MANDY AND CANELLONI

It was never going to be a typical night. Then again, even the sanest starts to an evening often transformed into wild carnage at Café Blanc.

Jeanette placed a large gin and tonic on the bar in front of Ron, smiled, winked and walked away. Ron grinned in appreciation and stared at the glass, mesmerised by its purple glow. The glow came from the ultraviolet light of the counterfeit money detector beside the cash register a few feet away and, since discovering this effect by chance a few weeks previously, Ron had changed his order from his usual house white to gin and tonic. Despite the initial jibes by staff and friends, Ron had persisted in ordering this far-from-masculine drink.

Everyone at Café Blanc was used to Ron´s little quirks. He´d been changing drinks periodically over the years, moving from Budvar, Grolsch and Becks to the entire range of spirits and their accompanying mixers. Ron’s slutty approach to drinking opened unto him to a world of abuse from his peers who traditionally stuck to either wine or beer, but he couldn’t have cared less. There was always a reason for drinking and the reason for tonight´s gin and tonic was the purple glow.

He was used to the strong, berry flavour and could easily drink gin neat but it just didn’t have the same glow as when mixed with tonic water.

It was still early, about eight thirty in the evening, and this was Ron’s third drink of the night. The usual group of regulars were either not coming tonight or not coming at all; nothing was ever planned. But this never deterred Ron, who was always guaranteed to be found sitting at the bar from six o’clock on.

At some point someone he knew would walk in and how many there were, the mood of the group, the amount of drinks and even which day of the week it was, would decide how messy the night would become. The formula for predicting this outcome was far too complicated to explain as there were too many variables. Meanwhile Ron was occupied with ensuring maximum chaos due to deciding to do nothing which might restrict his own inner ambitions.

Café Blanc had a special place in Ron’s heart.  Much like him, it was full of inconsistencies and contradictions. It was owned by Iraqi’s who had escaped the troubles back home, long before they had even begun, during the boom years, when literacy and wealth were in abundance – but that’s another story.

The bar was run by their two children both nearing their late twenties, Hassan and Danny. Danny was six foot four and slim. Hassan was five foot three and stout (to be polite).  Their parents rarely visited, and unlike their sons, were quite serious and fierce, both in looks and in nature. It was always a source of amusement for newcomers to discover Iraqis owning a French café in England, serving Italian food.

The staff were almost entirely made up of students, working part time to supplement meagre grants which were never enough to fuel their extra curricular activities. Jeanette was one such student.

Jeanette had been working in Café Blanc for over a year, along with her best friend, Lucy, a fellow Scottish girl who was quieter, but certainly not crazier. Lucy was a true brunette, with trimmed, curly hair well suited to her shorter height. Almost every night there were lock-ins when Jeanette let her hair down, Lucy got drunk, the music became louder and the nights grew ever longer. Café Blanc was a fun place, likened to Cheers by all the regulars, despite its off-the-beaten-path location.

Tonight, though, was a calm, cool, typical Monday.

Ron quickly sipped his drink, hoping for an immediate hit to kickstart a new adventure. The lights had dimmed and the Pulp Fiction soundtrack was playing loudly in an attempt to inspire a more boisterous ambience, the like of which was already embedded in Ron. During one aggressive sip of his gin and tonic, Mandy came in.

Mandy was a semi-regular, an American woman nearing her late thirties with long, blonde hair to match her tall, athletic physique, who enjoyed boasting of her hyper-bisexuality, especially during her modelling days in LA when she´d been an aspiring actress. Now studying to become a lawyer, she had seduced Floyd, a strait-laced Australian backpacker, the manager of the Café.

Floyd had moved in with her, into Mandy´s house, and now commanded certain restrictions on her movements, much as if he was when he was running the Café. Tonight, however, was Floyd´s day off, leaving the staff to relish his absence and serve customers with pleasant abandon, creating a greater atmosphere of relaxation all around.

 

Mandy announced to the bar that her divorce had just been finalised and that she was in dire need of a drink to celebrate the occasion, promptly ordering a bottle of champagne. Sitting next to Ron at the bar, she spoke incessantly of her happiness, tinged with sadness, mixing the two between sips of her drink.

Ron listened as best he could, his own thoughts brewing, trying to oust whatever he deemed irrelevant. As he finished his drink, Mandy ordered an extra glass for him to share in her celebrations and Ron didn´t refuse. Mandy´s exuberance was infectious and soon the bar was alive with riotous conversation fuelled by more sips of Moёt and Chandon.

The night progressed into a drunken stupor and soon the bottle was nearing its end, leaving Ron with a murmuring in his stomach. Jeanette and Lucy were clearing the bar, hoping for a timely exit to continue with their revision, with Ron contemplating what to do about his hunger pangs.

As he settled his bill, Ron announced to Mandy that he would need to leave in order to catch the fast food van conveniently positioned around the corner. Mandy, however, had other ideas. She told him that Floyd had cooked cannelloni and invited Ron to join them at her house. She had hired a car which was parked at the back of the Café and would take him home, she said.

Ron, who was in no mood or state to argue, acquiesced to this proposal and followed her outside to the awaiting car. Mandy drove with perfect precision up the narrow roads that led to her house, stopping on a country lane to get out and speak to the departing horses in an adjacent field.

Ron stood clumsily, trying to ignore listening to her, thinking about Floyd´s cannelloni, and how long he had to wait before she grew tired and completed the journey. Her whisperings having fallen on deaf ears, Mandy turned to Ron and mumbled something incoherent and inconsequential about him being her friend. In light of his continuing non-responsiveness, Mandy decided to get back in the car and drive home.

