Tuesday, February 17, 2009

She's Not That Into You

It is a Shanghainese restaurant, along one of Melbourne city's many small hidden alleyways. It is Sunday evening, but the place is obviously popular, packed with patrons forced to share tables with absolute strangers.

The prices are cheap but so is the lighting and the ambience of the place. Tea and soya sauce were all self-service but most patrons didn't mind. No one's here for the service, anyway. They're here for 15 dumplings at $6.50.

He is sitting across from her uneasily.

You could see that he doesn't go on too many dates, and has tried to dress his best for this occasion. His Chinese eyes are hidden behind rimless glasses. He is wearing a slightly garish light indigo long-sleeved shirt, buttoned at the wrists, with a black T-shirt underneath, over his thin frame. A steel necklace dangles out of place with the whole backdrop.

She is sitting across from him aloof.

It could have been a blind date. A set up. Come on, give this guy a try! He's a friend of mine, you might like him! Maybe she had her doubts confirmed when she first saw him.

Probably doesn't speak good English.
What's up with that shirt? Oh my God, did his Mum dress him?

And then the night probably just got worse when he brought her to the restaurant for dinner.

What the hell?! I dressed up for this?
Oh great, he's either a poor student or a real tightass.

She is not happy to be there, and she made sure he knew it. The silence and disinterest emanating from her has built an impenetrable wall of ice between them.

Their food arrives after a few minutes of awkward silence.

He tries to chip away at the wall of ice.

"So, how's your food so far, do you like this restaurant?" His English comes through well despite the traces of his heavy Chinese accent.

A grammatically-correct wrong first question. He has buried himself further.

She shrugs with adolescent disdain.

"So-so only for you lah is it? That's okay," he smiles weakly, trying to recover.

The silence between them is as obvious as the noise around them, friends and lovers sharing meals over chatter and laughter; a stark contrast.

"So do you cook?"

"Yeah," she says, never lifting her eyes. Her chopsticks play a quick game of catch with the elusive dumplings on the plate.

He looks at her and tries to catch the smallest of openings - a faint smile perhaps, or a glimmer of interest.

The Frost Queen offers him no mercy. His eyes don't even lift to meet hers anymore.

The routine then becomes predictable. Three minutes of silence. Then he sums up enough courage and tries a weak question from his limited repertoire.

"What's your favourite colour?"
"Do you like what you do?"
"Do you like music?"

She is intent on destroying whatever little assumptions he had about this, and her arsenal is plenty.

The monosyllabic answer.
The bored sigh.
The folded arms.
Looking at her watch.
Checking herself in the mirror.
The semi-closed eyes concentrating on her tongue searching its way through her left cheek and teeth, her lips curled into a frown.

They finish their meal in silence, and she delivers the final blow. Let's get out of here, she commands, already half standing from her chair before he can react. He lets out a defeated chuckle and reaches for his wallet to pay for the pleasure of being emasculated tonight.

Nothing takes the taste out of peanut butter quite like unrequited love.
- Charlie Brown

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