This is Part 1 in our final three-part story in the What’s Normal? Short Story Series. What’s Normal? explores solo life and emotions as lockdown eases. Part 2 will be published on Sunday the 23rd August while the final part of Story 4 and the What’s Normal series will be published on Sunday the 30th August. You can read stories 1 to 3 here.
It had been forever since Kalisha had actually been out with a friend. Months of online shopping, of being cooped up inside bored out of her mind. Now that shops were reopening, she had decided to embrace it.
Currently, she sat outside, under a little awning that provided shade from the sun. This cafe hadn’t been open long, only a week or two, and she hadn’t even realised how much she missed it until she was settling into the little outside seating area with a mug of coffee clutched between her hands.
Across from her, Imogen smiled. They’d been friends for years – long enough for Kalisha to know she was just as relieved to be returning to normal. Sure, they had to wear masks inside shops, and most of the wait staff at the cafe had face shields across their faces – but it was a start.
“I can’t wait to go shopping again. A proper traipse around town, you know? I need new jeans, and I just hate ordering clothes online.” Imogen scowled, raising her mug to take a sip of the hot chocolate she had ordered. “Oh, and restaurants. I miss proper Italian food.”
Kalisha cracked a smile, casting her gaze across the street. There weren’t many people out – and it was still so weird to see the usually bustling place half empty. “It’ll be nice to see it liven up again,” she agreed, “but you know, you can just make Italian food at home.”
Waving a hand, Imogen dismissed her claim. Right. Imogen didn’t cook – then again, this time last near neither did she. It was a skill Kalisha never knew she had, borne out of necessity since she couldn’t eat out any more. She might have offered Imogen a few recipes if she thought the woman would care.
“I’ll tell you what else I’m looking forward to,” she continued, “dating. I haven’t been on a good date since October, and even that didn’t last. I need to get myself out there again, find a man.”
“There’s more to life than romance, hon.”
“Well, sure, but I’m getting old, and I want to settle down eventually.”
Kalisha wanted to say that hookups on Tinder weren’t likely to help her settle down – but she held her tongue, smiling into her mug. Instead she laughed, “you’re what, thirty-two? Not old at all. Me? I’m getting old, even if I don’t feel it yet.”
“Forever youthful,” Imogen replied wistfully, “you could pass for my younger sister; do you have a single wrinkle on you?”
“More now than I did in January,” she replied with a snort of laughter, “this whole thing has been stressing me out. But hey, that’s part of life, right?”
“Right.” Tapping her nails against the table, Imogen let her gaze wander. “Maybe you should give dating a whirl. You haven’t been on one since that guy turned up drunk.”
Ugh. Yeah, that hadn’t been fun. Kalisha had waited for forty minutes, decided she was wasting her time and got up to leave when her ‘date’ arrived. He was pissed drunk, smelled of beer, and greeted her by way of grabbing her ass. To make things worse, he had been racist too.
“Dating was fun,” Kalisha replied, “sometimes. He was definitely an exception.” She rolled her eyes at the memory, distracting herself with another sip of sweet caramel coffee, “point is, I just don’t think I’m a romance kind of woman. It’s been years, and I don’t feel like I miss it.”
A grown woman pouting should not have been as convincing as it was; yet when Imogen gave her those big, begging puppy eyes, Kalisha’s resolve weakened. “I just think it could be fun. The dating game has changed since you last tried. What about a dating app? There’s Tinder, or something a little more classy if you want it.”
“I’ve never been classy in my life,” Kalisha replied, and she had to fight down another bubble of laughter. “Really, though. What makes you think this is such an essential life choice?”
A small group of men passed, chatting amongst themselves. None had masks on – and in fact, the man closest simply had his hanging around his neck. Briefly, he glanced over, and Kalisha saw a flash of bright green eyes and dark stubble.
“For starters,” Imogen replied, gesturing to the group as they moved on, “if you could find a man even half as attractive as that one, you’d be set.”
This time Kalisha did laugh, nearly spilling coffee all down her lap. Thankfully the table caught it, and as she scrambled for napkins, Imogen simply watched on in amusement. “It’s all well and good finding someone hot,” Kalisha replied, dropping the coffee-soaked wads onto her saucer, “but if I was to date – and I’m not saying I will – I’d want something a little more… substantial.“
A shrug, an easy smile with just a hint of mischief. “I’ll cut you a deal. Download a dating app, set up one date – and if it’s awful, I’ll let it go.”
“And if I enjoy it?”
“I promise not to say I told you so.”
Finishing the last of their drinks, the two women readied to leave. Kalisha didn’t want to go, but with social distancing and less available tables, it wasn’t polite to stay too long. They paid inside, thanked the pretty waitress who looked exhausted already and wandered back outside.
The sun had dimmed somewhat, clouds looming overhead. Of course – this was Scotland, and good weather never lasted long. She just hoped it didn’t rain. Turning to Imogen, she asked, “where to now?”
She stretched, joints crackling like someone twice her age, and adjusted the thick curls of hair that spilt across her shoulders. “let’s just walk. I’ve been stuck inside long enough.” They were both lucky enough not to need to shield – but that didn’t make being cooped up much easier. As a music teacher, Imogen was out of work – and since Kalisha was a makeup artist she hadn’t been working either.
At least Imogen had online classes to keep her bust. Kalisha didn’t even have that. The more she thought about it, dating didn’t seem so bad. She would, at least, have something to do.
The two crossed the street together, ambling along at a leisurely pace since there was hardly anyone else around. Most places they passed were still closed, but a few had their doors open. A cafe here, a newsagent there, a Chinese takeaway that smelled so good it made her nostalgic for sit-in restaurants all over again.
