A MATTER OF TASTE
The rain hammered down from a slate grey sky, playing a staccato rhythm on the roof of the car like some demented African percussionist. The raindrops, big and heavy, bounced up from the bonnet, reaching for the sky before succumbing to gravity and rolling in tiny rivulets down to the tarmac below.
Where I’d pulled in at the side of the road, a little river, complete with white water and rapids, rushed along beside the kerb and disappeared in a miniature waterfall through the iron grate that led to the sewer below.
The car’s engine ticked quietly to itself as it cooled down and a hint of steam rose from the radiator at the front where the more adventurous raindrops had found their way through the grill and onto the hot metal beneath.
It wasn’t going to ease up. I should have brought an umbrella. It was only fifty yards to Mei-Lin’s flat, but I was going to get soaked as soon as I stepped outside.
A car turned the corner, its headlights picked out by a hundred tiny droplets on the windscreen in front of me. It slowed and then indicated, an amber light winking through the rain, before it turned and I watched the red tail-lights disappear into the gloom.
Ok here I go. I reached over to the back seat, picked up the roses and opened the door.
There’s something about a good downpour. It seems to clear the air and wash away the dust and fumes that normally blanket the streets. Tonight there was a slightly earthy smell in the air and something that reminded me of wet grass and autumn leaves.
I turned the flowers upside down to protect them, slammed the car door behind me and ran the short distance across the reflective pavements to the shelter of Mei-Lin’s front door.
My finger found the buzzer and I held it down until the speaker next to it crackled into life.
“Quick. It’s me. Let me in.”
The lock made a strange vibrating noise and I leaned against the heavy door, pushing it open. The wind swept in with me, carrying a whirlwind of water droplets with it and then the door banged shut, locking the weather outside where it belonged.
I shook the flowers gently and turned them the right way up. They didn’t look any the worse for wear, but seemed to brighten the hallway with their colour and perfume – a small oasis of canary yellow in an otherwise grey evening.
A door opened on the top landing and a head appeared over the banister.
“Come up. You must be soaked.”
“I am,” I shouted back, and then hurried up the stairs, my footsteps echoing in the empty hallway.
Mei-Lin was waiting at the top. I’d never seen her in a dress before. The usual jeans and t-shirt had been replaced by a plain but elegant dark green number, which came down to her knees and had a velvet sheen to it. Her jet black hair, which was usually tied up, fell below her shoulders, framing one of the most beautiful faces I’d ever seen and at her throat, suspended from a silver chain, was a single green emerald that sparkled as it caught the light from above.
“Wow, you look good,” I said, holding out the flowers.
“Ooh they’re lovely. Thank you.” Mei-Lin’s face lit up with a smile as she bent to smell them.
“Come in.” She took the flowers from me and pulled me into the flat.
“I’ll just put them in some water. There’s a towel in the bathroom if you want it. Your hair’s soaked.”
I grinned at her and nodded. “You’re right. I’ve got drips running down the back of my neck.”
The bathroom was at the end of the hall and smelt of citrus fruits and lavender. There was a towel hanging on the back of the door and I wiped my face and then rubbed my hair dry.
When I reappeared, I could hear music coming from the living room and I walked through to find Mei-Lin waiting for me. The roses were already in a vase on the table beside her and she had a glass of red wine in her hand.
“Here. I’ve poured you some wine.” She handed me the glass. Its twin, with a slightly smaller measure in it, stood on the breakfast bar that divided the large, open plan living area from the well appointed kitchen beyond.
In the corner of the room, the dining table had been set for two. Each setting was at an angle, facing slightly towards the window so that when seated, we’d have a view out over the city. During the day you could see as far as the coast, whilst at night all the lights of the city were spread out beneath you. This evening, with the rain beating down outside, the visibility could only have been a few hundred yards, but it was still a far better view than you would get from any restaurant.
There were candles ready to be lit in the middle of the table and if it wasn’t for the music that played in the background and the too bright lighting, the mood would have been romantic. The music sounded vaguely punk-rock.
“Who is it?” I asked, nodding at the stereo.
“Who do you think?”
I listened to the lyrics for a moment…………………………..(cont).
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Copyright © 2015 J. Hall, JRGM Publishing.