The front table, the one right by the window, was free. I like this table as it looks directly out onto a very busy street and an equally busy sidewalk. It makes for perfect people watching, something both Joe and I enjoy. Joe removed a chair, I slid into place and we were in. We'd picked up a couple cups of tea from David's Tea for me and Joe hiked up to the bar to grab a beer. It was late afternoon about an hour or so from the after work rush.
Only a couple sips into my tea, and before Joe got back from the bar, a fellow we've known for a number of years came into the bar, said hello, asked to join us, and grabbed a seat. He's easy to chat with, an extremely pleasant fellow. We settled in to talk about nothing, with passion, and we were all enjoying the afternoon, the cool of the bar and the pleasure of unexpected company.
Into the bar came a woman, incredibly unsteady on her feet. She saw the fellow at our table, greeted him, and plopped her purse down on the chair beside me. In a second she was sitting across from me. She had very angular movements which happened at unexpected moments. Her speech was difficult to follow, it was as if her meaning came in puzzles - here are the words, make a sentence - but for all that she was charming and pleasant.
I could see our friend tense up from the moment she sat at the table. He seemed relieved that Joe and I fell into conversation with her, naturally, without much fuss. I thought his relief was because he was worried that we might be either unwelcoming or, maybe even, cruel to his friend. I finally realized that I did better in hearing the woman if I looked out onto the streetscape when she was speaking, this way I could concentrate on the words without being distracted by the movements, which became bigger and more pronounced when she spoke.
After a bit she pulled a package of cigarettes out of her purse and said that she was going outside for a cigarette. She asked me if I'd watch her purse, I said yes, and she went to the door, looking as if she'd fall at ever step - she didn't. Once out the door we were all silent for a second and then our companion apologized for her and for her intrusion into our conversation at the table. It was clear that he was a wee bit embarrassed by her. Her angular, unexpected movements and her unique approach to speech and her assumption, perhaps hope, of welcome were, obviously, a bit too much for him and he was worried that we might have been annoyed.
Both Joe and I said, genuinely, that the reason we come down to the pub for a beer was to run into and chat with people - and that's all that had happened. Then his movements changed, he became more and more uncomfortable and his movements showed his embarrassment. He started to say things that were meant to put the apology aside, wishing he hadn't betrayed his friendship with her by apologizing to us, hoping that the apology he made didn't diminish him in our eyes. In a word, it was all awkward.
She came back, downed a big shot of Sambuca and took a sip of cola, hauled up her purse, said her goodbyes and 'nice to meet yous' and was gone. Our conversation moved on. Then suddenly he said, "she's a really nice person, wouldn't hurt a fly, best heart you could imagine, but she assumes a welcome she rarely gets, I apologized because most of the time when she just joins like that people get pissed off, she takes some getting used to ..." I stopped him, and said, "I get it." He said, "I thought you'd understand." I said, "No, I get it. I get the same thing, people assuming I'm way different because I'm way different, I get it. We're good."
"Just promise me something," I said and he nodded, "don't apologize for her again, and, please, don't apologize for knowing me either."
"I would never ..." he said.
"Good," I interrupted, "keep it that way."
We all laughed but I meant it and he knew it.