The Last Pea on the Plate
“Would you mind if I sat here?”
Jane looked up to see a young man gazing down at her. He was balancing a tray of food rather awkwardly on one hand, while clutching a bulky briefcase with the other.
“No, go ahead.” She quickly slid the condiments to one side to allow him more room.
Glancing around the café, she noticed there were still a few empty tables and thought it strange he had chosen to sit here. Most people preferred to sit alone.
Placing the tray on the table, he nodded towards the window.
“It’s a nice day today.”
“Yes, I suppose it is,” she replied, without looking. She was noting how attractive he was. Clean shaven, smartly dressed and…
“I’m Bob, by the way,” her said, interrupting her thoughts. He held out his hand. “Pleased to meet you.”
“Thank you.” Though she took his hand, she didn’t give her name.
“I like coming here, the food is always very good,” he said after removing his coat.
“Yes.” Jane cringed. Why couldn’t she think of something sparkling and witty to say? Here she was sitting opposite this gorgeous guy, who obviously wanted to talk and yet she couldn’t think of one amusing thing to say.
There was an embarrassing silence.
For heaven’s sake, Jane, she scolded herself. He must be a tiny bit interested in you to have sat here. Say something – anything!
“Haven’t I seen you in here before?” Bob asked, suddenly. “Don’t you usually have a couple of friends with you?”
Jane sank back in her chair. So that was it. He was only interested in her friends. She should have guessed. It was true ; she often met two friends here at lunchtime, but they were both on holiday this week. She sighed. She had to admit she couldn’t blame the guy. Jenny and Lucy were very attractive young ladies. They would have charmed him off his feet by now.
Obviously Bob had seen them all together and had decided to join her simply because he thought they would be here shortly. Well today, he was in for a shock – he was stuck with her. All the same, it was disappointing he should merely look on her as a means to an end. But then she should be used to it. It was a regular occurrence in her life.
“Yes,” she replied, trying to hide the disappointment in her voice. “I do meet my friends here occasionally.”
She refrained from telling him they weren’t coming today. Let him find out for himself! Besides, she would be leaving shortly.
“What is it with that pea?” he asked a few minutes later. “You’ve been pushing it around your plate for ages.
“It’s the last pea on the plate,” she replied, keeping her head down.
“So?” The inclination in his voice told her it was a question rather than a statement.
She looked up and shrugged. “It’s simple. When I got this meal, there were several peas on the plate. Most of them were scooped up onto my fork earlier. But this one got left behind, so I’m making sure it gets picked up now.”
“I see.” He paused and shook his head. “No; actually, I don’t see. Does it matter if one pea gets thrown away?”
“Of course it does,” she said, indignantly.
“Why?” He pushed his empty plate to one side.
“Are you really interested?” Jane asked. She cocked her head on one side and scrutinised him. He didn’t look the sort to be concerned about a solitary pea.
“More curious, I suppose.” He smiled. “But either way, I’d like to know.”
“I tend to think all growing things have feelings.” She pointed to her plate. “That one pea, like all the others, went through a long process. It began life by being sown in the ground. Over the course of the year it was fed and watered – growing up with other peas in a pod. Finally they were picked and shipped off to market. Then one day a cook removed the peas from their pods and cooked them. So you see, if I don’t eat this one last pea, all that growing and ripening will have been for nothing. It will feel alone – separated from the others. It’s much the same with baked beans.”
“ Baked Beans!” Bob grinned. “How did baked beans get into the equation?”
“Because they go through a similar process. But in their case, one or two beans often get stuck at the bottom of the can, which means unless you shake it really hard, they won’t even reach the pan. Therefore, like peas left on a plate, their destiny is unfulfilled.”
“Well I have to say, you have a vivid imagination.” He laughed. “I’ve never heard anything like it. “How on earth did you come up with a thought like that?”
“Now you’re making fun of me.”
“No, I’m not. Honest, cross my heart.” He stopped laughing. “I’m really interested.”
Jane looked down at the pea on her plate. “Because I see myself as one of those little peas,” she said thoughtfully. “I was cared for by my family – fed and watered if you like, until I ripened and was let loose to find my own way.” She sighed. “But I always seem to be the last pea on the plate. I’m the one that gets left behind.” She lifted her head. “For example – aren’t you’re only sitting with me, because you hoped I’d introduce you to my glamorous friends. Well I’ll tell you something – they aren’t coming. They’re away all this week, so…”
She stopped abruptly. What was she doing? How could she have poured her heart out to a complete stranger? She stood up to leave, but he caught her arm and pulled her back.
“Is that what you think?” When she didn’t answer, Bob tried again. “Do you really believe I asked to join you, simply to meet your friends?”
“Well didn’t you?” Jane retorted.
“No, not at all.” He paused. “I wanted to talk to you.” He glanced at his watch. “I have to go now, I’m due at a meeting at two o’clock, but I’d like to see you again.”
“Well, I’m here most lunch times,” she said grudgingly. She wasn’t entirely convinced. This meeting he had suddenly mentioned was a little too convenient. It sounded more of a get out clause to her.
“Fine, I’ll see you tomorrow.” Bob turned to go, but hesitated. “Promise you’ll be here.”
