The Romance of Unconnected Lives
“So?” Anette sat opposite Jane as they found a two-person table and sat down for lunch. The financial hub of the city consisted of several groups of buildings, each of which surrounded some type of landmark. A few contained small sculpture gardens with a variety of metal and concrete art pieces. Some contained actual gardens, with grass and picnic benches and trees. Others contained water features such as ponds and fountains.
“So, what?” Jane responded, stopping before her first bite. The particular landmark which they now sat next to was a pond. Eight blocks of office space surrounded the long rectangular pond. Jane was used to ponds being small, fit for a garden, and so wasn’t really sure what to call this even though technically it was a pond. It ran about 100 metres long and 40 metres wide.
“So how was your relaxing weekend?” A few little coffee and sandwich shops dotted the edge of this pond, catering to the busy workforce as they took their slither of free time. Connected to one of these shops was a seating area with smooth concrete floors and shiny metal tables. It was here where Anette and Jane sat, several feet from the pond. On cloudy days, when the sun wasn’t reflecting brightly off the water, Jane could see the fishes swimming around the pond.
“It was nice.” That is, when Anette could actually drag Jane away from her desk for lunch the two would sit here. The two had decided that once a week they would eat out here, but that didn’t stop Anette from trying several other days of the week as well.
“Just nice?” JRR Investments wasn’t actually one of the buildings connected to this circle. But it was a short walk across the road and along a brief walkway. And as this was a nice place to take a break and the food was good, Jane and Anette decided they would pretend their place of business was connected. After all, it didn’t matter to anyone.
“And a little strange.”
“Not earth shattering in any way?”
“No,” Jane laughed as she took a mouthful of food. “Should it have been?”
“Not sure. I should think not working is so new to you that it would be completely unbelievable.”
“Very funny. How was your weekend?”
“It was nice. First I went… why are you looking at me like that?”
“Like what? I’m not looking at you in any way whatsoever.”
“Ok, fine. Don’t be mad but I may or may not have still done some work over the weekend.”
“Will you say something other than ‘Jane’.”
“I took away your laptop. Did you go into the office?”
“Oh, no. Of course not. I just worked on some of the reports.”
“Stop saying ‘Jane’!”
“You were supposed to be relaxing this weekend. Literally part of my job is making sure you don’t burn out.”
“I was relaxing. I slept in and I read and I went shopping for the gala. I know it isn’t for a bit but I thought I would… and I also did a bit of work.”
Anette looked frustratingly as Jane. “At least you relaxed a bit.”
“I did. And it was a lovely weekend.”
“Good. Wait, did you skip archery again because you were working?!” Anette leaned back in her chair and looked at Jane angrily.
“No, I did not. I promise. Saturday was exclusively, almost, rest. I just needed the day to myself.”
“Ok, that’s fine. Next week.”
“Definitely next week. I can’t have you getting better than me.”
“I’m already better than you.”
After a few minutes of silence while they finished eating, Jane and Anette got up and began walking back to work. Along the walkway on the way back to the office was a man playing the violin. Both Anette and Jane added to the change that was building up inside the hat that he placed on the floor in front of him.
“Oh, that reminds me,” Anette said after they were a few steps past the man. “I went on a date last night.”
“What?! Why did I not hear of this before?! Who? Where?”
“Just a guy I met a couple weeks ago. We went out for drinks.”
“Why have I not heard about him?”
“I told you about him but you were really busy so I don’t think you remember.”
“Seriously?” Jane stopped and put her hand on Anette’s shoulder.
Anette laughed and lifted Jane’s hand off. “It’s fine,” she said. “You were incredibly busy.”
“That’s no excuse. I’m so sorry.”
“Seriously, don’t worry about it. It all happened before Brussels and there were things to do.”
Jane fell silent for a moment. She was ashamed to have not listened to her friend. How many times had she been like this? Is this something that happens when she gets busy?
“Tell me about it,” she said in a mellow voice.
