“I want a divorce, you obnoxious little twat” barked the lady in the red jumper while her frantic husband held on firmly to his fork. He would not use it, instead, he spat in his glass and threw the content in her face. Taking half her makeup with it, she dried her face with his scarf while he started to name all the things she would never put her hands on including some worthless sum and a poor introverted greyhound who, Lola was sure, could have done without such a rip-off.
Lurking over unhappy couples was one of Lola's most precious past time. Their cries and sobs were such a relief compared to the unfair criticism of her now ex-partner. After 5 years, he had finally managed to free himself from her by simply turning his phone off. It makes things easier, she thought. Respect and decency are much overrated in this day of age when a password can easily serve as a ring.
The train dumped her off early and Lola settled ungratefully for the town's cafe-restaurant, knowing very well the door to her old home would never be open this early. The tables didn't match the chairs, the broken door casually let in the freezing morning air and the swing music complemented, in no way, the state she was in. Lola yelled out for a double espresso and slowly cooled off to the sound of decaying love. Seating alone, waiting for no one, in a town she despised, Lola wondered, if, at this point in her life, she could have done better.
Famous for its historical charms and swank cooking, the little town of Sirap was regarded as one of the most dazzling and beautiful towns there was. It had an attitude of its own, such as that of a very refined and temperamental bird. Lola should have felt lucky to come from here as if the town's charming qualities could ever alter her fickle temper. The last time she was here, it was summer and the sky was as grey and as wet as it is now, on this chilly November morning. Every corner and every alley made her feel uneasy. The look of strangers felt like piercing darts as if the time she had spent away had made her redundant and she was now being spitted out like an infectious intruder. They had known her and perhaps even remembered the braided little girl that liked to play with ducks but that little girl was long gone and all Lola saw when she looked at them was bitterness.
Lola was convinced that all of Sirap's visitors saw the town, as tourists often do, through kaleidoscope glasses. They didn't see the thick puddles and one-way streets or chose to let it pass, in a poor attempt to get their money's worth. Lola had avoided it as much as she could but this time she had to come back. It was one of those things in life that even the most unpleasant have to go through. So there she was, down three espressos, hoping for her fourth with two bright hazel eyes staring back at her. He had clumsy manners but an engaging voice. His long face revealed an overnight beard, some would find attractive but it was his persistent smile that bothered Lola the most.
Besides the uncoupling couple, Lola was his only customer and, much to her dismay, the boy felt it was only his duty to make sure Lola was well looked after. He brought her a pastry with a side of salted butter. He reminded her of someone she might have known once. Maybe it was his skin, leathered and tanned from years of living the coastal life. They all looked the same down here. Lola considered leaving but her usual getaway lines didn't work on him.
“If you wait an hour or so you'll see the early fishing boats but push it till 2 and you'll hear the seagull chanting”
He was a little odd but he made her laugh. He could not have been more obvious in his eagerness to please her. She always had a soft spot for the very driven. Less chance for indifference, she thought. She stayed. The cafe was his job but the boy had bigger dreams. The town was his true calling. One day he might be mayor but he currently spent most of his days fiercely campaigning for the opening and expansion of Sirap on Sea. Lola felt cheated. The whole town was a fraud and she wanted no part of this. She stormed off, leaving the pastry untouched and the boy crushed, his mouth wide open, midway through “Oh Sublime Sirap, you Silvery Siren”.
The heavy metal door was still locked when Lola reached it. She had called in advance but in this town like with its residents, Lola had very little faith. Her parents always kept a spare key, hidden between raw B and C of the mailboxes. They were never the forgetful type and with time, someone had surely stolen it and simply forgot to use it. She hid her luggage in the basement and left. As usual, the rain poured, but she would not go back to the cafe. She walked, drenched, through the hallow streets and recognized a house or two. She turned, avoiding the library and the gallery and headed for the town's outer section that she was scarcely allowed to visit as a child.
