Today I had my weekly lunch date with The Professor. We were happily settled on the restaurant terrace enjoying the sunshine and the sea view when, out of nowhere, he blurted, ‘I think you are afraid.’ I raised my eyebrows, ‘Of what?’ ‘Of love.’ ‘Excuse me?’ ‘It is something that I have been thinking since we translated the Edith Piaf song.’ I racked my brain. ‘L’hymne á l’Amour?’ He nodded. He was referring to the French assignment that he had set for me a few weeks previously. At the time, after I had read out my translation, he had said, ‘Imagine that the man you love is saying these things to you. It is romantic, no?’ I squinted at the lyrics:
If one day life tares you from me
If you die and you are away from me
I do not care if you love me
For I will die also
We will have eternity for us
In the blue of the immensity
Okay, it was hardly word perfect but still… Romantic? ‘I’d run away from him as fast as possible,’ I’d spluttered. The Professor had looked confused, ‘But why?’ ‘Seriously, look at the words. It’s a bit full on. He’d have to be mental.’ The Professor scrutinized me in silence for some time. ‘You are very strange for a woman,’ he eventually concluded. ‘Very, very strange.’ I didn’t argue, it was probably a perfectly fair assessment, and then I thought no more of it; until today I’d had no idea that I had left such an indelible impression on him.
‘Why,’ he now continued, ‘do you not talk to me of your sentimental relationships?’ I chewed my lasagne to buy some time. ‘Well,’ I began tentatively after swallowing, ‘I don’t talk about my sentimental relationships with everyone. I mean, I don’t talk to my father about them for example.’ This was an out-and-out lie: my dad is in fact privy to many details regarding my romantic life; discussing it with The Professor, however, would be tantamount to talking to my grandfather about sex (you just don’t, do you?). I decided that, from an age point of view, The Professor might be offended if I likened him to my late grandfather though so I plumped for the dad thing.
He rested his knife and fork on his plate. ‘You know I have some knowledge of the psychoanalysis. I analysis [sic] what you say about the Edith Piaf, about running away, and I think: “Ah, she is afraid. She is afraid of sentimental love.” ‘Oh no, not afraid of love!’ I tried to laugh. He went quiet again, his gaze lost focus and he went sort of cross-eyed. ‘You’re analysing me now?’ I finally interrupted, putting down my own cutlery. ‘Yes, yes I analyse you. You are nervous?’ Well, I hadn’t been before but… ‘Look,’ I countered, ‘let me assure you that I am not afraid of love, sentimental or otherwise. I’m scared of commitment but that’s not the same. I am a very loving person,’ I crossed my legs and folded my arms, ‘and I’m very lovable.’ He didn’t look convinced. ‘The trouble is,’ I continued, now as much to myself as to the tiny elderly man sat opposite, ‘I like to have options. As soon as I settle on someone I become aware of all the other choices I could have made; of course, they always seem to be much better than the thing I’ve chosen. Does that make sense?’
‘You should not be so tough. It will not be easy to be the man in your life.’ He sounded concerned. ‘As it is, understanding the desires of a woman is very hard for us. What women desire is very complicated whereas a man’s desires are obvious, simple.’ ‘Don’t generalise,’ I lectured him, ‘sometimes a woman’s desires are obvious too.’ Given the whole grandpa thing I thought it best not to elaborate here. ‘I am not saying this is 100% applying to everyone,’ he carried on, ‘but it is true that when a woman starts a sentimental relationship normally she is thinking about the future, she is planning. It is not like this for a man, he is happy with what he is getting in that moment. He is happy to take what he can get.’ ‘How charming,’ I muttered and then said more loudly, ‘I suppose there may be some truth to what you are saying, often the woman considers the future before the man.’ ‘Do you?’ ‘Not in the way you’re talking about.’ He leant forward, his eyes glinting. ‘I get infatuated,’ I explained. He didn’t know this word so we looked it up on his little pocket translator. ‘Ah, entichement! So when you are infat, infat…’ ‘Infatuated. Yes?’ ‘When you are infatuated you are in love?’ I frowned. ‘Sort of, at least I believe I am in love at the time. Only the feeling fades too quickly to be true. Anyway,’ I waved my hand in the air, ‘I am trying very hard not to be infatuated these days. It does me no good whatsoever.’
We rose, with some effort, from our plastic garden chairs and walked down the steps to the car with slow, heavy footsteps. He looked across and gave me a mischievous smile, ‘So I am clever, no?’ I frowned at him. ‘To guess that you are afraid of love.’ ‘Absolute genius Professor,' I sighed, 'really, hit the nail on the head.’ It was only ever going to be a matter of time before he discovered the truth now, wasn’t it?