Another Name for Life

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She raised her eyes to the mirror and saw the mascara running down her cheeks. For some reason, it made her smile. It might have been the wine or the day’s events, but she was done crying and ready to move on. However brief that future may be.

She walked back out to her table. She walked by the romantic couple and the noisy family. She squeezed by the big birthday table and arrived back at her own, quiet one. She was sitting at the back of her restaurant with a view of everything and everyone’s backs to her.

She liked it that way.

As she sat down, the waiter appeared like an apparition at her table and silently topped up her wine glass. She smiled at him and saw his eyes flicker briefly at her running mascara. She wondered what he thought of her, but, instead of asking her, he nodded and disappeared.

This was her restaurant, her table and her life. Even if she had cancer, she was going to enjoy the last bit of life before she chose to end it. At least, so she thought, she would take it on her own terms then and die with some dignity. Her mind was made up and it actually made the wine taste sweeter.

***

“Another round of drinks!” was announced, and some birthday orders were put in. He could feel he was starting to slip into the alcoholic fog, but it was his birthday so he tried to smile and lean into it.

Around him were his dearest friends and their better halves. In your twenties, you have wild birthday parties, in your thirties you celebrated the big ones, but in your forties you take everyone to dinner at a fancy restaurant.

The only difference is that you then order plenty of drinks with the food.

A slim, dark lady walked by their table. She had an air of tragedy about her that pierced his cocktail-haze. When she sat down at her table at the back of the restaurant, he caught a brief glimpse of her mascara-streaked face and red eyes, and his heart went out to her.

“Another round of drinks!” erupted from the merry crowd and it was met with a cheer from most, though he slouched back in his seat. Her tragic persona was bouncing around his mind now. He kept peeking at her, but all she did was sip her red wine, wave away the waiters that buzzed around her and stare into the distance.

Something about her reflected what he felt inside. At home, the empty pill bottle from last time still stood on the kitchen counter as a reminder of his failure. He had just woken up as a forty-year-old loser with a headache and each day was another chore on his road to oblivion.

No one here knew. Not even his therapist. None of his friends at this table knew and the drinks were flowing quick and fast. He smiled and he laughed in opposition to how he felt inside, but he kept sneaking glances at the lady who reflected what he felt. What he really felt.

***

Her husband was trying to stop the kids fighting, but they continued to gnaw into her skull like the ninth-level of Hell. She sat staring at her food with her still-water untouched. She had allowed herself to order a steak tonight–mostly it was salads, to get rid of three kids’ worth of pregnancy fat–but she was not hungry.

She felt the weight of gravity pulling on her. She had not slept in about three–or was it five?–years and her consciousness had melted away a long time ago. Sometimes she found herself slipping into the bathroom at home, closing the door and just staring into the mirror.

She did not recognize herself anymore. While she had given birth to three beautiful children, she had also buried all her hopes and dreams.

She no longer loved her husband. There was no hate there and he had done nothing wrong, but she just felt nothing for him. He was just a man that she lived with, did chores for and had children with. She loved the children too, but she had realized a while ago that she kept wondering what her life would have been like without them.

She saw the side of the dark, slim lady at the back of the restaurant. She saw her nursing her red wine and sitting peacefully at her table. She felt pangs of jealousy. How could this woman do that without screaming little monsters sucking the life out of her. Why was her life so easy?

She was so angry that she only realized halfway there that she had stood up and was walking to the dark, slim lady’s table…

***

“I am honoured to be with you now,” he said, holding her hand tightly. Their eyes never left each others’.

She smiled back at him. Their table was romantically lit with a candle and their plates cleaned of delicious food. It was a far cry from the dust, heat and military rations back in the desert where they had trained.

“We do this for each other, for our people and,” she said, squeezing his hand tightly, “always for God.”

He nodded.

Both of them jumped up, whipping out the grenades they had smuggled into this popular, packed restaurant.

Allahu Akbar!” he shouted above the din in the restaurant, but a middle-aged, tired-looking woman stumbled into him just then. He almost fell and the grenade slipped out of his shaking hand before he could pull the pin. They both looked at each other in shock before she screamed and he ducked after the fallen explosive.

The restaurant was silent, and then it exploded into action.

He scrambled for the grenade, it had rolled to the next-door table where the slim, dark woman sat. He heard his wife scream as the birthday-man tackled her but he was on his hands and knees trying to grab the rolling grenade.

Suddenly, there was a gun in his face. The slim, dark lady had it. She had pulled it from her handbag and was looking at him strangely. She had red eyes and her face was streaked with mascara, but her eyes hardened and her hand stopped shaking.

“Don’t move,” she said coolly to him, “Don’t test me, I have nothing to lose anymore.” The grenade was just out of his reach. He heard his wife cry out in the struggle with the man, but she was not a man and, if she was going to detonate the grenade, it would have happened by now. It all rested on him now.

He narrowed his eyes and whispered a final, quick prayer, before jerking towards the grenade.

There was silence in the restaurant after the gunshot. Slowly, sirens began to waft into the place as they raced towards them. Someone had called the police.

***

The birthday man was shaken but had sobered enough to tell the cops his story. He had just reacted when he saw what the woman was carrying. He thought she had been distracted by the middle-aged woman stumbling into the other grenade-carrying man, and he had taken the gap. He kept saying how lucky they were. He kept saying that he was glad he was alive.

The middle-aged woman had been fed sufficient drugs by the medics to calm her down. She was still quite out of it and–with her husband and kids never leaving her side–she had a faint smile on her face as if she had actually enjoyed the night.

The owner of the restaurant was splattered with the blood of the man she had shot. He lay on the ground in front of her table. She was surprisingly calm about all of this and, as the cops bundled her into their van to take back to the precinct for questioning, she remarked that it was lucky that she had the gun.

She had never owned a firearm until yesterday, she kept saying, smiling sadly.

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