I arrive at the agreed rendezvous point. After some small talk with a few strangers that doesn't really go anywhere I decide to approach the man sitting quietly at the end of the table. He's alone. Looks young; at least twenty years my junior, but what the hey? I'm also here alone to meet new people. I take my drink and sit next to him.
He seems more than happy to talk to me, despite my age. He's fashionably dressed in a well cut black zippered jacket.
'Hello, my name's Fraudster. (Well, obviously I told him my real name.) Have you been here before?'
'I've been once before,' he said.
'What do you do for a living?' I asked. Cut straight to the chase.
'I'm a photographer,' he said.
Okay. Interesting. He asked what I did and I told him I'm a secondary English teacher. He seemed interested that I'd taught VCE and expressed admiration for the expertise he assumed I must possess.
My next question.
'Where do you live?'
He told me he lived in an affluent Melbourne suburb.
'Wow!' I said. 'Do you live in a house or an apartment?'
'I live in an apartment,' he replied. 'Where do you live?'
I told him and we agreed that this cafe meeting had been convenient for both of us.
'So,' I mused, 'do you own your apartment or are you renting?'
'Renting,' he said, before telling me that he also owned an apartment in another wealthy suburb.
'Okay, so you must be doing well in your profession!' I dare say I was beaming at this stage. He was smiling and fielding my questions well. And then I hit him with it.
'Are you married?'
'No,' he laughed. 'I was in a relationship but it's over now.'
'Sorry to hear it,' I said. 'Are you sad?'
'I was, but I'm getting used to it.'
At this stage I leaned back in my chair, took a breath and laughed, perhaps hysterically. My questions were bordering on rude.
'Sorry!' I wiped tears from my eyes. 'I'm not normally this nosy! I'm just making conversation.'
He wasn't offended; had probably experienced such curiosity from a total stranger before. This was his second meeting, after all.
BTW, the above dialogue was all conducted in laboured French. That was the funny thing about the whole experience. From my perspective it was a bit contrived as I struggled to apply some of the few words I have in my store. I knew the verb 'to rent' hence me chucking in a question about whether he was renting his flat.
When I returned from France, mid-July, I was desperate to keep up my French speaking skills. So I did the obvious; searched the web for a suitable group. Unfortunately, the small French conversation meetups are oversubscribed. I was unable to secure a spot at a meeting for two months.
Saturday was my first meeting and leading up to it, I was a nervous wreck. It's not knowing what to expect. I nearly cancelled. What's worse, the meeting would be held at a cafe that specialises in crepes and chocolate. Basically, I was heading off on my bike, not only into gale-force winds but also a potential diabetic nightmare.
Worst case scenario? I'd be working the room explaining, in faltering French, that I couldn't eat anything because I have Type 1 diabetes and I can't guesstimate the carb count. I even practised saying it.
I considered calling the cafe beforehand to see if they had anything I could toy with while I honed my French conversation skills. But I stopped myself. I'd simply say, if anyone asked, that I wasn't hungry. Je n'ai pas de faim.
Does this sound ridiculous? How about the fact that I couldn't sleep the night before the meet up brunch? I was as nervous as if I was going for a job interview. .
En route to the venue I got lost in those labyrinthine North Melbourne streets. Made a left instead of a right and cycled up hill a few blocks in the wrong direction, as it transpired..
I asked a couple of strangers for directions, because, in my vanity, I'd worn my contact lenses and I couldn't read the map on my iPhone without my reading glasses. They had no idea being New Zealand tourists checking out Victoria Market.
A couple of extremely obliging parking inspectors came to my rescue. (Another first: I've never spoken to a parking inspector before. Who does except to curse them?) One was instantly talking into his collar to get a Google search on the address and soon I was back on my bike and pumping it back up the hill from whence I'd come.
At the meeting I spent a pleasant enough hour, initially making French small talk with a few people before settling to interrogate the aforementioned photographer. Hard work; intellectually demanding. The second hour was much easier. Most people left and three of us remained. And spoke English.
Think I made a couple of friends, oiled up my French speaking skills and no one force-fed me crepes and chocolate. I'd call that a good outcome.
Back for more in a couple of months.