I work occasionally as a translator, but among my colleagues have never ever come across anybody like Barbara!
Normally when a young man – well at thirty-five, youngish – sees the current object of his desire the first time completely naked, his reaction is pretty straightforward. But it certainly wasn't so that night I went back with Barbara to her apartment. We'd been having a meal at a new and much reviewed restaurant. Yes, I know that sounds like page one of the seducer's manual, but in our case there were several major differences. First of all, she'd hinted several times she would like to be taken there. However, much more to the point, in the few weeks we'd know each other it somehow became clear to me she was just as much interested in a no holds barred physical relationship as I was. It's difficult to pinpoint why I was so sure about this. Perhaps it was the challenge in her eyes every time she looked at me, especially during our rare moments of silence. Or the fact that on every single one of our dates, even a visit to the cinema fixed up at short notice, there was not the slightest indication that she'd just thrown something on. And I'm quite sure she'd never lounged around in the same clothes all day. She always looked as if she'd just marched out of an exclusive boutique, colour matched, at the cutting edge of fashion and always absolutely right for the time of year – even for the time of day! Sometimes I felt that admiration and appreciation were not enough – I should be handing out medals as well. And this was even truer of her hair. A thick but silky mass of intensely black and curly hair down to her shoulders. It looked so wonderfully natural, but I suspected she was an especially valued customer – client? – of whichever hairdressers she patronised. However, one of the unspoken rules of our developing relationship was neither to ask questions nor to tease about anything concerning appearance. I wouldn't have wanted to do so in any case. Although she was hardly pretty – almost plain in fact with a small mouth, slightly crooked nose and a longish almost horsy face – her flawless skin and gleaming teeth together with her magnificent head of hair and tall and slim figure never failed to draw interested looks, from men and women, whenever we went out together.
And this was certainly the case that evening in the restaurant. There was however one difference: her usual air of unruffled poise was missing. What was particularly remarkable about our relationship was that we talked without a break and disagreed about everything under the sun – politics, novels we'd both read, films we'd seen, scandals in public life, and so on. At the beginning I had hoped we would find a few neutral topics too, about which we wouldn't have strong opinions and hence could discuss in a relaxed manner, but . . . there were no neutral topics. Barbara always had her own viewpoint and defended it passionately. This was occasionally irritating but at the same time rather exciting and refreshing especially as almost all my other friends, men or women, never seemed to talk about anything except their own problems or successes. Furthermore in spite of the passion she never seemed to get hot under the collar. But that evening there seemed to be an edge to everything she said and after a while I began to feel irritated as well. So when I paid the bill, trying not to think about the restaurant's price/performance ratio, my feelings were definitely mixed when she said, 'look, James, it's stopped raining. Let's walk to my place. It's only twenty minutes at the most.'