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Reading Aloud 2

Evening out with Yan

I had told my children Yan was coming to pick me up for the concert. They didn’t think anything about it. When I came downstairs, dressed for the occasion, my youngest daughter took a look at me, she seemed pleased with my appearance and said she hoped he would be proud of being allowed to go out with me ! I don’t know whether he was.

He looked a bit tired when he arrived, but was forced to smile at the sight of my family who wished us a good time. I had instructed my eldest daughter to put on the heating in the living-room at 9.30pm in case he came in afterwards for a glass of wine and a piece of particularly nice home-produced apple-pie which I had managed to save.

We got into his car. He forgot to hold the door open for me, a sign of absent-mindedness and wasn’t going to bother about the warm greeting he normally gives me. I soon found out what was the matter : He told me with a worried face, he wasn’t at all sure that what he was doing was socially acceptable! I couldn’t help smiling a little about his qualms and asked, did he have a bad conscience, was he aware of doing anything he shouldn’t be doing ? No, he said, but … I said, one can’t stop people from thinking what they like, no matter what one is doing. As long as you know what you’re doing … Of course, he said, but … I put my hand on his as he was changing gears and he laughed, you’re enjoying yourself, aren’t you? I couldn’t deny it.

We had landed in a traffic jam and he became nervous about arriving in time. I am used to Steve cutting it fine and never having missed anything so far, if at the expense of other people who might have to run a little at the end, towards a concert hall in high-heeled shoes or through the airport with heavy bags and cases, and told Yan not to worry, we were in excellent time by any standards. He said he was always like that. He preferred to allow time to avoid any risks. I fully sympathized.

Talking about my husband, I let him know that Steve had wished me a nice evening. Did he really? Yan asked, he trusts you! I said, Steve didn’t think there was anything wrong about my going to the concert with him, Yan. Is that what he said? Yan asked, you should have heard what my wife said! I was glad I hadn’t ! Really for it to be socially acceptable, Yan continued, you should have offered your ticket to my wife! I reminded him that I had invited him in recognition for services done, would he like me to attach a sheet of paper to his back informing people in large letters of this fact ? He laughed and muttered something.

We had arrived at the car park by now, the second floor, parked the car and walked downstairs. It was then I dismayed him by taking his arm. It is so much easier walking on a gentleman’s arm when wearing high-heeled shoes while going down fairly steep stairs. He withdrew from me and I asked, didn’t a polite gentleman offer his arm to a lady ? He said, yes, but this also suggests a close relationship! He expected me to hold the rail instead with its millions of germs from other people’s hands, he had just pointed out that germs were flourishing in the present weather conditions. I walked down the stairs a little in front of him without holding on to anything, making an uneasy step once or twice. He steadied me by putting his hand on my shoulder …

We arrived at our seats a quarter of an hour early. Steve could have told you, I laughed. So far we hadn’t bumped into anybody we knew. Yan wasn’t worried about presenting our two tickets to the usher, although I had suggested to present my own in order to avoid being too closely associated with him, but he thought that was exaggerating things. The actual concert went very well. Our attention was held by the music and the attractive lady-conductor. I asked Yan what he thought about her. I am not a musical expert myself and had never really compared the performances of different conductors. He said she was popping up and down too much for his taste, too bouncy knees …

During the interval we decided to stretch our legs. Did I want an ice-cream? he asked politely. He wouldn’t want to queue for drinks at the bar, he said, which I fully understood. Steve and I never have anything. There was a big queue for the ice-cream lady, too, I pointed out and told him about cartoons of the English in the process of queuing, cartoons printed in English textbooks in my country. Tell me more about this, he said, as we were leaning against the wall just outside the door we had come through, pointless going downstairs in the crowd, much safer staying upstairs, what else do they say about the English? I could only think what they say about the Scots and money and forgot to ask, wasn’t his wife mighty pleased about him getting a free ticket. We hadn’t been standing long when a couple Yan knew bumped into us. How nice to see you, they said. He wasn’t sure about that. He turned to me. I don’t know how he was going to explain my presence and his wife’s absence. I didn’t wait for that, but informed them straight away that I had ‘invited him in recognition for work he had done for me’, I could say it quite fluently by now. He smiled and they smiled and they then had a little conversation about times gone by, they hadn’t met for ten years or so. During this conversation another lady he knew, a colleague from work, waved to him as she was passing. He will have to explain to her later. Of course, he could always say to her that his wife had just gone to the Ladies’. The interval seemed endless to Yan, but no more acquaintances.

Nothing memorable happened in the second part of the concert. When it had ended we had to face the crowd and bumped into people from our village, that is to say, Yan discovered them, being so tall he would have a better overall view, I expect. He was a little behind me, I could hear him say a warm ‘hallo, soandso’, I don’t know whether he added ‘nice to see you’ and decided not to associate myself with him, rather continue my course towards the exit, he would catch up with me. He did, without making any comment.

In the car park I had to walk up on my own all the stairs we had come down, he lending a supporting hand from behind. It took a long time leaving the car park. Dreadful exhaust fumes as well. I told him Steve always finds parking in the streets. Yan could see there was something to be said for that. On the way home he told me that he was up to his neck in work. He hardly knew how to do it all. He would have to write letters now, after the concert, and he was feeling tired, he said. I asked him, did he take on too much ? Oh no, he said, he was fine. He wanted it that way. He had taken early retirement, because it had been offered, but he certainly had no intention of giving it all up just yet. He wasn’t ready to give in to old age. I said, excellent ! He explained there wasn’t always the same amount of work. Life would be easier after this patch.

I don’t doubt it. I’ve heard him say in the spring that summer would be easier, in the summer that autumn would be easier …in the winter that next year would be easier, and so on.

Having just heard his timetable up to Christmas, I said he wouldn’t get a chance to see me again this year. He might, he answered, driving past our house he might drop in, feeling a bit guilty about not notifying me beforehand. I told him I rather like surprize visits, from him, anyway. How about listening to the minutes of Saturday’s meeting in our house, now ? Read by the author herself in a totally private session ! He said he would love to have this pleasure when the time comes.

We arrived back at our house. Pressed by the necessity to write letters, he didn’t get out of his car. He did give me a warm bye-bye.

I shared the remaining apple-pie with my eldest daughter. The living-room was nice and warm.