On farewells

Karin is drinking whisky because it’s the only booze left in the flat.

There’s half a litre of grapefruit juice in the fridge, the dregs of a bottle of white vermouth in the pantry.

The apartment is empty except for three heavy-duty packing crates bound for Amsterdam, the modernist sideboard I’m inheriting, and a corridor of give-away miscellany on the herringbone parquet. Bulbless lamps, bubble wrap.

I’ve brought negroni ingredients, because that’s what we’re supposed to drink on a night that’s nearly the last.

The last remaining orange is dusted in flour and black sesame seeds. I wash it in the bathroom sink with a bit of hand soap, and slice it into our glasses.

We stand and sip at the kitchen island where we’ve drunk countless cups of Earl Grey, poured wine through unending renovations, eaten Sunday afternoon madeleines, planned adventures, toasted a marriage, commiserated break ups and break ins, and sipped negronis; so many negronis.

Now it is covered with keys which open unknown doors. The ghost of where her pasta maker used to sit is pale and clamped to the granite.

The Camper Red table where we ate fresh angel hair and brown butter tomatoes has been disassembled. There are no more St Joseph’s lilies. Strange men will move in next week.

My life has been peppered with departures. I can’t say goodbyes.

This time it is the people who’ve grown into their thirties by my side, one door down, one floor up; whose influence is so profound, their existence has helped me define my own.

By unspoken agreement, we pretend it’s not happening, talk about the curation at this year’s Art Fair.

What are we going to do tonight? Karin asks.

We’re going to eat ribs at the Grillhouse, says Oliver. We should do that before we leave.

I’m going to get ribs all over my face, Karin says, with satisfaction.

We dab on slashes of bright red lipstick, take a cab down the road, order pinot noir and a kilo and a half of spare ribs and chips, overlooking a mall atrium.

So Joburg, says Oliver.

Oysters on me, says Karin, ordering, as she smears bread with cheesy butter.

They arrive on ice, briny and Namibian, and make it a Special Occasion.

It’s their two-year engagement-versary, so we toast; shrug away the creeping sense of endings.

I had a cry today, Karin says, glancing at the tablecloth.

I keep saying, see you Monday, Oliver says. But I won’t see anyone on Monday. It just avoids, you know. He doesn’t finish.   

We eat sticky pork with all our fingers, speak of yet-unconceived children and new lives and old loves.

I’ll have tea with your mother while you’re gone, I promise Karin, over a perfectly textured malva pudding, sodden with buttery syrup, cold custard on the side.

After dinner, there’s a nip in the air: a hard edge to the near-summer night.

When people brush past, their scent lingers on your skin after they’ve gone. Sometimes it burrows deep.

See you, I say, getting out of the lift.

See you, they reply.

The Grillhouse, Rosebank, +27 11 880 3945, www.thegrillhouse.co.za