I was at A.O.'s house one Sunday afternoon, shuffling around his room and sulking because he had exams and had to work and couldn't pay attention to me, when I saw something on his desk. Mildly curious (such a better term than bored and nosy), I picked up the envelope and a ticket to Le Nozze di Figaro fell out.
"Oh," I said, enviously, "you're going to the opera. I've always wanted to go,"
"Yes," was the eloquent reply.
"When are you going?" I asked, still looking at the ticket.
"This Thursday." Brief pause, followed by a casual, "Oh, I forgot to tell you. You're coming too."
"WHAAAAT?" I shrieked, whirling around to face him.
He winced slightly at the volume, but looked exceedingly pleased with his little joke. Less pleased after I, never restrained at the best of times, leaped onto him and nearly strangled him in my excitement. By the time he emerged, purple in the face and clutching his throat, I was babbling away about how much I'd always wanted to go to the opera, especially this one, because I love Mozart.
Eventually he managed to get rid of me, telling me firmly that he didn't want to see me until Thursday.
Thursday came eventually, but before that, I’d decided that I needed something to wear. Something spectacular, something dazzling, something worthy of an opera. I already had a dress, a simple black dress, and I didn’t have the energy to go in search of another one. I did, however, decide to buy a pair of shoes that would be the mother of all shoes so that week, I dragged Pria off shoe shopping.
She said Bromley was a good option because you find lots of things in one place and we’re both the sort of people who appreciate things like that. Reached Bromley. Decided lunch was more pressing than the shoes. Afterwards, we got down to Business. Went into shops, went out of shops. I tried on more shoes than I’ve ever tried on before. Black ones, soft pearl grey ones, navy blue ones – even, I must confess, a bright green pair.
At Dorothy Perkins, I saw them. The shoes. The Shoes. Bright red (too red, perhaps? Pria said no) with five inch heels. I tried them on and my legs looked much longer than usual. I looked at the world from the impressive height of five feet, eight inches. It had to be those shoes.
We bought them. The saleslady, who’d seen me tottering around on them, discreetly slipped in a couple of shoe-pads. To make them more comfortable, she told me. And to help balance. Something she felt I needed.
“You know, Dad’s going to freak out when he sees those,” Pria told me, on the way home.
“He is?” I said nervously, because I’ve seen my uncle freak out before, and it isn’t a pretty sight.
“Yep. I bought a pair of grey shoes once. Three and a half inches. He flipped.”
I was silent. If my uncle had thrown a tantrum over grey-three and a half inches, what would he say about bright red-five inches?
I showed them to Rajeet when I got home. Were the shoes, perhaps, Too Much?
“Try them on,” he said suspiciously.
I was reluctant to; I still hadn’t learnt to balance on them properly. But I did, and he looked at me and said they looked nice, which coming from him, meant they looked mind bogglingly gorgeous.
“You know Dad’s going to kill you, right?” he said.
I chose to ignore him.
That evening, we were sitting around watching television after dinner. My uncle hadn’t mentioned the shoes and I was hoping he’d forgotten. That bloody Rajeet though, looked up during a commercial break and asked me loudly whether I’d shown him the shoes yet.
“Ah!” My uncle’s eyes brightened. “The shoes. Go on, Trish. Let’s have a look,”
“Another time, maybe,” I murmured, squirming around uncomfortably on my beanbag.
“Come on, come on,” Both my cousins and Sue, took up the refrain.
I sighed, and brought the shoes down. Opened the box, showed them to my uncle.
He looked at them.
Everyone looked at him.
“Try them on,” he said.
I tried them on.
He looked at my feet.
Everyone continued looking at him.
“I have to admit,” he said finally, “you do look quite stunning.”
I smiled a beatific smile, kissed the top of his head, and pranced upstairs with the shoes securely in their box. Behind me, I could hear Pria being Very Upset because he’d accepted the red-five inches and not her grey-three inches. My uncle chose to maintain a dignified silence.
And then it was Thursday. I put the dress on, and put the shoes in a bag. I was going to be wearing my brown sandals till we got to Garsington, because I had to take the tube to Nicky’s house first and from there, we were taking the train to Oxford. I didn’t think I’d be able to manage all that travelling in the red shoes, glorious as they were. Pria lent me a necklace to wear, since I didn’t have any, and Sue lent me a pair of earrings, since I didn’t have any.
On the way to A.O.’s, I texted him, asking him whether he’d come and pick me up from the station. Naturally, as any idiot would know, I was just being polite and it wasn’t a question. I wasn’t even sure if I remembered the way to his house. He texted back, saying it would be great if I could get myself to his place but was I sure I knew the way. I was about to reply, saying that I didn’t and I’d see him at the station but my signal went off. And didn’t come back.
