It was my ex ex’s birthday. I booked dinner at Locanda Locatelli, the Michelin-starred Italian on London’s Portman Square. I know I said I wasn’t going to spend money on a man ever again, but surely landmark birthdays don’t count. Also, in my defence, I booked it months ago. When they called me up the day before to ask if I still wanted my banquette for two, I didn’t have the heart to say, no, actually, I’ve gone off him as he criticised my hair. That would be too humiliating, plus I would have lost my deposit. I wore a Gucci skirt and a Prada T-shirt, both over 20 years old.
He was outside the restaurant, smoking, when I pulled up in my Uber. Damn. I hate people watching me get out of a people carrier with one of those sliding doors. I always resemble someone leaving a plane via the emergency slide. I’m pretty sure he glimpsed my thong. We went inside. He was asked to put on a mask. ‘I don’t have one,’ he said, ever the rock ’n’ roll rebel. ‘We can provide one,’ they said.
We sat down. ‘I wish you hadn’t worn those shoes,’ I told him. I’d noticed he was in black velvet trainers with lots of laces. ‘What about your proper shoes?’
‘My feet have spread in lockdown.’ Oh, nice. Make yourself more attractive, why don’t you?
We ordered. Summer salad for me, followed by aubergine with vegan ricotta and pesto.
‘You hate aubergine,’ he said.
‘I know, but it was the only vegan main.’
I ordered a virgin cocktail (please stop the hollow laughter) for me, a vodka and tonic for him. My main course was just an aubergine cut in half, with a few blobs on it. I couldn’t even fill myself up on breadsticks, as they were laced with parmesan. He didn’t want any pudding. And then he said, ‘I think this is the last time we should see each other.’
Me: ‘You were the one who said you wanted to meet.’
Him: ‘I know. But I find it too upsetting.’
Me: ‘But you were the one who said you don’t want to be in a relationship, with anyone.’
Him: ‘Did I? I just don’t like being shouted at.’
I know we shouldn’t argue on his Special Day, but I said, ‘I only shout at you when you are being annoying or lazy. You lose your temper very quickly. I think you’re frustrated at your own inertia.’ The waiter cleared our plates and asked if I hadn’t enjoyed the aubergine, as I’d barely touched it. ‘It was fine,’ I said. ‘I can’t eat and argue at the same time.’
He gestured for the bill. He got out his wallet.
Me: ‘You can’t pay on your birthday!’
Him: ‘I’m paying. But you can order me an Uber.’
Then he stood up and left. I was still sitting at the table. I hadn’t even finished my virgin cocktail! Why agree to meet if he was going to be antagonistic? Why waste my time? Why waste a rare evening for me in London? Why not see me into a cab rather than leave me to be stared at by waiters?
I texted him the registration of his Uber, but he didn’t reply. I tried to order myself one, but it turns out you can’t until the previous ride is over. I stood in the pouring rain, trying to hail a black cab. Prada T-shirts aren’t waterproof. My Gucci skirt became transparent.
I finally got back to my tiny room at the hotel. I took more medication to stop me getting dizzy. I’d been worried I would fall ill in London, but reassured myself that at least he would be there to hold back my hair while I vomited. But he hadn’t even asked how I am, even though I’d told him I’ve had attacks that have left me unable to stand or open my eyes. In the end, I’d brought up the subject of my health, told him I’d had a brain scan. ‘Oh, did they find one?’ he said.
All I can say is, thank god I didn’t buy him a birthday present.