I am on holiday for 2 weeks and the next post will be on or before Sunday 5th August
THE MIRACLE OF THE UNHAPPY GIRL
A couple of summers ago I was eating in a pub garden in a cathedral town in the UK, when a very striking family group arrived and sat at the far end of the garden. As I was facing them and we were the only customers, I had no other distraction, and I could not be but surprised, touched and even shocked by the young girl among them, who I would say was about 13 or 14 years old, and was wearing a pretty floral dress. She was with a thin moustachioed man about 50, most likely her Dad, and 2 attractive and composed looking women also fiftyish, both with intensely jet-black hair, one of whom might have been her mother and the other her aunt. The girl was frighteningly thin and very tall for her age, so thin I should say she was technically emaciated. My Dad (1915-1992) would have said she looked like a pipe cleaner and he would have been right, and she also looked like a handsome version of that legend of stringy spaghetti dimensions, Olive Oyl, cartoon girlfriend of cartoon Popeye, for as well as being impossibly skinny the girl had fine cheekbones and very delicate and expressive features. The reason why I was moved was that she looked patently and irremediably unhappy. At 13 she was only just leaving childhood and so had many of the touching transparencies of being a child, one of which is not to dissimulate for the comfort of adults. She had a look of itching discomfort, perpetual unease, gnawing inner disruption, and all that seemed of a piece with her startling height and incredible emaciation. She sank her chin on her fists and looked restless and direly melancholy, as if to say why be here as it offers no remedy to my disease, and I was surprised that both women, possible mother and possible aunt, more or less ignored her and chatted desultorily to each other, as if, so to speak, that was the way the girl was and little could be done about it. The thin man was seated next to her and whether her Dad or not, he made only perfunctory conversation and one evident joke which the girl did not even smile at… and otherwise he spent most of the time laughing with the two women.
Deductions come thick and fast in such a stark situation. In a trice I had decided the girl could only be chronically anorexic, and as is well known, anorexia or severe lack of appetite is a serious psychological condition that can reduce someone to a hazardous bag of bones and can even in extremis, prove fatal. After a deduction comes a prediction, and my prediction as I sat there eating my not at all bad vegetable curry and nan, was that the waitress would bring 3 substantial pub meals for the adults and a baby portion of something solid for the girl, or more likely a bowl of soup that she would play with, make soldiers out of the bread accompanying , and then leave the whole lot as a testament to the fact that she would not put the world outside of her, as represented by that garish fetish called food, inside of her pristine and garrisoned self, if only because the alien aliment would rapidly spoil and soil her should she permit it to enter her fastidiously purified world.
Far from it. The waitress arrived with 4 equally whopping meals, all of them pasta dishes, 2 of them with meat, spaghetti bolognaise, and 2 with a tomato sauce aromatic with fresh basil even from this distance. There was also a massive bowl of grated parmesan sited in the middle for all 4 diners. I was confidently expecting her to push her plate away with a baleful even angry revulsion, but was immediately dumbfounded when the tall and skinny girl went from her permafrost of frozen unease to a very animated and youthful smile of innocent rapture. Like any spontaneous adolescent she grinned as she sank her skinny hand deep into the cheese, took a colossal fistful and scattered it vigorously all over the heaping plate of pomodoro pasta. In a trice she had the fork taut in her hand, and as a practised expert, she had the spaghetti’s sauce and parmesan wrapped about it and was shovelling it down as fast as she could go. She went on and on like this, like some ravenous farm labourer from impoverished Sicily circa 1932, bolting down fork after fork of it and scarcely drawing breath. When she did at last permit herself a brief pause, her face showed every sign of genuine happiness, for she had a full and tender smile upon her handsome face, as if somehow the only remedy she knew for the grief of the world was as simple as to enjoy her food, the one inexplicable consolation that never fails even the forgotten and the lost and the frequently speechless amongst us.