“How do you solve a problem like Maria?”
On my way home I stop in Mickey Bleu’s Deli in town.
It is early evening and I am surprised to see her serving behind the counter. She is dressed in a black and gold long dress, matching turban and, surgical gloves which she waves in the air like a jazz singer. Her smile is wide and her big chestnut eyes regard me carefully as she places steaming coffee on the bar in front of me. We chat as she serves. It’s a disjointed conversation about the restaurant, business, and the beautiful weather.
I watch her deft and precise movements and I tell her about my new car.
“I like to keep my hand in. I don’t want to become an unknown face.” Her voice is baritone. “I’m almost finished here. Fancy driving me home?”
She loves my new car and I drive her to Belmont and a modest house in a pretty and shaded tree-lined street. She insists I go inside to meet her husband and their two girls, Cassandra, six and Flore, five.
Emmanuel is serious with a grey goatee beard. His dark skin glistens against his pristine ironed shirt. His handshake is firm and his eyes teasing.
The two girls tentatively take my hand then they run into the garden, shrieking with laughter. The house smells of garlic, cooked tomatoes, onions and fresh herbs.
“It’s my Jambalaya Crock Pot,” Mickey says, watching me wrinkle my nose in delight. “Simon and Louise love it!”
“Simon and Louise? You’ll be telling me next that John has been over for dinner.”
“Not yet!” she replies. “I’d have to prepare Emmanuel for that!”
“Emmanuel, “ she continues, “make this gorgeous girl one of your special tropical fruit juices, she’s staying for dinner, and if you are very good she might take you out for a drive - in her dream machine, honey.”
I feel the tension easing from my shoulders and I laugh. The family is laid back. Their teasing laughter is contagious, their energy is enviable and their company easy. We eat, laugh and talk, but it doesn’t matter what I do, where I go or whom I’m with. I can’t stop thinking about Maria. She has seeped into my pores and under my skin and by the time I am alone, and in the car driving home, a silly and familiar song has entered my head.
I sing the words over and over, aloud, louder, frantically and furiously, not knowing whether to laugh or cry. “How do you solve a problem like Maria?” I sing and tears stream down my cheeks.