She pulled into her long, grassy driveway and they both exited, walked up to the secluded house to a waiting, and slightly perturbed, Floyd. Upon seeing Ron, Floyd reacted with genuine disinterest and demanded that Mandy explain where she had been while he had spent so long waiting for her. The cannelloni was now cold, he said, and sitting in the oven: music to Ron’s ears.

Mandy explained that she had stopped by at Café Blanc, bumped into Ron and invited him home for dinner. Floyd was not impressed, noticing Mandy’s slightly slurred speech, and declared that the dinner was supposed to have been an intimate affair for them both, to celebrate her divorce. As Floyd was exclaiming his displeasure, they all walked into the kitchen where the discussion grew more heated.

Floyd asked Mandy how Ron was going to get home, to which Mandy replied that he was staying for the night. Ron was startled by this answer, he´d only been expecting cannelloni and a lift home, but he remained quiet, waiting to learn whether the much pined for dish was ever going to be offered up for consumption.

Floyd went on, saying that he had to work early in the morning and that Ron staying for the night was not practical as he was planning on sleeping on the sofa, so as not to disturb Mandy. Where was Ron going to sleep?

Mandy, without skipping a beat, replied that Ron would sleep with her in their bed, whilst Floyd slept on the sofa. Ron sobered up slightly, enough to feel even more discomfort, confused at what this implied but more worried about the food. Mandy was now busy in the kitchen slicing the plate of freshly home-cooked cannelloni, while Floyd began to escalate the already heated conversation to new dimensions. Mandy ushered Ron into the dining room with a casual invitation as Floyd unleashed a torrent of fresh frustration.

Through hunger and selfish interest, Ron began to devour the much-anticipated dish, enjoying the fruits of Floyd’s labour with great delight. It was exceptionally cooked, full of flavour and music to a drunken palate that desperately needed nourishment. In the midst of the blissful, calm serenity that was the dining room, a war was raging in the kitchen about the sleeping arrangements, the ruined romantic dinner and an uninvited guest who was sitting nearby, demolishing the dinner.

Ron ate with unrepentant passion, harbouring minute pangs of guilt with each mouthful while listening to the ensuing argument.

Floyd entered the dining room and coldly announced that he would drive Ron home after dinner. Ron nodded in agreement whilst swallowing hard. As Ron finished the last mouthful of his plate, Mandy appeared and offered him another large slice, which proved too tempting to refuse.

As he embarked on the new offering, Floyd started shouting about where the car keys were. He was obviously in a hurry to escort the unwanted visitor home and finally put an end to the madness that he couldn’t quite tolerate in his militarily-run home.

A frantic search created more scenes of disturbance, the couple arguing over the location of the car keys. Floyd stormed out of the house, returning minutes later to exclaim that they weren’t in the car. After a further heated discussion and more banging, calm was slowly restored. Ron, in the meantime, was now fully satisfied with his nourishment and wisely chose to remain in the safety of the dining room.

After what seemed a very long silence, Floyd entered the dining room and told Ron that he could sleep on the sofa as they couldn´t find the car keys to drive him home. Floyd said he would sleep in the bed with Mandy. Ron was in no position to argue and nodded his head in agreement, watching Floyd prepare the blanket and pillow.

Having satisfied his healthy appetite and still under the influence of a significant amount of alcohol, Ron was ready to enjoy a well-deserved and restful sleep.

Mandy informed him that his bed was ready and Ron made his way to the living room where she bid him goodnight. Guilt was long gone and Ron slept comfortably through the night, only to be awoken in the early hours of the morning by the ruffling of bags, drawers and utensils in the kitchen as Floyd continued his search for the keys.

Futility dawned on Floyd and the search was abandoned, signalled by his departure for work with the slamming of the front door.

As Ron was awake, with a slightly clearer head, he decided that he should also leave to enjoy the comfort of his own bed where he could continue his sleep without disruption.

Getting dressed as quickly as he could, he put on his trousers and heard an unusual clanging. He put his hands in his pockets and pulled out a set of car keys. A smile covered his face as he remembered Mandy giving him the keys after parking the car. Not wanting to wake her, he mischievously walked to the kitchen and placed the keys in her handbag which had been searched dozens of times the night before. He laughed to himself as he played the upcoming scenario of their discovery in his mind.

With only a shred of guilt, he quietly unlocked the front door, faced the cold morning air and started his journey home.

 

 

 

About the author:

Reza was born in 1972 in London to Guyanese parents.

Soon after his birth, his family moved to Surrey and within a few years his father was posted abroad to Nigeria. Reza went to Royal Russell boarding school for one term, where he fondly recalls celebrating his eighth birthday, before moving with his family to Lagos, Nigeria in December 1980.

There Reza remembers encountering a variety of people from different cultures, religions and nationalities and he also travelled extensively around the world, seeing and exploring new places with his family, igniting a passion which he still possesses and strives to fulfill.

His secondary school years at Box Hill School in Surrey, where he enjoyed the numerous physical activities such as cross country running and hiking, also awakened a passion for drama which still features in his life.

Reza continued his education at Oxford Brookes University where he studied Technology Management. Fond memories include a lecturer declaring: “You need to learn everything in this course but by the time you graduate, it will all be completely useless!”

Reza lived in Oxford for seven years, before finally moving back to London where he took up a media related job, working for The Sun and other publications. A chance meeting at an Oxford café led to an opening in television production and Reza now owns his own company, Business News Television, creating corporate films for broadcast on international television news channels as well as documentaries and entertainment shows.

Reza spends most of his time in Asia but regularly visits North America and Europe.

He can be contacted at: