth. He hadn't warned her he was diabetic, and he lost a lot of blood."
"And all through the party you never showed it-"
"Honey B, the party wasn't about me. That would have been thoughtless of me."
She cups my face in both hands. "Ali! It would have been human of you."
I take her left hand, and very gently place a kiss on her palm. "I was thinking of him you know. When the issue of Christmas came up, and I told the story of my father-"
"-and the next-door neighbour?"
"Yes. When she asked Dad why we celebrated Christmas with such gusto, I remember he had replied that believing in Jesus equalled believing in love, and Islam, if that's what she thought us to be about, is all about love. We can argue over details, he had said, but you can't argue on that."
"A gentleman who raised an equally gentle man."
"Honey B, I wish. I will never be half the man my father is, but even being a good half will be an accomplishment for me."
"What will you do?"
B traces my furrowed brow with a finger. "So much on your shoulders?"
"Not really, nothing I wouldn't want. It's just that really for the first time I'm seeing my parents as mortal, and wondering whether I made the right decision to have children later rather than sooner. And I've been forced into thinking about what will happen to their home and effects after they've gone."
"What do you want to happen?"
"I'd like to see their house in Cyprus remain in the family as a kind of monument to them, where we can all bring their grandchildren to visit and talk about them, and water their trees. But who knows...?"
We both sense the mood turning morbid, and so B adds some sparkle back into the air. She shakes one of the bottles of wine, and gives a small whoop of joy as the presence of its contents swirl about in the bottle. "Are you up for a final drink before we clear up?"
I nod, smiling, and reach to get our glasses. "Shall we make a toast?"
"How about to our final drink?"
I shake my head. "Let's toast to this not being the final drink for any of us, not by a long shot."
"Here, here," says B, blowing me a kiss.