By Michael O’Reilly
We had a power cut one morning this week.
I stepped through from the bookshop to the Internet cafe to see how Deirdre was managing.
Half a dozen customers looked up from the terminals with the sort of expressions you might expect from people who had been abruptly wrenched from deepest cyberspace.
All except one. She was thirtyish, with brown hair and a round face that looked as though it wasn’t entirely unaccustomed to discontent.
Her expression was indignant rather than simply surprised.
“I’ve been cut off!” she shouted.
“The power’s stopped,” Deirdre observed calmly (if redundantly).
“Can’t you switch it on again!” the round-faced lady demanded.
“I’m sure it will come on again soon,” I said.
“Who’re you!” The woman looked at me as though I were an exotic insect that might have to be swotted away.
“My husband,” Deirdre explained in a cheerful tone and then she added quickly, “As soon as the power comes back the system will restart. I won’t charge you” – she looked genially at the others – “or anyone else for this session.”
The other customers seemed content. Not the round-faced lady, however.
“I was about to send an email and now it’s vanished!” she complained. “I’ll have to write it all over again!”
“I’m sorry,” Deirdre soothed. “We don’t often get power-cuts. Was it important?”
“Yes it was important! I just wrote to my husband to tell him we’re splitting up.”
The room became still. To say you could have heard a pin drop would be wholly to under-represent the degree of attention the round-faced lady commanded. If she noticed, she gave no sign. She was a woman for whom the adjective “obtuse” might have been invented.
“Oh,” Deirdre said. “And you hadn’t pressed ‘send’?”
“I was about to! It took me twenty minutes to write that letter!”
I couldn’t help feeling that twenty minutes wasn’t much in the great marital scheme of things.
“Were you married long?” I asked, conscious as I spoke that my curiosity was rather brash (though I’m quite sure I spoke for everyone).
“What’s it to you!” the woman demanded. And then to herself, “What’s it to him either. He doesn’t care.”
Just then, amid clicks and whirrs and flickerings, the electricity returned.
Deirdre hurried round from the counter and switched on each terminal, reaching the round-faced lady last (by design, I guessed).
“Let’s see if it hasn’t been saved,” she said.
“If it hasn’t, you’re to blame” the woman remarked sourly.
“Is he in the UK now?” Deirdre asked gently as they waited for hotmail to come back onscreen.
“No, he’s up the road,” the woman said. “We live here.”
“But your sending him an . . .”
“Well I couldn’t tell him to his face. We’d had a tiff.”
Her demeanour softened a little when she said this.
“You walked out?” Deirdre asked.
“Half an hour ago.”
A crack in the voice. She looked more vulnerable and a smidgen less obtuse.
I had placed myself where I could see the round-faced lady’s screen. I recognised the familiar contours of the hotmail page.
“Your message might be in ‘drafts’,” Deirdre said.
“Oh!” The woman looked past Deirdre towards the door.
A man entered and walked straight over to the terminal where the fugitive email was being sought.
“Thought you might be here,” he told the round-faced lady in a low voice. “I’m sorry,” he added with what struck me (and, I believe, everyone else) as heartfelt penitence.
The woman stood up. “Silly sod!” she said, but tenderly.
This drama was witnessed with general and profound satisfaction.
Deirdre glanced down at the screen and said in an undertone, “I don’t see your message, shall I end the session?”
The woman nodded and the look she gave Deirdre was not obdurate but meaningful, I thought. She scooped up her tissues and purse and allowed her husband to take her arm.
“You’re still not going to charge me, right?” she asked Deirdre, her tone suddenly combative again.
“Right,” Deirdre said.
“Was the message really deleted?” I whispered to Deirdre as the two sparring lovers stepped outside.
“Well it is now,” she said and I returned to the bookshop.
To read more by Michael O’Reilly visit www.myspanishinterlude.com