The conversation started innocently enough. Shiraz and I were strolling along the friend-making path, shaking hands and exchanging intimate personal details with strangers. The night was going startlingly well.
Things got out of hand very quickly.
I was curious whether the new journalist at the rival paper, due in town on Friday, was good looking. My mate Richard was loathe to comment, possibly thinking a poorly-worded answer would bring his masculinity into question. The bloke behind the bar and his mate from the Thai restaurant in the next room had no qualms. Immediately my single status was under fire. Steve, that energetic Thai restaurateur, rocked his index finger back and forwards across his chin with his arms folded and a look on his face akin to a surgeon in risky transplant. “Hmmm, I dunno what blokes we’ve got in town for ya, Pen,” he said, shaking his head sagely. “No one springs to mind.”
I was a tad perturbed by the conversation. I’d gone to the pub to find friends, not potential husbands. But soon enough the barman was joining in, also shaking his head and adopting an expression of someone trying to dissect fish from fish bone before digestion. “Yeah, there’s plenty of young women around,” he told me. “But not that many men.”
It was a surreal moment, seeing these blokes playing cupid for me. I fleetingly imagined the two of them with wings on their back, hoisting a heart-shaped bow and arrow in my direction.
I tried to laugh them off, insisting that I was ok, that I could look after myself. But it appears that’s not the way things are done here. Just a few hours earlier I had been chatting with another bloke in the street when my marital status was dragged into the conversation. “So are you married, single or indifferent,” he asked me without an inch of self-consciousness. “No, you can’t be indifferent,” he swiftly added. The blonde in me stepped in. I put my head to one side and adopted the look I do when confronted with a mechanical problem. “That means you’re not into men,” he told me, helpfully. I muttered that, no, I wasn’t indifferent, just living my life without a man in it. And happy.
But, back at the pub, Steve wasn’t going to let my hopelessness with men go on. He called for reinforcements. Of course, that means the police. Yes, he went into his restaurant and grabbed the nearest copper, who, by the way, was dining with his spouse, and bought him out to meet me.
I got up off my chair, aided by Shiraz, and shook the nice man’s hand. Steve explained that I was single and needed a man. Yes, that’s right, needs a man.
Steve instructed the copper to look me up and down and memorise what he saw so that he could tell his mates about the pathetic brunette who can’t snag a man. The nice policeman was very obliging, but informed Steve and the bartender that most of the coppers were already attached. Oh the shame, I can’t even land a copper, I thought in a moment of fleeting self-pity. But, he’d ask around on my behalf and see if he could dig someone up.
By this stage my hard-to-embarrass demeanor was sliding. If it was not so hilarious I may have had to sneak into the pokies room to find some pyramids to hide in.
Suddenly, the mortifying moment was over. The constable went back to his curry and I ordered another Shiraz. Steve meandered back to his restaurant with a few cheeky words and a smirk. He was delighted to have embarrassed me. I was delighted, too, that I’d found some folk to have a good yarn and a laugh with, even if the conversation and the jokes were at my expense.
I strolled home with Richard and was content to keep myself warm on the chilly winter’s night. In fact, with a pillow either side I doubt there’s room for a man in my bed. But I reckon it’s unlikely we’ve seen the last of the Charleville community dating service.