Small velvet stairs led her to a golden corridor leading to a warm and musical room. There were a stage and some wooden tables, perhaps some sort of theatre? Lola borrowed a tablecloth to dry her hair. She heard female voices getting closer and hid behind a table. When Lola saw the glittered feathers and lacquered stilettos of the candidates assembling on the stage, she understood. Lola wanted to leave but intoxicated by the smell of smoke and Amber, she stayed put. A little man with a wide moustache light up the stage while Lola sat in the back in the dark. One by one the girls jumped on stage with flair and dazzle. Vera was strong and elastic, Iris's giant fan could have blown out a thousand candles but it was Mei's erratic swan dance that Lola secretly preferred. They all looked straight ahead but from as far as her seat, Lola could feel their feet trembling.
There was no room for doubt and no time for grief here, everything was pure and covered with sparkles. Even the little moustache man was cheering and chanting as Mei finished her number. Lola got up to clap, quickly realizing her mistake. The light shifted onto her and she was pushed on the stage.
“Well go on then little lady, we don't have all day”.
Lola went numb. She could easily run. No one would ever know. No one would run after her. Not here. The last time Lola was on the stage, she was 10. It was her school's Christmas show and her parents were seating in the front row. She was scared but despite her serious lack of rhythm, she knew they would clap. The girls gave Lola an encouraging look. They had all been so brave and so beautiful, Lola felt as if she owed them something. She picked up a yellow feather and attempted a dance halfway between a conga and a chicken boogie. Clearly, things didn't improve with time. Lola quickly bowed and ran out in the rain. She had rarely felt this embarrassed and this alive in her life.
Wet, humiliated and finally hungry, Lola ran back to the cafe. There was something extremely reassuring in going back to a place once despised, something in the air that made her feel safe, or at least safer. She sat at the same table and impatiently waited. The cafe was busier now they were preparing for lunch. The couple had gone and she looked for him. She wanted to tell him and only him. She wanted to make him laugh and thought the vision of her royal cock-up could make up for her earlier behaviour. It took some time before Lola finally spotted the nautical stripes of his shirt. He saw her too and for a moment she believed he might come but went on to serve two fish soups and a salmon tartare instead.
The simple idea of love made her look foolish or at least very naive. Knowing very well she would be waiting forever, she left without eating and made her way for the town's centre. Her solicitor was old and frail and Lola wondered if he was only waiting for her arrival to die peacefully. He gave her the keys to her mother's house and a heavy pile of paperwork, Lola couldn't wait to forget. Proud local, her mother had lived most of her life here. It is where she danced for the first time and where she sang for the last time. You could never feel alone in a town like this, where there is dazzle there is life, she used to tell Lola. Lola never shared this devotion, but while her mother was still alive, she thought she would at least give it a try, someday. There would always be time, she thought.
Lola hoped for this horrible place to reject her one last time, making things easier, but there were no signs for her to follow and no more anger to drive her out of here. Lola only felt sadness, profound sadness at being here, alone. Her stomach growled loudly. She hadn't had one bite to eat all day. It was too late, Lola fell, face down, on the floor. She woke up to the old men's two beady eyes, thankfully not dead, just yet. He ordered her a large bowl of hot chocolate with two buttery pastries which she gobbled rapidly.
Had she forgotten to sign a form? She didn't. In fact, the old men had rarely done any business so quickly. He wondered what she would do with the house. Would she sell? But Lola wasn't listening. The boy with the hazel eyes made a comeback. His shift had ended and offered to take Lola on a stroll in that town she hated. A personal punishment or an invigorating remedy, up to her.
They walked down the coast, passing the lighthouse and the old boat shop. The wind slapped her face and, the seagulls yapped in her ear, but Lola had to admire the clearness of the view. It occurred to her that she still didn't know why this place deserved so much of his attention. Was it because he had never known anywhere else? Lola was wrong, the boy had only just moved here a couple of months ago. So what was it? Lola was about to ask before quickly changing her mind. After the day she just had, she was certain his answer would fall between all the feathered creatures or some kind of underground spirit, and if she was really honest with herself, she would have to agree.
The wind finally turned and there was no more yapping and no more yelling. Lola ended her day with her feet in the water, hand in hand with a lovely odd boy, she might like, in a town she could love, one day.