Archie was smart; at least he reckoned he was, because he had what he considered to be the good things in life: dosh in his wallet, a Cat in the garage, and a detach. in the green belt; all of which he had worked hard to acquire. Worked, is not exactly the word for it. Archie did deals. He reckoned he could always turn a fiver into a tenner an’ a tenner into a pony; a pony into a ton and a ton to a grand. He was one of the cash economy’s natural alchemists. The folding stuff was the measure of a person, he reckoned. Archie never thought about anything; he reckoned everything, and nothing on God’s good earth was beyond reckoning, he reckoned. An ever-ready reckoner; that was Archie, and he loved himself for it. Only John Wayne did more reckoning than Archie, his old dad, bless him, used to say, thought Archie. In Archie’s world a grand was currency; less than that was just spare change. He reckoned he gave superior meaning to the expression ‘it’s a grand life’. The only blemish on Archie’s horizon as far as he could see was the lack of a class bird, or ‘ream sort’, as he preferred to say; hence this evening’s extravaganza at a posh French restaurant in the company of a beautiful lady. Archie only had two serious weaknesses in his existence: a fondness for the last word in a dispute about anything you care to mention, and his infatuation with his dining companion, the beautiful Carmela.
Carmela shared a common background with Archie. They grew up on the same council estate in the inner city. They were aware of each other’s existence as kids and teenagers, but they didn’t really know each other. Carmela was a quiet child and very singular; even in company she could be by herself. None but she was wise to her sense of solitude. She had three passions in life: knitting, sewing and weaving; the blessed trinity of her existence. Carmela interpreted the world by these three gifts. Here she was, she thought, weaving her way through an evening, in the company of three strangers. One she knew, herself, another she didn’t know at all, despite proximity and semi-shared origins. Then there was the complete stranger to the trinity: the waiter in his new and very polished shiny black shoes, “You can tell a lot about a person by their shoes”, Carmela’s mum used to say, she was thinking about that as the waiter appeared to almost pirouette into vision.
The waiter was a patient soul, it goes with the territory. The waiting game wasn’t something you should rush in to, he often told himself, in one of his more existentialist moments. He appreciated the irony of the comment in a Sartresque kind of fashion. He was from a steel town in the Rhonda Valley of South Wales. Iron was in his veins if not his appearance. A creature of paradoxes, that’s what he told himself he was. He liked that assessment of himself. It complimented his passion for all things French: French food, French wine, French philosophy, literature and art. He was learning the language at night school. Alas, his accent was as lyrically refined as the landscape that bred him He shovelled the words onto a conveyor belt of sound and meaning as best he could in the general direction of the person he was talking to, more in hope than in faith that they understood what was being said .The other passion in his life was tap dancing, and as luck would have it he could wear the same outfit for work and leisure, hence the very shiny shoes which allowed him to dance around the tables of the restaurant, practising his language skills on the clientele, His life work and leisure dovetailed with his ambition and he was pleased to wake up in the morning and set about the mortal trespass with a skip in his step. The waiter imagined himself to be a cosmopolitan and enlightened soul, in a very Fred Astaire kind of way, and life was a flight of stairs which he could ascend and descend in a Morse code type of style, just like Mr Bojangles.
The fare was fine. the wine was rare, but the conversation was spare until the cheese board arrived.” Good grub”, said Archie to the waiter. “We don’t do grub, sir, we only serve the finest Gallic cuisine in this establishment,” replied the waiter, in his usual mangled French, whilst smiling that smile that only waiters can manage when registering disapproval. Archie looked blank. It was Carmela who spoke: “C’était magnifique! Mes compliments au chef.” “Streuth! You speak better French than Marcel Proust here” said Archie.” I studied Fashion and Design in Paris for five years “replied Carmela.” “An’ I joined the Common Market many moons ago. It’s good for business” said Archie. The waiter was impressed: “Food, fashion, wine, Proust and Paris. This must be Nirvana” he said. “Great band, but a very dubious heaven.” replied Carmela, knitting together the threads whilst changing the pattern of the conversation in a very subtle fashion that was more to her liking.” “It’s only rock ’n’ roll” said Archie, an’ if you’ve ever heard French rock ’n’ roll it’s enough to make you believe in Foucault” “Foucault, my hero!” said the waiter, “a philosophical genius”. “According to Foucault, a knitting pattern is the hieroglyphic of a consumerist and decadent capitalist society.” intoned Carmela.” “And ‘A recipe is a critique of a cake’, said the great Structuralist philosopher,” interjected Archie, so if you serve the gateaux we may effect the collapse of western civilisation as we all know and love it”. “Allors, Let them eat cake” said the waiter, and everybody smiled at the irony of the comment.
The waiter bojangled his way into the night, tapping and clicking the pavement as he went. Carmela and Archie got into a black cab. “That was a night to remember,” said Carmela, “very Proustian”. “A la recherche du temps perdu”, replied Archie, pleased as punch to have the last word. Carmela just smiled as she looked at Archie’s shoes.