by David Gower
They met when Mike and his friend Tom had decided to go to popular dance classes. What had once been ‘ballroom dancing’ - a staid and formal display of men with numbers on their backs and women whose dresses boasted thousands of sequins all sewn by hand - was now big time Saturday evening required viewing.
Beginners’ night for the September class at the community hall was like many beginners’ nights. People unsure of what would happen, nervous giggles and stiff bodies moving clumsily to the music.
The dance teachers were friendly and enthusiastic as first they demonstrated the necessary moves slowly and then the couples tried to follow suit. They made it look smooth and effortless. Mike and Tom were partnered with Sandra and Sheila. The women had come ‘for a laugh’ and the men as part of their ‘something new every year’ challenge.
Mike counted in his head as he tried to keep to the beat of the music. How many times had he heard this tune on the radio but now it hard was for his legs and feet to maintain some semblance of co-ordination? Harder still to hold a strange woman as she also tried to move to the music. Mike had always believed that dancing was high on the list of subjects taught to girls at school. It was clear this had never been on Sandra’s school timetable. Mike felt clumsy and awkward. This was the reason that he had never had the confidence to dance at social events but Tom had persuaded him to sign up for the evening classes. It looked so easy when other people did it but was so hard to when he tried?
Mike’s feet seemed to have grown to huge proportions. How else could they keep treading on Sandra’s toes? Apologise, laugh politely and tread again seemed to be the pattern. He held Sandra at arm’s length so that he could look at his feet but without appearing to stare into her cleavage.
Week by week the steps became easier. The instructors called it body memory, like the struggle to co-ordinated hands, feet and other movements when driving. At some point, one never knows quite when the movements become easier and flow more freely. The relationship between those in the class became more relaxed.
In the breaks between dancing Mike and Tom would sip their drinks with Sandra and Sheila round a small table. The two women had agreed to come to the classes and look out for each other.
Sandra voiced their thoughts ‘You never know who you might meet or what they are like.’ Sheila nodded in agreement and added
‘We could tell you things about dates that would make your hair curl!’ The two women laughed at their shared experiences of men. Tom’s hair could not curl, it had long ago departed from his scalp. Mike retained a full head of hair but what had years ago been jet black was losing the battle against ever more ‘natural highlights’ of grey locks.
It was only natural that at some stage the relationship of the group would deepen. Mike wanted to invite Sandra for a meal and as they discussed food it was then that she explained her limited diet. Not for any clear medical reason but purely because she preferred two particular foodstuffs over others. Sandra enjoyed fish and she loved Chinese meals. As a child she had driven her parents to distraction with her ‘faddiness’ especially when she found on the internet that one child lived only on bread and jam!
The old saying that opposites attract appeared to be true in this case. Mike hated Chinese food and had never been a great fan of fish. He had memories from his own childhood of fish being boiled for what seemed like hours at home. Ever since he had always seen fish as slimy and smelly. He had not told Sandra about his aversion to her favourite foods. Instead he had nodded and smiled as he encouraged her to tell him more. The more she said the greater the turmoil behind his smile.
‘I think her parents should have been firmer with her. Can you imagine bringing up a child only wanting to eat Chinese or fish?’ Mike said to Tom as they drove from class one evening.
‘You worry too much. She has grown into a good-looking woman on Chinese and fish.’ came Tom’s reply from the darkness of the car.
‘I hate Chinese and I loathe fish more. What am I going to do, Tom?’
‘You should have said something mate. All you did by just sitting there and smiling was encourage her. Now you have got yourself into a problem. Can you imagine any child that you two produced? What would the poor mite eat?’ Tom had a point but it was not helpful.
‘I like her but come on, how can I cook anything for her if I invite her round to my place?’ Mike continued his agonising but Tom remained silent.
‘Are you listening to me Tom? What am I supposed to do? How can I feed a woman whose taste in food is the exact opposite to mine?’
After a few moments Tom asked ‘Is it the end of the world if you have Chinese one night? Have you tried cooking any fish apart from boiling like your Mum did?’
‘You’re no help to a man with a problem, Tom! No help at all’
Tom began to laugh quietly to himself prompting Mike to ask ‘What’s so funny?’
‘Nothing, Mike, just thinking to myself’.
‘Tell me, what’s so funny?’ Mike continued as the annoyance in his voice grew.
Tom’s tone was a mix of stifled amusement and apology as he tried to compose himself to explain.
‘You know what you are Mike, my man? You are as they say’ the following words he exaggerated as heavily as he could to underline his point, ‘You are caught between a wok and a hard plaice! Get it? Wok and a hard plaice!’
The journey continued silently broken only by Tom’s laughter at his joke till Mike dropped him off.
Mike thought that the meal with Sandra would be a long time coming. Hell might freeze over first.