Soft music played, cutlery gently clinked against china, and the carefree conversations of happy couples filled the air. Meanwhile Boris looked down and realigned the spotless knife and fork in front of him. How glad he was to have something—anything—to make it look like he was busy. He was running out of ideas. He had already thoroughly examined the menu, ordered a drink, cleaned the face of his wristwatch, feigned six minutes of interest in a rather dull painting on the wall and then re-read the menu. It took every ounce of his concentration to act as though all was well. Ever since he sat down alone, the anxiety had been steadily building within him, until Boris started to think his stomach might actually melt. An idea graciously came to mind: he could check the calendar on his phone. That would buy him a few, sweet minutes of relief. With an expression of intense thought, Boris looked through the non-existent upcoming appointments in his schedule. He then checked his messages (or rather, message) to make sure he had the right day for his blind date, and the right time, and the right restaurant. Yes, he had the details correct, just as he did the first five times he had checked his phone.
Boris sipped the smallest amount of his drink, trying to ration what little was left. He inwardly scolded himself for having so quickly drained the first half of his glass. Suddenly he felt as if the whole room had gone silent. It hadn’t. He was sure everybody was staring at him. They weren’t. He wondered if people were secretly laughing at him. Or perhaps they felt pity for him. Which would be worse? Pity, thought Boris. That would be worse. At least if everyone was laughing at him, he could laugh along with them and pretend he saw a funny side to being alone. If everyone felt sorry for him though, what could he do? Tell them not to worry about him, and that it was no big deal? No. He wouldn’t get a solitary word out before he started crying; and if he started crying he might never stop.
Boris took a deep breath and looked around for something to divert his attention from these miserable thoughts. Over in the far corner, at a table almost unreached by the restaurant’s delicate lighting, a young, shy-looking woman sat alone. She was beautiful; not movie star beautiful, but still way out of Boris’ league. He wondered if she might be his blind date. Why else would she be seated on her own? Should he go over and ask? If she was his date, why hadn’t the restaurant staff figured out their blunder and moved them to the same table? It was frustrating. Boris, summoning his courage and allowing himself to hope, prepared to get up and approach the young lady, when suddenly her friends returned from the bathroom and joined her at the table. Boris’ disappointment was outweighed only by his thankfulness that he had not gone over there and embarrassed himself.
Boris checked his phone one more time. There were no new messages, and his date was now forty minutes late. That’s enough, thought Boris. He took a twenty-dollar note from his wallet and placed it on the table. That would cover his drink, and then a little extra. It was the least he could do after sitting there so long and not ordering any food. Plus, the waiters had been good to him; they had left him alone. Boris put on a brave face and stood up from the table. He was conscious of a few people looking at him, but that was all right. He glanced around. There was no derision in those faces, only pity. It turned out that wasn’t so bad after all; it was almost comforting. Boris left quickly and quietly, and with that unique, painful kind of humility that rejection gives.
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