Charles leant forwards, hands clasped between us on the table, brittle gold-rimmed spectacles resting on his wide nose. â€śThis airport,â€ť he said, â€śis not like other airports. This airport is different.â€ť He sat back. His tweed jacket billowed open and a canary yellow shirt burst forth. â€śIn other airports, you see, people are going on holiday, theyâ€™re excited. Thereâ€™s a buzz. The bar is always full. There are always some Irish to drink with.â€ť He leant forwards again, his grey hair a fuzz of pale smoke. â€śHere, the only people drinking are fucking wankers.â€ť
The epithet felt wrong on his lips. I waited.
â€śThatâ€™s nice cloth,â€ť he said.
He took another sip of his whisky, his eyes meeting mine as his Adamâ€™s apple fluttered. I held his gaze.
â€śHa!â€ť he clapped his hand down on the table. A couple of suits around us looked up. His body bubbled with laughter and his throat gave a wheeze that turned into a cough. â€śI need another whisky. Excuse me, miss, another whisky for me and my friend, doubles â€“ grazie!â€ť The waitress was blonde, short, her skin slightly blotched. As she moved to the bar, he called after her: â€śYou are the most beautiful thing my eyes have seen today!â€ť
He turned back to me. â€śSo, as I was saying, all of this lotâ€ť â€“ he swept his arm around â€“ â€śevery last one of them, fucking wankers.â€ť
The waitress returned and set the drinks on the table. Charles looked up at her.
â€śI mean it. You may not have the figure, but that smile could melt the coldest heart.â€ť
She looked straight at him, steely, strong. Then she smiled, a faint curve that lifted the rest of her body.
â€śHeâ€™s right,â€ť I said. They both turned to look at me, her face returning to steel. â€śAbout the smile, I mean.â€ť I took a swig of the whisky and stared down at the table.
â€śYou see, even he agrees with me. You, my lady, have brought a moment of joy to both our days.â€ť
â€śThank you,â€ť she said quietly.
â€śNo, thank you. And thank you for the whisky,â€ť he added, holding his glass up towards me. â€śA toast. To Anna and her winning smile.â€ť
I raised my glass to meet his.
â€śHave I met you before?â€ť he asked.
â€śDo I know your name?â€ť
â€śAh,â€ť he interrupted me, â€śitâ€™s better I donâ€™t know. So, I donâ€™t know your name, I donâ€™t know what you do â€“ and, for the record, I donâ€™t care. I do know that you like whisky and that you have appreciated the joy that is Annaâ€™s smile. I know also that you are a good listener â€“ itâ€™s something here.â€ť He reached forwards and ran a heavy finger over the edge of my left eye. â€śCuriosity. Not fear. Not despair. Donâ€™t lose it.â€ť His eyes, briefly, seemed to cloud. Then he rushed to his whisky. â€śNow, I must thank you for your time.â€ť He stood up and slipped his boarding pass into his inside pocket. â€śShould you ever wish to drink whisky with me again, or are in need of my company for any reason, I urge you to call me. Here is my card.â€ť
Not looking at me he drained his glass, holding it for a moment above his lips to catch the last drop. Then he placed it back on the table as though making a chess move, straightened his jacket and walked off towards the boarding gates.
I looked down at the perfectly blank card in front of me. Anna arrived a moment later with the bill.