Sensing her friend’s change in mood, Anette laughed to lighten the situation. “Seriously, it’s fine. And it was alright. Remember when they were doing work on your office?”
“Well we met then. I figured I’d work from a coffee shop that morning and then pop over and say hi to you. We met in line, chatted for a bit, and he asked for my number.”
“Is that when you told me?”
“You mean when we met up later? Yeah. But really, don’t worry about it.”
Jane nodded. “So where’d you guys go?”
“That new place up by the park. I forget its name. Just opened a month ago.”
“Oh yeah, how is it?”
“Good. They do jazz nights on Saturdays. It was fun.”
“I’m guessing the date itself didn’t go well.”
Anette laughed, “why do you say that?”
“You don’t sound overly excited by it.”
“No it was fine, I guess. He was just, I don’t know, he was a little too normal.”
“What do you mean?”
“Maybe normal isn’t right. He was a little too like me.”
“You are not normal.”
“Not personally. I mean he works in the financial sector, like us.”
“What’s wrong with us?!”
“Nothing is wrong with us. I just don’t want to date us.”
“Speak for yourself. I’d happily date me.”
“You do date you. And I mean I want to be with someone who’s job is more exciting, or even just different. Maybe a firefighter!”
“That’s the most cliché thing I’ve ever heard.”
“You don’t like firefighters.”
“I mean, I wouldn’t complain if a man were built like one. But no.”
“Well fine. But either way, it wasn’t anything to write home about.”
“Fair enough. So I’m presuming you won’t see him again.”
“Who knows. It’s a free dinner, right?”
“That’s terrible. And why does he have to pay?”
“He doesn’t. But if he asks me out, he pays. If I ask him out, I pay. Whoever is the one who is taking the other person on the date should pay.”
“I guess I see your logic.”
“Wouldn’t go that far.”
“And besides, he hasn’t called and didn’t ask to meet again at the end of the date so it’s fine because I probably won’t see him again.”
“I thought you said you didn’t like him.”
“I know. I’m saying if he doesn’t reach out to me I don’t have to turn him down.”
“I got the impression that I wasn’t his ideal companion.”
“Too superior… in business, I mean. Though let’s be honest.”
Jane looked at Anette and smiled. That was probably true. Anette was very good at what she did. “What? Could he not handle a woman at the helm?”
“A woman must know her place, must she not.” She laughed and continued walking. Jane and Anette had now reached the front doors to the lobby. Anette turned one final time to Jane, “and yeah, way too sexy.”
She walked through the automatic doors, straightened posture and lengthened stride. There were many men who cared not about how much their partners made and whether or not they were higher earners. But there were many who did and this story, in Jane’s world, was sadly far too common.
Jane too straightened her spine and lengthened her step. Damned if she didn’t deserve to be exactly where she was.
The zoo was a strange place to host a date. But Matt was a strange character and Kate wasn’t any less so, so they decided after two coffee days and three dinner dates – two with a movie afterwards – that the dating game had lost its zazziness and the only way to get it back was to go on less conventional dates.
They tried crazy golf and found it to be fun, though in the city the courses weren’t ever really that good. Matt was used to the big golf parks further out of the urban areas, closer to his parents, and was a little disappointed by what the city had to offer. They tried canoeing down the river. Matt didn’t even know you could do that but Kate knew a guy who knew a guy.
It was great – far too far out of Matt’s comfort zone – but it was great. Today’s excursion was the zoo, chosen by Matt after a flier advertising its new parrot enclosure was dropped through his letter box. It had been years since Matt had stepped foot in a zoo.
Kate agreed, and now Matt waited outside the underwhelming entrance for the women who, according to her text, would be two minutes.
Two minutes on the dot. “Hello,” Kate appeared from the left while Matt was looking right so he didn’t see her until she was close. They kissed each other hello and walked in.
Kate pulled her phone out of her pocket as they were going through. “I got the tickets online so we should just be able to scan this and go through.”
Kate handed the phone to the man standing by the little gate.
“Thank you very much. Enjoy your day.”
“Thank you,” both answered as they were let through.