Jane watched him leave the café, her eyes following him until he disappeared from sight. She had agreed to come tomorrow – but had she done the right thing?
Back at the office, Jane couldn’t focus on her job. Even her colleagues noticed her lack of concentration. After a great deal of quizzing, she told them about Bob and their impending meeting, though she didn’t say where it would take place.
One or two made some spiteful remarks, saying she was stupid to think he would turn up. Jane was left wishing she hadn’t said anything. What if they were right? She had to admit, back at the café, she’d had doubts of her own. But she had talked herself into believing him.
The next morning, Jane kept looking at the office clock. The time seemed to drag. However the pointers finally relented and moved to one o’clock. Grabbing her coat, she headed for the café.
During the long morning, she had wondered what she might talk about when she met Bob. Though she couldn’t bring anything original to mind, one thing was certain; she wasn’t going to mention peas! She winced when she thought about her speech the day before.
Bob wasn’t at the café when she arrived. She went to the counter and selected her meal – declining the offer of peas. The service seemed to be slower than usual. It seemed the lady taking the money was chatting to every customer. At last it was her turn.
Choosing a prominent table by the window, Jane kept watching for Bob to turn the corner at the bottom of the street. Yet there was no sign of him. She recalled he came in after her yesterday, but as the time passed, she knew he hadn’t been this late.
She closed her eyes. He wasn’t coming. Despite his reassurances, he wasn’t interested in her after all. She had been right; it was her two friends he had wanted to meet. No doubt he would turn up next week when they were back from holiday.
Tears welled in her eyes. All she wanted to do was to go home. How could she face her colleagues at the office? Perhaps she could say she had come over feeling ill. But they would guess what had really happened. Heading back to the office, she tried to think of a plausible excuse for Bob’s non-appearance.
“Like I said, Bob phoned my mobile to say he was tied up.” It was the only thing she could think of when she was cross-examined by her friends. “He apologised, but said he would meet me another day. These things do happen, especially when you’re in business.” She then made her escape to cloakroom, before anyone could say anything further.
“Bob stood you up, didn’t he?” Ann had followed Jane into the ladies room.
“No! Not at all! Like I said he called me on my mobile and…” Jane stopped. Ann was holding up a mobile phone.
“You left this behind. I ran downstairs after you, but you’d gone.”
“Yes, all right, he didn’t turn up.” Jane bit her lip. “I should have expected it. But you know, deep down I wanted to believe him.” She sighed. “Please don’t tell the others.”
“Of course I won’t.” Ann put her arm around her friend. “You’re such a lovely person, Jane, one of these days, you’ll meet a man who realises what a gem he has in you.” She smiled. Now come on, we’d better get back to work before someone notices we’re missing.”
Jane was thankful when it was time to go home. Though no one had actually come out and said so, she knew some of her colleagues hadn’t believed her.
As she made her way out of the office the following lunchtime, Jane wasn’t sure whether to go to the same café. The thought of seeing Bob filled her with dread. Would he smile awkwardly before turning back to his meal? Perhaps he wouldn’t even acknowledge her. On the other hand, if she went somewhere else she wouldn’t have to see him at all. There were plenty of other snack bars to choose from. Maybe that would be the best idea.
Yet despite her intentions, her feet headed in the direction of her usual café. Her heart was in her mouth as she glanced around the interior, but thankfully Bob wasn’t there. She sighed with relief. Hopefully he wouldn’t come in at all. She had almost finished her meal when she heard a voice behind her.
“Thank goodness, I’ve caught you. I thought you might have left by now.” Bob dropped his briefcase to the floor and sat down beside her. He looked flushed, as though he had been running. “Sorry about yesterday, but I had a rush job in Edinburgh.”
Jane looked puzzled. “I… I just thought you’d changed your mind…”
“Didn’t you get my message?” Bob asked.
“At the meeting the other afternoon, I learned I had to take an immediate trip to Scotland, “he explained. “I didn’t know how to get in touch with you, so yesterday morning I phoned the manageress of this café and asked if she would tell every young woman who was having peas with their lunch that Bob couldn’t come, but I’d be here today.” He laughed. “From her tone I think she thought I was mad, but it was the only thing I could think of. I didn’t even have your name. Anyway, I persuaded her I wasn’t a lunatic and she agreed to do it – she must be a romantic at heart. But you say she didn’t tell you.”
“No.” Jane laughed, recalling how the lady on the till had struck up a conversation with most of the customers, but not her. “But then I avoided the peas yesterday.”
“You must have thought…” Bob broke off. For a moment he looked solemn. “Thank goodness you came here today – you could easily have chosen another cafe. I might never have seen you again.” He sighed. “Well before we both have to rush back to work, can we make a dinner date for this evening? Where do you live? I’ll pick you up at seven.” He glanced at her plate. “And what about that last pea?”
Jane was walking on air, as she went back into the office. Bob really liked her after all. “For the first time in my life, I’m not the last pea on the plate,” she murmured, happily.
“What’s that about peas?” Ann raised her eyebrows.
“Remind me to tell you about it sometime,” laughed Jane. “It’s a long story.”