“So,” Imogen cut in after a moment of peaceful silence, “about that deal…”
“I’ll think on it,” Kalisha replied with a roll of her dark eyes. The breeze was tossing her dreadlocks everywhere, so she shoved them beneath her leather jacket. “It’s just been such a long time.” She was a busy woman after all – or had been, up until Corona ground everything to a halt.
Humming, Imogen nodded along. They had made it to the end of the street now, turned in a random direction and kept going. Tapping her chin, she said, “just try. Nothing has to come of it. It can just be a bit of fun. And if you do find someone you really like, you’ll thank me.”
“No offence, hon, but you’re not one to give advice. Didn’t you once go on a streak of fifteen failed dates?”
“But on the sixteenth, I found Alan, and our relationship lasted three years.”
Well, okay. She couldn’t argue with that. Rolling her eyes, Kalisha folded slender arms across her chest. “I don’t know…” Did it sound fun? Sure, maybe. Yet it was a lot of effort, and she just wasn’t convinced it was something she wanted. Still, what could be the harm in giving it a go?
“Indecisive as ever,” Imogen laughed, “come on. One date, that’s all I ask. To prove one of us, right. It’ll be me, though. I’m always right.”
Kalisha managed a smirk, tilting her head to stare at Imogen. She was petite and dark, like Kalisha herself – and sure, she could see why they might pass as sisters. “I just don’t know what’s best for me any more. If there was one thing I was ever sure of, it was that I liked my life. Loved it.”
“But you’ve been thrown off course. Pandemics will do that, I’m afraid.”
A noncommittal shrug, but she was still smiling. “I’ll try one date – for your sake. And mine, so you’ll stop going on.”
Imogen was beaming, knowing she had won. Hands clasped together she spun, delight glimmering in her eyes. “Great! I can think of a few apps you might like – give me your phone.”
“Obviously! No time to waste.”
Kalisha darted back before she could make a grab for her mobile, a snort of laughter escaping her. “Oh no no, I’ll do it on my own, thank you. I’ve seen the men you date, and I don’t want to attract any weirdos.”
They carried on like that for a while, bantering back and forth as they walked. Eventually, Imogen gave in – and Kalisha’s phone remained safe in her pocket – but her mind lingered.
Maybe, if she was lucky, this stupid promise might turn up something good.
I am looking for:
Yes, Kalisha was actually doing this. After a decade without so much as a single date, she was making an online dating profile. It was asking all kinds of questions – some of which made sense, but there were plenty that Kalisha didn’t see the point in. A stranger on the internet didn’t need to know every detail of her life, hobbies and work – that’s what a first date was for. What would they talk about, if all of their information was already there on the profile?
Then again, from her limited knowledge of how these things worked, a lot of men didn’t bother to read it anyway.
Huffing out a sigh, she selected men. Then it asked about her interests, her career, and what kind of men she was interested in. Well, she didn’t know what kind of man she wanted – she hadn’t thought about it in years. They had to live locally of course, and Kalisha knew she liked men with dark hair and easygoing personalities. Someone who would like to try new things and go out regularly – once such things were allowed again, obviously.
Ah, she was getting ahead of herself! She hadn’t even made the damn profile yet, and here she was assuming she’d still be doing this that far in the future. Ugh. Groaning, she sank further into the sofa and glared at her phone screen. How many friends had she helped set up? How many couples were together because she pushed them to be? Yet she was hopeless when it came to herself.
She regretted it already.
Fine. Kalisha could come back to that question. She swiped to bring up the next screen, staring at the little answer boxes with a deepening sense of dread.
What would be your ideal date?
Well, that was easy. Something casual but fun. Food, maybe cocktails if they guy was so inclined, something intimate but not overbearing.
What do you like to do on a weekend?
Given the circumstances, that was irrelevant. Pubs were open, but the atmosphere wasn’t the same. She couldn’t go out drinking or spend all day with friends, or even go to the cinema. Scowling, she skipped that question too. If she had known it would be so complicated, she might have just dealt with Imogen’s persistence. At least then she wouldn’t be wasting her time answering questions she didn’t care for.
After five more questions just like the first, she was ready to give up. Swiping to the next page, she was entirely ready to delete the entire app – only for the words profile complete to flash across the screen with a flourish. Thank God. Slouching into the cushions, she smiled. Now to check out some guys, she supposed.
And there were a lot to choose from. It was overwhelming at first, the sheer number of profiles there was to see. There were all kinds of men – old and young, some with simple names like John and some she couldn’t even attempt to pronounce. There were screeds of profiles that all looked alike; variations of the same pose, the same flashy smile, identical introductions that made it clear they were just looking for a fling.
It was expected, but it still caused a spark of frustration to well in her stomach. Maybe, deep down – and she would never admit this – she had wanted this to work out. Even if nothing came of it, even if it was just one fun date that she never took any further, it would have been nice to try again after so many years.
Okay. If none of the guys appealed, she would wait for someone to message her. Hopefully, it wouldn’t be one of the dozens of young men with bad fake tan and fake smiles. Someone her age, with similar interests and a desire to get to know her. That would be nice.
Setting her phone on the coffee table, Kalisha hauled herself upright. Her hips cracked, a reminder that she wasn’t as young as she often felt, and she tossed her black dreadlocks over one shoulder. She would check the app later, once she gave it some time to mull over. Kalisha was not going to become one of those obsessives that checked every five minutes.
Forgetting it for the moment, she wandered into the kitchen to make coffee, purposefully leaving her phone on silent. It completely left her mind for a while, and Kalisha got sidetracked by half a dozen things that needed doing around the house.
See? Maybe this wouldn’t be so terrible after all.
Not that she would say so to Imogen.