The scene and being off it

“Sorry… Diane?”
“Ja? Oh, hello! What’s it again… Ed?”
“Eric. Howzit. We met at the, er, at that art exhibition. You ’member. That one in Newtown?”
“Ja, ja. Of course I remember. Eric.”

She had the worst cold she’d ever had in her life. Her sinuses were blocked like Gilloolly’s interchange during rush hour and she was standing in the queue at Pick ’n Pay in a pair of tracksuit pants and a T-shirt stained with baby vomit.
David was at home with Gabriel and she had just shot out to buy nappies.
So she was lugging a large pack of Pampers when Eric made his move.
“So it was quite a nice exhibition, that. Didn’t you like all those animals in the cars?”
“Ja. I remember. Cats in pyjamas and chickens wearing takkies… it was great. Are you an artist?”
“No, I’m a journalist. Well, I’m a bit of an artist. But I work at Jozi Mag, with Zama. Remember, she introduced us.”
“Of course. Zama.”
“So what you up to? Are you still painting?”
“No, not much these days. Got the baby, you know.”
She waved the Pampers with a raise of her eyebrows and an apologetic shrug.
“Uh, ja… You were heavily pregnant when we met. So how’s she doing?”
“It’s a he. Gabriel. He’s about three months now. He had this rash, but the paediatrician said he was allergic to the hormones in my breast milk. It’s from the hormones your body releases when your womb shrinks after the birth, you know?”
“Uh-huh…”
The queue edged forward a little. Even though they were in the baskets-only line, things were taking a while. The guy in front was paying by credit card.
“Ja, and he’s going bald. They say they all lose their hair after a while. It’s from the friction of sleeping all day and rubbing his head against the crib. He’s had dark hair till now, but I’m sure when it grows back it’ll be all blond. ’Coz my natural colour’s blonde and David’s light as well. Excuse me… ah-tshoo!”
“Bless you.”
He started looking around nervously, and she wondered whether she was talking too much or whether he was worried about catching a cold.
“I caught my cold from David. He says he got it from some guy when he was fetching pizza the other night. And who knows where that guy got it, hey.”
Now she knew she was talking too much.
“So what are you up to? What? Oh, how much is that? Forty-nine? Gee, these things are getting so expensive! I’m sorry, you were telling me what you were up to…”
“Oh, you know. Same old same at the magazine. And then I also got a story included in this anthology of short stories.”
“Oh, you’re reading short stories?”
She was checking her change, and she hadn’t heard him correctly.
“No, writing short stories. I got a story included in this anthology.”
“Oh, that’s great.”
She realised she didn’t sound interested enough. But she still hadn’t heard him properly and it was already too late. She’d missed the beat of the conversation.
Then she had her change and she had her Pampers and it was time to go.
“So nice seeing you again… What was your name again?”
“Eric, hey.”
“Okay Eric. Nice seeing you again. I’ll… maybe we’ll see each other again some time.”
“Ja. Okay, bye.”
He seemed less excited to have seen her now…
Diane lugged the nappies out to the car and flopped into the driver’s seat. She checked herself in the mirror and was shocked at what she saw: a 29-year-old woman in a vomit-flecked T-shirt who hadn’t washed her hair in a week. As she engaged the clutch she realised she was still wearing her slippers…
What on earth could that guy have seen in her? Was he… was he chatting her up in the supermarket line? He might actually have been. Shame, he was sweet – she realised she’d forgotten his name already. Ed?
It was probably the lack of a ring on her finger that had got him interested, she mused. But the fact was, she had a partner, even if they weren’t looking likely to marry.
And that significant other probably had his hands full right now, with a baby wailing his head off and a nappy choc-a-block with fresh shit. She’d better get these Pampers home.
Oh, yes, Diane thought to herself. She was well and truly off the singles’ scene now.

Writer for television, print and digital, corporate and editorial. Editor and writer of books. Musical performance, spoken word as Inspector Ras. Guitar/vocals for The Near Misses, (Worst Band In JoburgTM). The last whitey at umsebenzi. Latest book 415 Action-Packed Neighbourhood Marketing Tips with Basil O'Hagan, out now. @hagenengler

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