Mário Santos

I Wait for You Among the Seagulls

The appointment was made for 9 p.m. I arrived, as is my tradition, forty-five minutes late. It’s all part of my brand, my charm strategy, the wait, the anxiety growing in his stomach, the possibility that I might not appear. When I stepped into the restaurant, I saw a regular Saturday-night environment around me. The cute waiter, who looks at me with desire and malice, was there too. The well-shaped one, resembling Enrique Iglesias, the Latin singer, who knows perfectly what I’m going to do there. The same one who talks about me, whispering in the ears of his colleagues, as I’ve noticed several times, but has never dared say a word to me. The same one who walked past me with a platter of steaks balanced on his right hand, his beautiful and open smile focused on me, ashamed and shy at the same time.

There he was, my loyal client, seated at the same table by the window with a view of the dock, full of boats. There he was, eager as expected. He looked at his wristwatch several times, straightened the knot of his tie and looked around. He would already have done that many times. When his eyes met mine, he stood up, clearly as relieved and happy as a child. Two kisses on my face. I’m not comfortable with those kisses. I never was. I can feel the texture of his lips, too worn and rough, touching my soft skin, treated with Nivea creams and slightly made up with West. My lips, painted to perfection with Estée Lauder, are wasted kissing him. I used to have the slight sensation that his kisses tousled my skin. He pulled out a chair for me. Praised me as usual. I thanked him with my smile number twelve. A half-smile of thanks, not too excessive. He chose the dish for us both. Gratin salmon with oyster sauce. It was the chef’s suggestion for that night. A bottle of vintage white wine from the north region. He asked me if I agreed. Of course, I did. It’s the protocol. “Of course, my dear. It’s perfect,” I said, with my smile number twelve still on. He wore a blue shirt and a purple tie. Taking into consideration his dressing style, I suppose it was an acceptable match. There was nothing unusual about him except for an excessive nervousness. He stumbled over his words, always checking something mysterious on the face of his wristwatch, his precious Rolex Estimate 99 Edition. I realized immediately that he’d something important to say to me. Something not easy to mention. Again, he praised my beauty and my clothes, in a rather clumsy way. He was right. I was dressed to kill. A Gianfranco silk shirt with a neckline open enough to expose the upper outline of my breasts, supported by a Triumph preciousness brassiere from this summer’s collection. Cavalli skirt, with printed stretchy fabric, two inches above the knees. Dark blue Meitze high-socks and red metallic Sonia Rykiel shoes with narrow heels. A gorgeous pearl metal ring Bauge a Part, plus some Dior jewellery. A Chanel Escada vest. Leather wallet by John Galliano. Well… my look was a perfect balance between a rebel nineteen-year-old girl and a sophisticated middle-aged woman. He appreciated that look, and I knew it. It made him feel escorted, at the same time, by a sensual teenager and a sophisticated lady. Then the conversation turned, as usual, to the same trivialities. The same old subjects: the company, the business, the weekly meetings, the children, the grandchildren. And I sat, listening to him carefully with my smile number six: a light but attentive one.

“I’ve something important to say to you,” he said. “I’m a little bit nervous, I must confess. It makes me feel ridiculous… a man of my age, you know.” And I sat, with my smile number six, waiting for the revelation to come. “I feel like a teenager. I guess I must even be blushing,” he said, clearly uncomfortable with something going on in his mind, with something he was unable to express. “I want to give you something. It’s a gift. A special gift. I hope you like it.” It was a small package. Clearly a jewel. He touched my hand. Then he held it. I put my smile number eight on: a more cheerful and effusive one.

“Wow! You’re so sweet. Thank you, my love,” I said with the number eight still on.

“I want you to take it. And please, listen to what I have to say,” he said, stumbling over the words once more.

He held my hand tightly. I put smile number nine on. It’s like the eight, just more expressive. “Let me open it,” I said. He let go of my hand and I began to unpack the gift very carefully, to put the wrapping paper aside, to open the box using a suspense motion from the cinema, and then to take out a ring covered in pearls from inside the box. “Wow! It’s beautiful, my love,” I said, with my effusive smile number ten. It was not jewelry I liked, but it should be worth good money. I felt his hand again holding mine, and I said to him, “Let me put it on.” And he, glowing, happy as only a child could be. And again, the persistent, sweaty hand holding mine.

“What I have to say to you is truly important,” he said.

At that exact moment, the Enrique Iglesias lookalike arrived, with the dishes and the wine. He was serving at our table just to look at me. I knew it wasn’t his working area that night. I apologized to my client and went to the toilet. Enrique Iglesias passed my way, but nothing happened. Just his naughty smile and his glazed look. He wasn’t my type, to be honest. Too young, too much gym, too much gel in his hair, too inexperienced. Too much was his main problem. But who knows? If he eventually caught me at a more fragile period, I might give him a chance. But he was too shy even to say something to me. He was undeniably dazzled, blown away and paralyzed by my beauty, and my charm, and my clothes, and my profession. He must think that he isn’t enough man for me, and in fact, he is right.

Then, back at the table, I suggested we have dinner first, and then he could tell me what he had to say. It was an almost silent dinner. I already knew what he was going to say to me, and because of that, it was difficult to escape from my thoughts. I heard him talking, the few words he said during that dinner: meetings, business, the new car, children, grandchildren. During the lapse of time, I devised a stratagem to glance occasionally out of the window imperceptibly. A stratagem to watch the seagulls that were on the dock and suddenly flew away to another spot. I love the seagulls, I even envy them the freedom to go to wherever they want. The freedom to fly away or to observe everything from the top of the sailboats’ masts. I love their capacity to fly away when they want, to wherever they want. And because they all looked alike in their crazy and continuous motion, it was as if they were all a single seagull. I took some time to organize my life in my mind, between the shallow flights and dive maneuvers, and the conversation about meetings, and business, and new cars. I was thinking about the Molecular Structures Exam I was going to attend on Tuesday, about the last episode of The Sopranos, about the laundry, about my damaged hi-fi equipment – I had to buy another one immediately because I can’t live without music – and about my car’s annual service.