“So,” Kate turned to Matt, “when was the last time you’ve been here?”
“You’ve never been to the zoo!” Kate hit Matt on the shoulder with the pamphlet that was in her hand. It folded rather pathetically on impact.
“I’ve been to the zoo. I’ve just never been here.”
“Oh. Sorry, then.”
“Yeah. Now give me that, I get to hit you back.”
“You do not,” Kate raised it up in the air. “Just try and take it from me.”
“What are we? Five.” Matt laughed. “Now come on, where do we want to go first?”
Kate lowered the pamphlet and opened it up. It was the map.
“Well, seen as you’ve never been here before I should probably take the lead. You know, what with my extensive knowledge of the place.”
“When were you last here?”
“About twenty years ago.”
“Twenty years! It’s barely even the same place as it was twenty years ago.”
“How do you know? You’ve never been. And besides, zoos don’t change.”
“They do. This one’s just opened up a new parrot enclosure.”
“Well then,” Kate looked at the map before pointing in the direction of one of the paths, “that’s where we’ll begin.”
After entering the zoo, the first thing to greet the wanderers was a fountain with a little pool surrounding it. The centrepiece of the pool was not of any animal, though that would make sense for a zoo. It was simply a vase-shaped mass, two or three feet bigger than a normal vase. The fountain poured out from the centre in four shoots of water which seemed each to randomly pause at intermittent moments.
Past the fountain, the path cut three ways. The leftmost way led to the biggest area of the zoo and housed the enclosures of the animals needing the most space, the lions, elephants, giraffes, etc. The centremost path led to the primates and other assorted animals which required slightly smaller enclosures. The rightmost path led to the aquarium, the reptile sanctuary, and the aviary.
Each path naturally split up into many smaller paths as the zoo, situated slightly outside of the city, was a big one. Each path was also painted to look like a road, with a dotted white line that ran down the middle. The fact that nobody was sticking to one side of the road annoyed Matt. Kate laughed as she saw him try to keep to the system.
“You know it’s a path, right? Not an actual road?”
“It was designed like this for a reason.”
“The reason being to entertain, not to infuriate.”
“And to maintain order.”
“Matt, it’s a zoo. As long as you don’t walk into the lion enclosure you’ll be fine. Now come on.”
“You seem excited.”
“I am. I haven’t been to the zoo in ages. It’s fun.” Kate bounded along towards the aviary. According to the advertisement which dropped through his letter box, the zoo had recently refurbished the parrot enclosure, remodelling it to allow visitors to enter and walk around with the birds. It wasn’t just parrots either – lots of different types of birds lived there – but as a parrot graced the advertisement and the zoo was particularly keen on reminding its visitors that it had many different types of parrots, to Matt is was known as the parrot enclosure.
The aviary was actually three aviaries, each with different types of birds. You couldn’t have the hunters and the prey in the same space so the zoo divided it into three. Plus it allowed each bird more space that way.
The parrot enclosure was the third aviary. Giant poles jutting out of the ground, covered in netting, created a dome-type shape which housed the birds. Lovely in the summer months, Matt wondered what happened when the temperature really dropped and rainclouds covered the sky. They must have been taken somewhere of kept warm somehow. There was a building connected to the aviary which looked like an additional space of rest. Do birds hibernate? Maybe that’s just where they re-coup-erate… get it? Matt laughed inside. He’d have to find a way to use that one in a few minutes when talking to Kate.
When they arrived, there was a queue of people about fifteen back. In fact if was exactly fifteen as Matt found out three minutes later. To control the number of people within this aviary, every fifteen minutes, fifteen people were allowed in and Matt and Kate found themselves the first in line after the last batch were ushered through.
Matt and Kate chatted as they waited, not about anything in particular. After ten minutes and a moment’s pause, Matt leaned forward to talk to the man by the doorway, making sure he was angled enough so Kate could hear what he was about to say. “Excuse me, sir?”
Matt pointed to the building attached to the aviary. “What happens when it gets cold? Do the birds go in there to re-coup-erate?”
