“Let’s see… I bought some new kitchen knives and they’re great, so cooking’s been fun, I’ve been slicing and dicing and chopping…”
Our conversations had been reduced to various domestic matters and not much else. But that was fine with me, I had no desire to share anything more personal. In fact, I could hardly wait for that phone call to be over.
“Finding good knives at a decent price is so hard… My only good one might need sharpening soon. I didn’t tell you how I got this one, did i?”
Who cares? I stifled another yawn.
“I don’t think so.”
Not that again… I thought they were done with it. She continued telling her story of the stolen knife in a cheerful voice, as though it was the funniest, most normal thing in the world.
We were sitting around their kitchen table, steaming coffee cups in front of us. She lit a cigarette and I started fiddling with the ice cream cup I had just been offered.
“New ice cream cups?”
The design of the spoon looked familiar, but I couldn’t place it. Not one of hers, I thought… Maybe she got new spoons too?…
“Not really… We only have a couple so far, but we’re getting there,” and she winked, giving me a crooked smile. I didn’t know what to make of that comment, so I said nothing.
Their friend’s restaurant, that was where the two “new” ice cream cups were from. She wasn’t feeling well one evening, so their friend offered her husband two cups of her favourite desert to take home and cheer her up. How nice of him, I thought. But as no good deed goes unpunished, they “forgot” to return the cute cups. That wasn’t very nice of them, I couldn’t help commenting, when in fact I wanted to say they didn’t deserve to be allowed back in that restaurant. I had just realised where I’d seen the pattern on the spoon I was holding. That couldn’t be a coincidence.
“If he ever asks us to return them, we will. He should, if he wants them back. But I think he forgot about them anyway.”
“Or he’s just avoiding the uncomfortable conversation….”
“Exactly,” and the crooked smile was back.
“Besides, did you see that new Omega on his wrist? He’s clearly doing well, he can afford it,” her husband added.
The ice cream suddenly felt a lot colder than it should have been. I discretely pulled at my left sleeve. It was no Omega, but I was wearing a new watch too. Who knows what reactions that might trigger?
It wasn’t an isolated incident. There were spoons to go with those cups, as I had already noticed. She pulled out some more knives and forks and she proudly shared their story. Some were from a pizzeria where she found the service was too slow.
“The place was full, you should’ve seen it. All the money they make and they can’t be bothered to offer decent service. That’s the least they could do to compensate me for all that waiting around when I was starving.”
You don’t like the service, you don’t tip your waiter… you don’t start stealing the cutlery! Or do you?… Some coffee spoons followed and there was no story attached, no excuse – she simply liked them, so she took them, and she couldn’t find anything wrong with it. Then there was the matter of the 20 euros… well, he might have gone a bit too far with that, somebody might have noticed, she added. Yes, somebody might have noticed him going behind the bar and taking a 20 euro bill in another friend’s little pub, a place he goes to almost daily… But that would have been the only issue with that… after all, it was really his money, hadn’t he just spent more than that there the previous day?
All their friends who didn’t seem to have obvious financial issues were probably going to miss cutlery and various small items, maybe even the occasional 20 euro bill here and there. Now there was the kitchen knife, another item they had “borrowed” from their friend, the chef and Omega watch owner… I knew the man. He had his own restaurant and worked hard to keep the business going. If he was making enough money to treat himself and his family to nice things, it was because of his relentless efforts and remarkable talent.
I knew what prompted their behaviour, but it was still unfair, so childish, so mean…
There’s a frame to every story and the more you widen that frame, the more you pull at it trying to tear it apart, the better chance you stand to find out how the story came to be. Frustration, envy and anger made their fingers so sticky. The more they couldn’t afford expensive things, the more expensive their tastes became.
She just had to have more and more beauty products, and the prices of the ones she chose was getting higher and higher. Besides, what woman can say no to the occasional designer bag or pair of shoes? She never missed a chance to subtly put down any woman who spent less on her skin, hair and general body care; and those special moments brought a big, satisfied smile to her face. He smiled a matching smile whenever he added one more piece of designer clothing to his already stuffed wardrobe.
Bills kept coming. More and more often, they were just shoved to the side without a second glance. The economy was the culprit, many people were in the same situation. Their income was just not enough to cover their expenses anymore and the economy was to be blamed – the economy, the government, the world in general, but mostly their friends who still managed to keep their financial situation under control. The 80 euros electricity bill was something to bitch about for two weeks… but at least he got to bitch about it in his new 200 euros (on sale) pair of jeans.
Desolation was framed by a myriad of pretty things and revenged by a series of petty thefts. The beautiful frame dragged those it portrayed deeper and deeper. Those who tried to pull them out were immediately written off and no longer accepted as friends.
If the homeless guy at the street corner simply took the designer jacket he is wearing or the nice bag she is holding, would they find it normal, acceptable behaviour? After all, the guy is doing much worse than they are, so according to their theory, he should just help himself to whatever he wants, as long as the one he “borrows” from is doing better… They find delight and validation in pitying their friends who have less than they do, but would that still be the case if things started to go missing after their visits?
I wanted to understand, because I know how terrible constantly sinking can be. But the truth is, I don’t agree with their approach. They’re entitled to their lifestyle choices and I, to my opinions. I can’t do anything to change either of them. All I can do is check my kitchen drawers before she leaves, next time she visits.