She doesn’t belong here. She’s dressed the part, wearing the necklace her mother gave her for christmas, and a chunky silver bracelet, and a knee-length black dress with a white jacket to cover her shoulders. She doesn’t look out of place, not in that sense; even her hair is done up nicely, with a braid along one side falling into curls in the back. There are women here dressed better than here, or at least more expensively, but there are women who are worse off in both ways as well. She’s in the middle.
She doesn’t belong here, but it’s not because she doesn’t know how to behave. She smiled at the hostess when she arrived, and the woman smiled back and told her the wait would be only a few minutes. Alya’s date had yet to arrive, and their reservation wasn’t for another ten minutes from now. The hostess’s smile showed no judgment or derision. As far as she is concerned, Alya has a place here.
No, Alya’s unbelonging is purely internal. She feels out of place and uncomfortable. Anxious. It has been, at a guess, six years since Jim took her out anywhere nice to eat. The eat mostly at home, where she is expected to prepare the meal most nights, if they don’t order it. Well, that’s unfair to Jim. He does cook, sometimes. He knows how to do it, and he does it well. He just prefers not to do so.
He prefers not to do most things, Alya thinks, except for go to work. He barely seems to pay her any mind at all. She’s mostly a feature of his life, as interesting to him as the chair in his office that he likes to sit in, from time to time, while working from home. She is a convenience, when she’s not being a chore — and it is always clear to Alya when Jim sees her as a chore.
This night is a special one, for she’s not spending it at home. This dinner is a special occasion, and anything new and special makes Alya nervous, because she has spent so long doing the same things day after day that she fears she won’t know what to do when a novel situation presents itself.
Well, tonight will be entirely novel, because Jim isn’t here. He is away, at a company-sponsored seminar, and Alya has been left, as she often is, to her own devices. For once, she has decided to do something interesting. Defiant, even. Her friends, if she could call them that, would have objected to it on moral grounds, had she told them.
Alya, when considering her course of action, had found that she simply didn’t care.
Though mired with an overwhelming sense of trepidation and guilt, Alya had downloaded to her phone a popular dating app. She had no fear that Jim would notice. In fact, she’d been actively using it while he was in the room, and he hadn’t so much as turned and looked her way. She had mentally dared him to the entire time, because if he’d showed even the vaguest hint of bother, well, perhaps she wouldn’t have had to go through with this after all.
She doesn’t belong here, because she feels what she’s doing is wrong, despite her determination to do it anyway. Then her date arrives, and while she finds that she can’t quite forget Jim, thoughts of him do retreat to the back corner of her mind.
Martin is, in a word, adorable. His face lights up when he sees her, and his mouth stretches wide to show a set of lovely white teeth. He is a few years older than her, and like Jim, a few lines of gray lance through his hair. His eyes are a bright, keen blue that are forced, by his lack of height, to look up at Alya as he approaches her.
He shakes her hand as he meets her, which makes her laugh. He laughs as well, taking her reaction. He says he is nervous to be here, but she can tell it’s the good kind of nerves that drive him: the kind that make him smile too much, and talk too fast. The exciting kind. The happy kind.
She isn’t happy, at first. She doesn’t dislike Martin. In fact, she takes an immediate liking to him. The face he presented through the dating app is his own. He is the same man she chatted with and agreed to meet for dinner. Alya merely feels guilty, still, for betraying Jim; and moreso, for betraying Martin, for she hasn’t told him that she’s married.
As the meal passes by, though, and Alya realizes just how comfortable Martin makes her feel, her guilt fades away. Martin reminds her of the kindness Jim gave her when they first started dating, but Martin is more genuine, and shows far more interest in her than she ever recalls receiving from Jim, even in the beginning of their relationship.
Alya wonders, as the meal progresses, why she ever continued with Jim. Fear, she supposes. Not of him — he is not a frightening man. He is not cruel or even unkind. He’s simply… lacking. No, she feared being alone, and Jim gave her just enough comfort that she feared being without that comfort. Perhaps she should have left him long ago, to explore what else the world had to offer.
As dinner ends, she sees the hope plain upon Martin’s face. He believes the date has gone well. She has laughed at all of his jokes. She has held up her end of the conversation, showing interest in everything that he has talked about, and supplying topics of her own. Written in the lines of his face is the question: “Will we go out again?” He doesn’t ask it aloud, and she doesn’t answer it.
She’s not ready for that. She knows, by the end, that she will leave Jim. She can’t stay with him, knowing that there’s happiness to be found elsewhere. Perhaps she will find it with Martin; she can’t say that, yet. Perhaps she will find it with someone else, whose existence she has yet to discover. She simply doesn’t know, and for the first time in her life, she finds comfort in that fact. She has spent far too long knowing to be comfortable with it for any longer: her heart is like a limb that has spent too long in one place, like one leg, folded over another, which she has just now thought to move. And move it she shall.