When I reached Lancaster Station, where he usually picks me up from, he wasn’t there. I was hoping he’d have the sense to be there, but I was wrong. Signal still wasn’t back. I sighed a sigh, heaved the Adidas bag I was carrying onto my shoulder (how incongruous it looked with my black dress and colourful necklace) and began to try finding my way to his house. Luckily, I have a good memory, so I found myself in the right area, but there were a couple of streets that looked a lot like each other. Called A.O. (signal had returned), but his phone was off. So then I called him a couple of very rude names but he wasn’t around to hear them and so it didn’t really make a difference. But I recognised his street eventually, and as I was walking down it, he called to find out where I was.
“Outside,” I said grimly.
By the time I reached his house, he was already outside, looking the other way. I tapped him on the shoulder (“Oh,” he said, “I thought you would come the wrong way,”) and shoved my bag at him before marching in.
After many delays, we left for Paddington and we were only a little late. We returned five minutes later because the idiot had left the tickets behind. Finally reached Paddington, got tickets, got train, and sank down with a sigh of relief.
He kept fiddling with his phone on the way, texting and pinging and whats-apping, so I stared out of the window. Fell asleep, naturally.
When we finally reached Garsington, A.O. disappeared to make himself look presentable. I solemnly took my brown sandals off and put the red shoes on. The world suddenly looked brighter. And a little more shaky, but I chose to ignore that.
Nicky emerged from a nearby tent in his tux and looked doubtfully at me teetering on the shoes, as did the man who checked our tickets.
“Sure you can manage those? It’s hilly and grassy there, y’know,” the man said.
“It’s the principle of the thing,” I informed the both of them but being men, they didn’t understand.
I realised my mistake as soon as I stepped foot on the grass and grabbed A.O.’s arm.
“Nicky,” I hissed, “don’t you dare let go, not even for a minute,”
“You can count on me,” he said gallantly.
Ten minutes later, he’d left me alone, telling me to find a picnic table while he went to see someone about something. I don’t remember what it was supposedly about, but the someone was a very pretty girl, so I know what it was actually about.
“I can do this,” I muttered, and took a step forward. Instantly fell on my knees, onto the grass. I was surrounded by snooty looking English women in gowns and so I kept kneeling there, pretending I’d dropped something and was looking for it. Besides, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to actually get up by myself.
A.O. eventually noticed me, and heaving a sigh, came over and hoisted me up. I rocked back and forth dangerously for a few brief seconds before grudgingly admitting I should take the shoes off.
“I think that’s a good idea,” he said, looking relieved.
I sadly took the red shoes off and put the brown sandals back on.
I didn’t have much time to dwell on my loss, because we found a picnic table, and A.O. took out two bottles of champagne. And a picnic basket. And food, which he’d cooked himself. There was roast chicken and roast vegetables and little sausages and strawberries and cream.
How can you feel upset when it’s a beautiful summer evening and you’re in Garsington, about to see your first opera, and in front of you, are bottles of champagne and strawberries and cream and one of your best friends in the entire world?
So I wasn’t upset, and after the first bottle of champagne (we finished it in ten minutes) I was almost gloriously happy.
A bell rang, and we went inside to see the opera.
Hm. How do I describe it?
A broad wooden stage, and because we were in a pavilion of sorts, parts of it were dappled in sunlight. There was so much colour. The setting, the costumes, the music. Perhaps it was the champagne, I don’t know, but everything seemed to sort of shimmer. It wasn’t in English naturally, and I chose to ignore the screen showing the subtitles because it distracted, but you didn’t need to know Italian to understand. The exaggerated movement, the wide eyes, the over the top acting and more than anything else, the music that poured out from their mouths, was enough. After the first half, we went back to the picnic table and finished the rest of the champagne. During the second half, I sat back and stopped concentrating on the plot because to do that, wouldn’t have allowed the singing to sink in the way it did. I remember, at one point, linking my arm through A.O.’s, completely ensconced in the music, and feeling a calm, contented sort of happiness. The music reminded me of my grandmother, because she loved Mozart. It was a good sort of reminder.
Afterwards, we walked around a little – it’s so lovely, Grasmere – and then we got on the train and headed home. A.O. was whats-apping a friend of his, and I was feeling jealous and so I sat and sulked, but he didn’t notice and anyway, it didn’t really matter.
We got back, raided his father’s liquor cabinet, stole his dead grandfather’s cigars and finished the strawberries, and I don’t remember what we talked about, but it was a nice sort of ending to the day. A day, a little like A.O. himself really, filled with moments of irritation and frustration and disturbance and turbulence, but overall, something really quite special.
PS Nice, no? I learnt to walk in them eventually.