Valentine’s Day didn’t start well: I’d woken way before the alarm, and then been forced to eat an unwanted early breakfast. Still half-asleep, I burned the toast. Before my ultrasound scan at the City Hospital, I was required to fast for six hours. Only water was allowed. By 12.30 my stomach was rumbling like an Icelandic geyser and the postman still hadn’t arrived. And when he did arrive, he brought only misery – a bad news letter from the Housing Executive that instantly had me roundly cursing their ridiculous procedures. Like a teenager, I was optimistically hoping for a love-letter, card, billet-doux or something otherwise romantic in the post, but all I got was this annoying shite. It was wrong, just wrong. Why couldn’t these civil servants show a little sensitivity, like Florentino Ariza with his poetic invoices? Didn’t they know what day it was? I put my head out of the front door to check the weather. It was glorious; the sun was streaming down, the puddles on the pavement disappearing in its warmth. At the side of the path I noticed flower buds on the daffodils. Spring wasn’t too far off.
Given the sunny weather, I optimistically decided to put on the Tweed, and not bother with hat, gloves, and scarf. At the Ormeau Bridge I realised my mistake: the wind was fierce, biting. I felt like I was being cut in half by it. Worse, I could see a rainbow up ahead, and a piled-up bank of black clouds pushing in from the north, over Cave Hill. Sure enough, as I walked briskly up Rugby Avenue, the rain started: light at first, but soon turning heavy, the fat drops coming down furiously like a chilly Belfast Monsoon. By the time I had got to the Quad at Queen’s I was soaked: rain was dripping from my hair into my eyes, and my legs were wet through. The Tweed did a grand job though. As I crossed the road at the Student’s Union the sun came out again; the glare from the fresh rainwater lying on the newly-puddled road and pavement was blinding. I now wished I’d been foresighted enough to put on my sunglasses; they would get little enough use in Ireland, and they were needed today.
I’d brought my book with me to the hospital, in anticipation of a long wait. It had got wet. The appointment letter was slipped in next to my bookmark; its exposed end hung down limply. I wondered what the receptionist would say when she saw it. She was concentrating on the screen in front of her, and barely even looked at me, just held out her hand, saying nothing. She was gorgeous: deep-set green-brown eyes, aquiline nose, straight dark hair pulled back in a ponytail. I noted that the heart on her Claddagh Ring was pointing downwards. She glanced at the letter, probably the hundredth she’d seen already that week, and asked, have you been fasting ok? Yes, I replied, since eight o’clock this morning – I’m starving. She laughed at this and told me to take a seat, looking up at me and maybe actually seeing me. I felt the need to explain my bedraggled state. You should know better in this country, she smiled. Beautiful smile: one of her top front teeth was slightly angled, not quite as even as the others, and it held her bottom lip back a little. It was charming and alluring. I sat down, distracted, and opened my book. Before I got a chance to settle in to my reading, she stood up, looked over the counter at me, and said: have you read this letter? Yes, of course, I replied. Even as I was saying it, I knew. She continued: Well, your appointment was two days ago. I tried vaguely to explain without sounding stupid. I’d fit you in today, she said kindly, only they’d kill me – they’re wild busy. I’ll make you another appointment. Can I write it down for you on here? She gestured towards the damp appointment letter. I nodded, tongue-tied. Don’t worry, love, I’ll get a new one sent out to you. God love you, walking up here in the rain for nothing. Better luck next time! I said goodbye, paused awkwardly, and then left. Was it really for nothing? Maybe we might talk in a week, if my luck improves, I thought, as I went down the ramp and into the dazzling sunshine again.
On the way home through the Botanic Gardens, I briefly considered warming myself in the damp heat of the Tropical Ravine, but decided against it – I’d no time to spare. Where the path forked by the Corkscrew Willow, I counted magpies: three, for a girl. Encouraging, I thought irrationally. They were immediately joined by a fourth; the gods weren’t on my side today. Somewhat deflated by this lack of good fortune, I carried on walking. Back on the Ormeau Road, next to the Asia Supermarket, I noticed that some genius had started a new poster campaign on Valentine’s Day: KFC Boneless Banquet for One. This cheered me up no end. Brilliant, I laughed inwardly to myself, that’ll be me later.