Last Saturday night in Sylt Shona and I went to ———. Boris made reservations. By the time we arrived things had already grown complex. We had only been at Boris’ two nights but they were already rubbing each other the wrong way. Shona was annoyed because Boris, amongst three of his business contacts whom he’d invited for dinner, kept asking her for the time. Why? Because he kept trying to draw attention to the watch he bought her, a Rolex which he’d sent her to a Hamburg boutique to pick up. I looked at the bling display which featured a series of tiny twinkling diamonds and a rose colored face and I felt it a slightly silly gift. But then again, I’m not terribly materialistic. Then again, neither is Shona but the men who happen to love her are. Boris and Shona are not in a relationship. But he wishes they were.
When we arrived at his house, giggling like two school girls, we leapt on the bed and flung open the windows to smell the salty North Sea air. In the darkness, the island was already beautiful to me and too slightly mysterious. The gardner had just come that day to trim the rose bushes and their pink-violet blossom scents wafted through the air. As we climbed into bed, I confessed to Shona that I felt sorry for Boris.
He’s lonely and it’s been four years and he keeps buying you these ridiculously expensive gifts and sending you on trips. Last week he even started texting her pictures of engagement rings. Then tonight he actually showed me pictures of this 9 million euro property in Mallorca he wants to buy if only you agree to live with him there part-time. This is crazy. The relationship is totally platonic. Do you really think this is fair? Each time he gets too close to you, you look as if you might leap right out of your skin. He just doesn’t get that you will never ever be romantic with him. He just refuses to accept that you will never love him. She shrugged. I know. We’ve been talking about this for years but what can I do? There’s no button I can push to make me fall I love with him. I’ve told him this. Well, I said firmly: you can stop accepting his gifts and leading the poor guy on. He is clearly suffering.
Two nights later we were seated in the restaurant packed with people. Shona, Boris announced across the table loud enough for everyone to hear, what time is it? When Shona raised her wrist to look at her watch, Boris grinned like a Cheshire cat. I shook my head and ordered another plate of pomme frites to go with my beet root carpaccio which was marginal at best. The restaurant was filled with people, overflowing really. Everyone was dressed overwhelmingly German-casual. But there was one gentleman at the table behind us who I noticed was dressed in a beautiful pair of perfectly tailored cornflower blue trousers and a pair of gorgeous brown shoes. This shocked me. Never had I seen a German man so elegant. He was also handsome. He was tall and silver-haired and seated with an equally tall stranger, a man with a beard, perhaps forty-five. The bearded stranger smiled at me. I shyly smiled back and then rose to go to the restroom. When I returned the two men were gone. Boris was looking at photographs of little Diana, my cousin on my iPad. He had bought her a beautiful little dress for her first birthday. I told him he didn’t have to but he insisted. Suddenly I looked up from the pictures of Diana and the man with the beautiful shoes and his bearded friend were back. The man with the beard said something to me. I couldn’t hear him over the noise. But he gestured for me to come over to their table and invited me to sit down. I did. At this point, Shona, slightly shocked by my forthright acceptance of their invitation, began nervously telling the other diners that I used to work in publishing.
I’m sure they’re people she knows from Berlin. The guests, including Boris believed her. In the meantime, she pulled out a few of the magazines I had formerly edited buried deep in my bag and to detract from my hasty exit, began talking about the novel I had written.
She’s writing proposals to finance the editing which will be done by a well-known editor in New York. Just to polish it before she sends it out to more agents. The business men each nodded eagerly, clearly intrigued.
Meanwhile, at the table the two men and I chatted. They wanted to know where I was staying on the island. I sat next to the dark-haired man with the beard who had asked me over. He lives in Hong Kong, he said. But he is Austrian. I listened to him speak and noticed he had almost no accent. At which point he told me he had gone to university in the States, done a masters there. I asked him where. The Boston area, he said. He had gone to Harvard Business School.
He told me he has a company, that he was in manufacturing. That he had a few factories. But after having been in Hong Kong for twenty years, he was tired now of it now and he was tired of business, really and he wanted to go somewhere he could rest. He had considered Paris and London but was settling on Los Angeles.
Oh, I really don’t like LA.
Suddenly his demeanor, which had already been quite serious, grew even more serious. What about Santa Barbara? Would you consider moving with me to Santa Barbara, he asked. I didn’t say anything. The only thing I could think was, this guy can’t be serious. He just met me fifteen minutes ago.
He told me he was headed to to Sardinia the following week and after that to a wedding in Tuscany.
Would you like to come to a wedding with me in Tuscany?
I was too stunned to answer.
The conversation went on for more than an hour. He asked me to come out for a drink with him. I told him I couldn’t. It was late and I couldn’t leave Shona and Boris. The two were now each in mutually foul moods. I could see it across the restaurant. Boris continued to ask Shona what time it was and she continued to look dutifully down at her watch and tell him. The routine had become dull. Boris had clearly had far too much to drink and was yet again pressing Shona for a commitment and waxing on and on about the Mallorca property. It was obvious, asking them to join us for a drink at another bar would have been a terrible idea and I did not wish to climb in the car with these two gentleman, no matter how refined they appeared and drive to another place on the island alone at near midnight. So the bearded gentleman accepted my no with grace and wrote down his name and mobile number and email address.
He said he would be in Hamburg in the next few weeks. He asked if I might be in touch with him so we might get together for lunch.
I told him sure.
The next afternoon, I googled him.
I thought you said he was just some guy with a company, Shona exclaimed as a slew of news and magazine articles and press photographs appeared all across the screen, articles in German, English, Mandarin. Charitable foundations, factories all across China, Pakistan and Indonesia. Are you kidding me? There are pictures of him with French billionaire socialites.
I looked at all of the press. I didn’t know what to think.
Call him! Shona practically yelled. I don’t know if I should. Suddenly, I was fretting.
Is a guy like this, some global corporate mogul, going to ‘get’ me as a writer? Would I be able to talk to him about ideas I have for books, film? Is he going to appreciate my work? Will he get my blog?
Will he ‘get’ ‘The Fifty- Seventh Room’ ?
By this time Shona was verging on irate. Forget ‘The Fifty-Seventh Room’! Who cares about that? You need to to CALL HIM. If he asks you again to that wedding in Tuscany, you had better go.
I thought about it. I’m still thinking about it. He called me the next day as I was standing on the train station platform, headed back to Hamburg. He wanted to meet for breakfast but I was already leaving…
Note: Shona’s name is not really ‘Shona’. ‘Boris’ is not ‘Boris’. Every character I have written about and too, in part, the circumstances have been disguised. This as in a roman a clef.