“I’m being sued by the Catholic Church again,” Laverne announced in the midst of reorganising her purse.
“I have no words for that.”
“How unlike you,” she mused.
“Hold on, I thought you were working on a piece about the East African Lion,” I suddenly remembered.
“Turns out all they do is sleep. My son can do that.”
“Have you ever been to Africa? I haven’t.”
“Yeah, with my sister for her fortieth. We went on safari in Malawi.”
“So is that where …“
“… my people come from?” Laverne zipped her purse and placed it on the chair next to her. “Couldn’t tell you; the furthest back I’ve been able to trace our roots is to The Shirelles.”
“Ha, ha. Very funny. I was actually going to ask if that’s where your sister went with the Peace Corps.”
“Oops, sorry,” she giggled. “No, that was Mozambique.”
“I’d like to ask you another question though: when you were there, did you feel any connection to it?”
“Funny you should ask that,” she became more pensive. “I expected to feel ‘African’ from the moment I arrived but the whole time we were there I felt like just another tourist. People are people wherever you go so we had that in common. Culturally, however, I struggled to make a connection and that bothered me. I think maybe we’ve been gone too long.”
“I felt the same when I met my Scottish relatives for the first time,” I concurred. “We shared the same name, same sense of humour and some even looked like me but culturally we were raised in two very different worlds.”
“Not even close!” Laverne screamed with laughter. “Honestly, are you kidding me with that? Your parents emigrated using their Air Miles!”
“But their journey to The New World was horrific. First, they ran out of headphones and then they gave my mum’s gluten-free meal to someone else,” I explained. “Anyway, cut me some slack – you’re my only ethnic friend.”
“Hey, I’m your only friend. I’ve got more in common with those lions than I do with you.”
“They don’t like to cook either.”
“And we have our connection!”
“Okay, but back to this business with the Church,” Laverne lowered her voice. “It’s over a certain someone I told you about at Christmas.”
“Is this the same someone with the thing?”
“And are you telling me they’ve now found the thing?”
“Oh yeah, they found it alright,” she confirmed.
“Was it on him?”
“No, up him.”
“Whoa!” I leaned back in my chair. “And the monkey?”
“Still missing,” she arched an eyebrow.
I love secrets and Laverne knows plenty. A freelance journalist, she moved to the UK from Seattle over thirty years ago after meeting and marrying Elliot, a sound engineer at the BBC. The three of us first met at The Pu Pu Pot, our local Chinese restaurant, after she’d overheard my accent.
“I need some human conversation during our stay on this island! I need someone who doesn’t talk about Bobby Charlton in his sleep!” she blubbered into her chop suey.
“Who’s Robby Carlson?” I asked.
“Exactly!” she cried. “And do you know where I can score some Fruit Loops because the last people to eat porridge were the Vikings.”
That was twenty years ago.
Tonight we were out for our weekly meal at The Pu Pu Pot but without Elliot, who begged off to attend a Bolton Wanderers match.
“What’s the viral load of the Szechuan Chicken today?” Laverne asked.
“Slightly elevated I’m afraid, so I’d be happy to pee on it for you. We Chinese believe that urine possesses magical properties,” our waitress took her on.
“Is that like chlorinated chicken?” I asked.
“Well, if you’d prefer you can bring in a pet and we’ll cook that for you,” she smiled, sweetly.
“We’re gonna need a few more minutes,” Laverne smiled right back at her.
Just then, the kitchen doors swung open to reveal a tiny, sinewy man lifting the lid off a huge cauldron. As he did so, he stepped back to avoid the rush of steam.
“What’s that for?” I asked.
“We’ll be cooking shrimp in it once we take the shirts out,” our waitress stated matter-of-factly. “Would you excuse me for just one moment? I need to inform on my neighbours.”
“She’s good,” Laverne nodded her approval, as she watched the diminutive figure disappear behind the bar. “Is she still in med school?”
“She’ll have them in stitches.”
At one point during the evening Laverne made a visit to the Ladies’. While she was gone, a young woman breezed into the restaurant and joined a waiting friend at a table nearby. Tall, elegant and stylishly attired, she quickly attracted the attention of other diners.
“I’m back,” Laverne announced, resuming her seat. “They have the nicest hand lotion here.”
“Uh huh,” I replied, looking past her at the young woman.
“What’s up with you?” she shot me a quizzical look.
“It’s what’s behind you.”
“What’s behind me?”
“A girl walked in while you were gone and she’s got to be a model. She’s absolutely stunning. Definitely a model.”
“On a scale of 1 to 10?” Laverne asked.
“She’s got to have a flaw, everyone has a flaw.”
“If she does, I can’t see it.”
“Maybe it’s hidden,” she chewed on her bottom lip. “Slug feet?”
“Fifty bucks says she uses disconnect as a noun.”
“Another fifty says she has plans to name her first daughter Chandelier.”
“Hmm… not even a split end?” Laverne wasn’t having it.
“Turn around and see for yourself if you don’t believe me.”
“Have I taught you nothing?” she reached for her purse. “Watch and learn, my friend… okay, which shoulder?”
She took out her compact and opened it, angling the mirror until she caught sight of her quarry over her left shoulder. At that same moment, the young woman put on her reading glasses and picked up a menu. Closing the compact with a snap, Laverne chuckled to herself, then leaned across the table and whispered, “Four-Eyes.”