The symbolism was as mashed as my nerve: the table set with a chipped and stained antipasto bowl filled with pimento olives drowning in oily marinade. It looked like you were making an effort. This time I didn’t care.The sweat leached from my back and armpits, sucked at my t-shirt even though it was a cool March afternoon, a pretend taste of sub-tropical autumn before the city melted in a final hurrah to summer.
‘You know Ally Lewis’s son went to a kinesiologist,’ you said, settling yourself opposite me, the olives between us. ‘Had his body temperature tweaked half a degree. You should do that. You’d be more comfortable.’
I knew you meant you would be more comfortable. I’d never worked out why you found sweat so offensive.
I’m fine most of the time, I wanted to say. It’s only you who does this to me.
But my tongue languished unresponsive in my mouth. I swore I felt it swell to fill the emptiness left by the unsaid words.
You read my t-shirt with brows sewn together. Anything you didn’t understand you automatically labelled rubbish and I’d got the feeling in the last few years you’d slipped me into that category too. And somehow I minded.
Your quizzical expression gave way to mild exasperation and in turn became mild disgust. You were infinite layers of wilting dissatisfaction. Being with you was like choking on insulation fibers.
I took an olive to occupy my nervous hands before you launched a monologue on the psychology of restless fingers. Rolled it between my fingers for a moment, an unintentional mimicry of you with grapes, before popping it into my mouth and chewing carefully.
‘You eat olives. That’s new.’
I hated olives but kept an impassive face. It gave tangible form to the sourness in my mouth and I wish I’d just left without saying good-bye.
‘Why not go to Sydney?’ you asked. ‘You love Sydney.’
Loved. When I was ten and the highlight was an Opera House snow dome and a Harbour Bridge ruler. Exotic souvenirs from travelling grandparents. Something shiny for show and tell on the first day of term.
‘We have friends and family there,’ you said.
We? Aunty Sue and Uncle Vic were hardly family. My friends who moved to Sydney had moved again. You didn’t know anyone else there. Ever. Besides, I wasn’t travelling for us. For you.
‘You’re going so far away!’
You said it as though I’d got hold of an atlas and ruler, worked out the furthest place from here and decided on that as my destination. Maybe you were right to think that.
This time I didn’t care what you thought. Or if you were right.
‘I just don’t understand. Why Morocco?’
Food. History. Architecture. Culture. Adventure.
Things you would never understand. Though you would’ve hit Google if I’d let you know yesterday what I was planning. I’d have spent this afternoon listening to you, the armchair expert on Morocco, tell me all about my destination. That’s how you worked. You who have never ventured beyond the state you were born in.
‘You can’t stomach chilli. It gives you the trots. Remember the time…’
And I tuned out. I imagined being there: the veiled women, the bearded men, the dusty marketplace, the smell of spiced meat cooking, the call to prayer, the bray of goats and camels, the hand of Fatima on the doors. I imagined myself in a dozen other places too. I imagined being so far away from you I could breathe. I saw the umbilical cord still lashed around my neck snap as the plane rose above the tarmac.
You see, I’m not like you, I wanted so badly to say. I’m not afraid to be alone.
‘Are you going to just sit there and say nothing? Tear your old Mum’s heart out and not even say sorry?’
What’s the point of talking? You haven’t listened to me once in twenty-five years and I don’t expect you to start now. The best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour, you used to say, parroting Dr Phil.
I relish this moment, to be your anomaly.
‘I raised you better than this.’
You raised me to believe actions speak louder than words, though you always just talked louder, at me. Like now.
So I stood and pushed the bowl of olives toward you. The squeal of the wire door behind me ignited the pyre of your disappointments.
Image: Neeta Linda, Flickr, Creative Commons, some rights reserved (via the Frugal Cafe)