“We should’ve met many years ago,” he said. “I know you’re the woman of my dreams, the woman I should’ve married. But life is the way it is. There are twenty-eight years between us. But you’re the woman I want in my life. I want you to be by my side for the rest of my life. For the rest of my short life,” he said. “You don’t need to say anything now. Take your time. I want you to be mine. I want to give you everything you deserve to have. I want to make you happy in the best way I can. Come live with me, or, if that doesn’t please you, I’ll buy you a fully furnished apartment. It will be yours. You choose the apartment. You choose the location. You choose the decoration. You’ll live there, and I could visit you. I don’t want to share you with anyone. I want you to be mine. I don’t want you to have other men and imagine what they do to you. I’ll buy you a car. You choose the car you want. Any one. I want to give you everything I have. I can do it. But I don’t want to share you with others. I want you to be mine. Only mine.”

Enrique Iglesias arrived and smiled at me. He glanced at my breasts and asked us if everything was all right. I can’t remember what I said to him, but it must have been something harsh, because he lost his smile and vanished through the tables. I had the option of being a wife or a lover. So, for a while, I had to forget the Molecular Structures Exam on Tuesday, the laundry, the Sopranos episode, the damaged hi-fi system and my car’s annual service. I would like to explain to my client that, in spite of looking like a cold and insensitive bitch, that’s what I’ve become, it’s not who I really am. When I was a kid, I was the ugly duckling. I was not seen as having the traditional feminine behavior. I was skinny and clumsy. I liked to play street soccer along with the boys. Then my body began to change. Then I went to college. My body and soul transformed themselves into lethal weapons. I can’t accept his proposal. I want to keep this life for a few more years. For x more years. I still don’t know the value of x. I still don’t know the result of the equation. Anyway, I want to get married and have kids someday. Yes, I do. I want to be a mother and a housewife and to do cruises in the Pacific Ocean with my husband. I want to drive long miles to visit our fathers, with the two kids – a boy and a girl – in the back seat of the van. I told him that. I had to do it. I used some euphemisms, but it doesn’t matter. I wished badly to look at the seagulls again. The seagulls standing on the dock or flying in the dusky sky. But I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t. I had in front of me one of my best customers: dinners, no sex, a lot of expensive gifts all the time, and the regular two hundred and fifty per hour. That was our deal: companionship, affection, a touch, a light kiss, make friends jealous, leave strangers chewed up with envy. But wife or exclusive lover I couldn’t be.

I thought about several things. Trivial things about my life: my credit card is going to expire soon, I long for the new one to arrive, I can’t forget the photocopies for the exam. Then I needed to check some stuff on my mobile, but I couldn’t. I had in front of me a broken heart and a twenty-eight-year gap between us. Because of that, I sat still, and I didn’t pay attention to the seagulls. Instead, I sat still, observing the hairs coming out of the man’s nose in front of me, the wrinkles all over his face, his skin looking paler than it already was, a membrane-like pouch falling from his neck, strangled by the knot of his necktie. The twenty-eight-year gap that was in front of me, trying to light a cigarette after three failed attempts, the silver healing bracelet on his left wrist, swallowing the cigarette smoke, his aged hands, nervous hands adjusting the Rolex, the skin full of pigments, the two wedding rings – his and his deceased wife’s – both overlapping, one over the other.

We both knew that it would be our last time together. I had my smile number zero on, the sad one, the farewell one. His suffering touched me in a certain way. He ordered a double Bourbon, which is one of the ways men have to cry.  It would be our last time, we both knew it. My No answer would tear us apart forever.

“You love seagulls, don’t you?” he said. “I noticed you were always looking at them through the window.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “That’s true. I really love seagulls. When I die, I’d like to be reincarnated as a seagull.”

“I never told you this, but I’ve always loved seagulls, since I was a kid,” he said. “There was a time, a distant time, when I had a dream. And my dream was to live on a boat. My dream was to explore the whole world. To navigate the seas, always surrounded by seagulls. I had that dream for quite some time. I don’t remember how long it lasted and I can’t even remember when I stopped having it.”

I was touched by that revelation. I truly was. We’ve talked about so many trivialities during the time we’ve spent together: the company, the meetings, the business, cars, children, grandchildren, but nothing about the seagulls, nothing about the dreams.

“I’ll go first. Is that all right?” I said to him. He nodded, and still tried a last smile but without much success.

“I don’t know if you believe in God,” he said. “I do. And I believe that one day we will meet in another reincarnation, without barriers of any kind, without twenty-eight-years between us, and I know that we’ll be free. I’m sure of that. We will be happy and free. And we will meet here, precisely here, to begin a long journey together. We will meet here, on this pier, and I’ll be waiting for you among the seagulls.”

Mário Santos lives in Lisbon, Portugal. Coming from languages and arts but passionate for the new technologies, he writes his first novel, “A Máquina não gosta de gatos” (The machine hates cats), published in 2015 in Portugal by a traditional publishing house, Guerra & Paz Editores. His short stories and poetry have been published in The Opiate Magazine, The Fictional Café, The Tiger Moth Review, Nightingale and Sparrow, and others. Visit him online at www.mariosantosonline.com