I attended my cousin’s 21st birthday drinks on Sunday, both my extended family and her mother’s extended family were there. This is always a strange situation as I recognise none of the other family, but they remember me from some other distant family get together when I was just this high and now I’m all grown up, though I still have that crippling inferiority complex.
There is something just a bit different about the other side of the family, I am not used to them so naturally I fear them. I circulated through the room, becoming used to their scent, trying to work out whether or not it is appropriate to greet the other family with a “nice to meet you”, or “good to see you again”. I mean, technically, I had probably seen them before I just did not remember them.
I shake a man’s hand, “Gary,” he informs, “I remember you when you were this high,” he lowers his hand down to his waist.
“This is my wife Shelley,” he motions to a woman standing beside him. It is noisy.
“Hi Jelly. Nice to meet you,” I lean in to kiss her on the cheek. My mind says, “really, Rupert? Isn’t the etiquette: handshake on first meeting and then cheek-kiss on second meeting?”
“Shit, maybe you’re right,” I reply, “it’s too late now, why can’t you work faster brain?” I am drawing her towards me, she looks taken aback. Is Gary okay with this? I look at him in as I plant a peck on her right cheek and, trying to be European, move to plant another on her left cheek. She does not adjust properly and I end up just kissing her right cheek twice. Gary is glaring at me.
We straighten up and for some reason I apologize. Gary just stares at me. Time to exit. But my glass is full, drink refresh excuse is out of the question, my bladder is empty so a toilet excuse is also out of the question. I’ll have to lie. I drop the glass, smashing it, and blurt out, “excuse me I need to go and do a poo.”
I pass my cousin, she asks me what happened, I tell her somebody dropped a glass, then go and sit in the bathroom and read a back issue of National Geographic, waiting for the awkwardness to blow over. After about ten minutes, I peek outside, a small queue has formed, Gary’s wife is at the head of it. As I pass her, I pause and say, “Jelly look, about before, I hope I didn’t give you the wrong impression,” she says nothing, passes me and slams the bathroom door behind her.
Speeches are about to begin. A semi-circle has formed around the birthday girl. I stand on one side with my extended family, opposite is the other side of the family. Gary is standing at the back staring directly at me, I smile, he doesn’t. The speeches begin. People throw out playful heckles here or there. I get into the swing of things, thinking of something funny to contribute.
The boyfriend gives a speech everyone applauds and is very touched. As the applause fades I pipe up, “aw give him a kiss!”
I cringe, my brain groans, “really Rupert, that’s the best you’ve got?”
“Dammit brain, what sort of a team mate are you?” I respond.
My mental argument is interrupted by a raised male voice, “yeah you’d like that wouldn’t you? You pervert,”
The room goes silent people are turning and looking at me, I turn and check behind myself, but it is just the door.
“You know what I’m talking about,” it’s Gary, “you come over here and start kissing everybody? Like you’re some kind of Silvio Berskaloni.”
“No, it’s not like that,” I respond.
“Then you make a pass at my wife, who’s a mute by the way, in the bathroom, you’re sick mate, you’re a sick pervert.”
“Wait, I was just greeting her,” I stammer. Gary ignores me, addressing the audience, “you know, I knew him when he was just this high,” he holds his hand at waist height, “and I said to Shelley then, I said, that Rupert is a bit off, I think he will be a predator one day.”
A few other people nod, some of them from my own family.
“Wait! Don’t nod. I mean, I was just saying hello. That’s how they do it in Europe,”
“Europeans are perverts,” he retorts.
“Not all of them, and I wasn’t preying on your wife, I mean, come on, if I was going to make moves on somebody I’d do it to, I don’t know,” I look around the room, and point over at my cousin’s attractive girlfriend, “her”, a few nods from members of the audience. She starts to cry.
“Fuck you!” Yells my cousin.
Gary cuts in, “What you’re saying my wife isn’t good enough? Well fuck you mate!” he sneers.
“No fuck you!” I yell back.
“No fuck you!”
“Enough!” the birthday girl cuts in. “Stop it! Rupert you always do this,” she says, stamping her foot. I try to protest but she holds up a hand, “I want you to leave, now!”
Everyone is staring at me; people are tutting. My cousin’s girlfriend is crying. Gary is shaking his head. I push my way through the crowd, past the birthday girl and, as I pass Shelley, I say, “goodbye Jelly, I’m sorry… for everything.”
Then I tilt forward and try to kiss her on the cheek.