Matt stepped back and shot a sheepish look at Kate. Clearly it wasn’t as funny as he though. She wasn’t even looking at him.
Nobody spoke for the next five minutes. They were let in and Matt breathed a sigh after passing through the entrance. “It can’t have been that bad?”
“It was so bad.”
“Maybe he didn’t get it.”
“Did you see his face? He got it. He’s probably heard that many times before.”
“Well maybe he just has a terrible sense of humour.”
“He isn’t the one with a terrible sense of humour.” Kate laughed and walked forward, looking up and around at the trees, trying to spot the birds through the foliage.
Some were easy to see, standing there magnificently. Some, not so much.
“Oh, look!” Kate pointed up at the tree. It was completely green, save for its orange beak, and it took Matt a moment to see it through the leaves. It just watched them intently, swivelling its head slowly as they walked past, like the paintings that seem to follow you around the room.
After the parrots and other feathered creatures, Kate and Matt proceeded to walk around the zoo, following no particular path and having no particular interest in what they should see next.
As Matt walked on he remembered why he had stopped coming to the zoo. He really enjoyed looking at the animals and learning about them. But there was always a bittersweet taste in his mouth when he left. He had the opportunity to see life in front of him that he would never otherwise get to see, but it was life in a cage. It was life confined.
And Matt realised zoos today were not necessarily the same as zoos when he was a child. These issues of animal rights have been brought up and continue to be brought up and many zoos have put into practice steps to better the lives of the animals they contain. Not to mention, for many of these animals the zoo is the only place for them. Some are endangered, some have been too closely connected with humans to be released back into the wild, some have had their habitats destroyed and have no home to go to.
And this brings another issue, for to suddenly get rid of the zoo would not be a good idea. The zoo is a place to learn about life outside of our own. It is a place to see what is out there in the world. To get rid of the zoo would be to get rid of a key part of education: learning about other parts of the world. The zoo shows humanity what is out there, it shows that we are more than concrete streets and shiny, steel buildings.
As Matt walked he thought. He did not know what he thought of the zoo anymore.
“You alright? You’ve been silent for a while now,” Kate chimed into his mind.
“Yeah, just thinking.”
They were both leaning over the fence, looking at the compound that held the giant turtles. Kate leaned in and put her head on his shoulder. “Ok. If you want to talk just tell me.”
“Thanks, but it’s fine. Hey, do you think if I walked that slow, I’d live for one hundred and fifty years?”
It had been a week since Jane went to Brussels. Anette made her way down to the lobby. She passed through the threshold to the outside world, jumped in a taxi, and headed home. It was Friday evening but Anette had no plans. She might just relax at home, watch a movie. She could see if anyone wanted to get drinks if she really did want to go out but she wasn’t fussed. Her phone buzzed. It was Jane.
“Dinner and drinks. You, me, tonight.”
Problem solved. Wait, Jane was going out?
“… is this Jane or someone pretending to be Jane?” she texted back.
A few moments later, “It’s Jane. Seven o’clock. Be there.”
Anette didn’t really know what to think. Was everything alright? Had jane suffered a serious blow to the head? Maybe the accident those months ago left some lingering brain damage that was only now revealing itself.
But probably not. She looked back at her phone and replied, “Be where?”
“The fancy tapas place?”
“That’s the one. Don’t be late.”
Cristina was a high-end tapas restaurant which had just opened up a few months ago. A few years ago only the well-travelled had heard of tapas but now they were everywhere – although, getting real tapas still required a trip abroad, just like getting any real food not native to the country in which it’s being consumed.
It was strange. Cristina wouldn’t have been Jane’s first choice. It was definitely Anette’s, but not Jane’s. The taxi stopped and Anette thanked the driver, paid, and got out. I guess she’d have to wait and see. Seven o’clock was not that far away.
Sure enough, seven o’clock rolled round and Anette found herself waiting outside the restaurant.
