Supper with Ailis was an interesting project/affair/undertaking. She sidled up right next to me, very comfortable on my bed, even after I had indicated at the seat and desk at an officious-looking corner I called “The Office”. There was a brief silence, an awkward moment, in which I wondered whether to ask her what her unique religion was called, in case it wasn’t “Paganity”.
I should have relaxed and enjoyed the brief silence while it lasted. She turned out to be a great chatterbox in the eventual turn of events.
The most surprising thing was how at ease with me she seemed. Her smile was easy and relaxed. Between her bursts of words she gave the Al Jazeera Channel her genuine but interrupted attention from time to time. She spoke freely, often failing to reserve her swearwords and politically incorrect opinions – quite the engaging conversationalist, even if her barely-thought-through opinions left my eyes smarting at times. And she made no pretensions: “Sci-fi is too intellectual for me. I hate feeling like I’m in a fucking physics class.”
And in this fashion we began a habit. She would often arrive unannounced for supper - which I didn’t mind. Then we’d be eating as she divulged whatever the hell kind of information she thought I could use that day. Sometimes she gave horrifyingly detailed accounts of how she spent her day: which classes she missed and why and how, and what she’d simultaneously had as midmorning snack. (Her favorite flavor of anything is called “Shouldn’t you be in class right now?”)
Often, she would gossip – dropping the juiciest libels on which slut had cheated on her loser boyfriend with another zero who was a known philanderer and heartbreaker. Mostly I would be vaguely interested in the plot gymnastics in these shock-inducing tales, but they were hardly ever practically relevant to me. I got used to her anyway, except for nights when she volunteered to cook; she gave it her best shot, yet we all know good intentions do not always yield good results. Many times I had to step in and intervene or else I would go to sleep rankled with aftertaste from unsatisfactory cooking.
A few times in separate visits we left my room and I escorted her to the roof so she could sob at the moon. She said it was some sort of ritual prayer thing. It defeated my comprehension at first until I understood that it was all symbolic of I-don’t-know-what that meant something big to her.
I wasn’t planning on hitting on her. The confusion that arose was whether she was waiting for me to start or whether she liked hanging out without the pressure of being hit on. I couldn’t exactly ASK. After a few weeks of supper and gossip every night, this concern somehow evaporated into the atmosphere, even after she became brazen enough to stick around for hours long after supper comfortably chatting away. Once, she even dozed off.
Ailis’ direct usefulness to me became more pertinent the day it emerged that she knew GalPal quite well. The first time she mentioned GalPal , it happened by chance in the course of narrating one of her densely populated epics. I sat up, and she must have perceived from my suddenly alert stance that here at last was a story I was actually really interested in. She basked in the attention indulgently as I waited impatiently for her to open her mouth.
“Someone’s listening,” she said with a sly smile, which betrayed curiosity. So I told her that GalPal and I had ‘left things hanging’. She rolled her eyes and laughed heartily. “Leave that one alone,” she said, wagging her finger at me and laughing hard.
It sounded like solid advice. In fact, I didn’t ask any questions