I live just a short seven minute ferry ride away from a beautiful, quaint, little Island. I come here to decompress and ‘get away’ from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Today, I decided to take a ‘me’ day: take the day off work, and just live a day of no expectations or demands, a day of following the flow and letting the universe guide my actions. Also, since it’s my birthday, I decide to do this guilt-free and happily. I ran out of coffee yesterday, which I almost never do, but decided against going to the grocery store. Instead of the usual coffee at home, I wake up this morning with the intention of hopping on that ferry and spending the day on the Island; home of the highest-rated breakfast restaurant in the world. It’s fancy, but not too fancy. Visually pleasing with the obvious touch of a designer that has knowledge of Feng Shui. As well as an amazing colour palette of grey-toned blues, teals, and purples accented in deep gold, the spiral staircase in the centre leads to a balcony that is most inviting. Every time I walk in, it feels as though I’m wrapped in a warm tropical sunset. The restaurant has a wall dedicated to old books and a lounge room that I often get lost in for hours. I’m always looking for a good story to immerse myself in. I’m excited to start my day off there.
It’s the kind of morning that invites deep breaths of crisp cool air. It rained last night and the sun reflects prisms on the fresh blooms of spring. The day has already warmed up by the time I journey across the ferry with my bike. I slowly and casually make my way to the restaurant. I wrap my fingers around the warm mug and drink my coffee while gazing out the window towards the reds, yellows, and purples of the botanical garden just next door. As I finish the last sip of coffee and my plate of food has arrived, I’m startled by a voice that asks, almost pleadingly, “Excuse me Ma’am, would you mind terribly if I joined you?” I glance around and notice that all the tables are full, which isn’t uncommon, before I look up and notice that a single tear is falling down his cheek. “Of course you can sit here,” I say softly and compassionately. “I don’t mean to intrude, it’s just…” he trails off and fidgets with the loose button on his sleeve. “It’s okay, you’re not intruding. I’d love to have your company for breakfast.” I say mostly to myself than to him. This is a ‘me’ day after all; however, letting the universe guide my day is also my intention.
I introduce myself, and instantly, before he even tells me his name, the tears start flowing. The kind of silent crying that just turns on the water works, but no volume and not even a scrunched up face or anything – just tears. I reach my hand across the table, because I feel like I probably don’t have any words that could possibly help or make him feel better, and gently put my hand atop his. He looks up at me and with a tear stained, wrinkled, must be 80 or 90 year old face, and says “That was the name of my wife”. And that was it for me; here come the water works myself. And this is how two complete strangers are crying together about completely different things. At this point I don’t even know what I’m crying about, less about this man’s deceased wife, but perhaps more about all the people that have lost loved ones. I’m crying about my own Grandpa, and my uncle, and my best friend’s mom.
The server brings the man his food without needing him to order. We eat together in silence, randomly looking up at each other simultaneously and making eye contact. When we are both done, he asks if I would like to have the second of the two rice puddings the server brings to the table, again without actually ordering. He tells me, “I can’t bring myself to just order one. It was her favourite. Funny thing is I never even liked it; rice for dessert, it just grew on me, you know.” I nod my head knowingly.
“This is the table where we met, Margaret and I, on the 14th of May 1948. We were both 18. It happened to be her birthday, but she was dining alone. I don’t think she minded though. She seemed happy and content. The restaurant was much different back then, the décor I mean. The tables have always been in the exact same spot. I guess there’s no other spot for them to be other than this one.” He tells me as he takes only his second bite of rice pudding. It seems as though he’s savouring it, and I decide, as hard as it is for me to do, to do the same. You know, in honour of Margaret. “Margaret really disliked when they changed the décor the first time, and the fourth time. I didn’t agree with her the first time, but I certainly did the fourth time. For some reason the designer thought that army green and orange went well together. Needless to say, that colour scheme didn’t last long before they finally hired someone called a ‘Flung Suede Consultant’ to work their magic.” I wanted to correct him, but it was both cute and an unnecessary interruption. “Weird though, there wasn’t actually any suede flung about, so I didn’t think the name was suiting, but I thought I better not make a fuss about something so trivial”. I giggled to myself a little, as we both took another bite of rice pudding. “Who knew rice pudding was so good,” I say out loud. He nods his head knowingly.
“Anyways, Margaret and I have been coming here every year on May 14th, her birthday and our anniversary of meeting, every year since. I always ordered the same thing, and so did she, and halfway through we would switch plates. It was like having two breakfasts in one. Afterwards we would take a walk, hand in hand through the botanical gardens. Gardens were Margaret’s favourite. She would say ‘every flower and every bloom, beautiful are you and in my heart you have a room.’ She was so sweet and gentle, and just loved spending time with flowers. I never understood why, but they kind of grew on my too.”
I had so many questions I wanted to ask, did you have kids, what’s the key to a long lasting marriage, how did Margaret die? But I just couldn’t. His story telling was mesmerizing and all I could do was either nod or smile.
“The key is attention to detail,” he went on. I think he’s talking about the décor again, but he starts talking about the way Margaret smelled, the way she walked, the way she smiled and laughed. “The key is to notice all the details, and make a point for recognition of all the small things. Gratefulness, if you will. I always, always, always told her how much I loved her, how she made me feel, and told her as much as possible all the things I loved about her: the floral print dress and how it swayed off her body as she walked through the wind-gusted garden; the way her eyes twinkled in the sunlight when she laughed; and the way her hand fit into mine like a jigsaw puzzle.”
A single tear runs down my face as I hear him speaking so eloquently and lovingly about Margaret. He looks up at me and wipes my tear with a deep purple napkin. “We lived a long and lovely life together. We had our struggles, sure, but mostly our time together was fun and beautiful and contented. We completed each other. May 14th, 1948 is the day that changed both our lives forever. And that is why today, May 14th, 2017 I am here, eating rice pudding and sitting at our table because there isn’t anything else in the world I’d rather be doing.”
He stands up and says “I’m going to go to the gardens now; it was lovely to meet you, Margaret. Thank you for allowing me to share my special day with you”. “Sir, what’s your name?” I finally ask. “Arthur, it’s Arthur James.” I smile with tears running down my face and give him a hug like we’ve known each other for years. “That was my Grandpa’s name,” I whisper to him as my arms wrap around his neck. As we go our separate ways, “ Margaret,” he calls out to me. I turn around, “Yes”. “Why were you dining alone today?” “Birthday Breakfast,” I reply with a shrug. Arthur smiles, shakes his head and with a wave of his hand calls out, “Happy Birthday, Margaret”.