“Hello, beautiful.” Jane said as she reached the acceptable distance one must reach when walking towards someone before actually talking to them. It was about fifteen feet, eight in crowded areas.
Anette was standing there with her arms out, questioningly. “What’s all this?”
“What are you talking about?”
“You going out, without me whipping at your heels to make you.”
“I don’t think that’s the expression.”
“You know what I mean.”
“Come on, let’s go inside.” Jane smiled as she pushed the door open. “Reservation for Jane, please.”
“Certainly,” the hostess smiled back. “Your table will be ready in about ten minutes. In the meantime, you’re more than welcome to wait at the bar and we’ll call you.”
“We’ll do just that, thank you,” Jane looked at the slightly confused Anette. “Shall we?”
Anette followed as they made their way to the bar and ordered their drinks. As they sat down Jane turned to Anette. “So how’s everything going?”
“Well I’m a little weirded out right now.”
Jane laughed and thanked the bartender who had just put down their drinks. “Don’t be,” she said as she took a sip. “This is by way of an apology. For not listening to you when you told me you had a date, for missing archery those few times, for being a terrible friend. The list goes on.”
It was Anette’s turn to take a sip. “Go on,” she said as she put the glass down.
“What I’m saying is, I realise I’ve not been the best of companions as of late and I apologise. I need to be a better friend.”
“Well thank you. Apology accepted.”
“Wow, that easy? Alright then, goodbye.”
“Good one. It is an acceptance contingent upon the partaking of a meal here.”
“Fair enough. You like this place, don’t you?”
“I’ve never been. I love tapas though!”
“I’ve heard it’s good,” Jane responded, looking around the restaurant. It was a beautiful building, with a black and cream interior and soft lighting coming from three chandelier-shaped light fixtures. They were centred in a triangle around the square room. The bar was a simple black marble slab with everything that was expected to be on the surface of a restaurant bar. “Can I tell you a secret?”
“What’s the secret?” Anette leaned in.
“I’ve never had tapas?”
“WHAT? I mean, what?” Anette lowered her voice. “How have you never had tapas?”
Jane shrugged. “I don’t know. I’ve just never had them.”
“Well, they’re fantastic. You’re in for a treat.”
As Anette and Jane continued their conversation together, the hostess returned to the duo.
“If you wouldn’t mind following me, your table is ready.”
“Oh, that was fast. Thank you very much.” Jane got up and Anette followed.
After sitting down, perusing through the menu for a few minutes, and ordering, the conversation turned back to why Jane had invited Anette to this dinner.
“I really am sorry,” she said.
“I know. You wouldn’t have done this if you weren’t.”
“There are only a few more archery lessons aren’t there?”
“There’s still a couple of months left.”
“Why don’t they run over the whole year?”
“No idea. I think the room is booked during the other months.”
“Strange. Well I’ll definitely be there for the rest of the sessions.”
Anette nodded an I’ll-believe-it-when-I-see-it nod and Jane knew exactly what it meant. She would. She was getting better, slowly.
“So did the guy ever call you?” Jane asked.
“Shame. You could have invited him to the gala.”
“Um, definitely not. That’s a work function. And how awkward. I couldn’t bring a date to that.”
“True. Are you ready for it?”
“As I’ll ever be. We just show up and politely socialise. It’s our gala so we shouldn’t exactly be worried.”
“Found your dress yet?”
“I have. It looks incredible.”
“I can’t imagine it any other way.”
“And you, you said you bought yours last weekend?”
“I did. I’m a little nervous about it.”
“As long as it’s not a suit, it’ll be ok.” Anette laughed. She knew Jane would never go for anything crazy. She could ask what it looked like but she was sort of looking forward to seeing it on the day. When they decided to shop separately, Anette told Jane not to be boring. If she was, Anette would get to say ‘I told you so’.
The waiter brought over their food in several little plates.
“It isn’t,” Jane responded with a faux look of frustration. “Now, enough business. It is Friday night, we are out at a nice meal, and I am hopelessly unprepared. How do I eat tapas?”
Anette laughed as she leaned in to help her friend.