“You sure about it?” he said.
“Yeah. I’m sort of decided.”
He shook his head and then looked away.
That familiar smell of boiled pasta and salt and tomato sauce filled the air. That had always been one of the reasons why he liked this place so much. But suddenly the scent became unpleasant — overwhelming, aggressive even.
They ate here every fourteenth of the month, their monthsary. Always in that same table at the corner, away from the air-conditioner and away from having to be distracted by the people passing by outside. The waitress never even had to ask them where they preferred to sit anymore.
This was where they had had the first date, almost two years ago, the 14th of February 2019. Now it looked to him that this was going to be their last. Unless he did something about it. A last Hail Mary. Hah. Hail Mary. She’s probably not on his side this time.
“Why are you smiling?” she said.
“Sorry. Just reminiscing.”
The corners of her lips turned up in a controlled smile. She took his hand in hers.
“These two years have been the best days of my life,” she said. “I mean it.”
“Why end it, then?”
She sighed. “That’s not how it works.”
He pulled his hand away.
“Look, I know it’s hard for you to understand,” she said.
“Tell me then.”
“I told you already.”
“Told me what? That you’re gonna go live with some old women to, I don’t know, sigh and pray all day? Even if you don’t have to? When you were perfectly happy, as you just said you were? Tell me. Where’s the understanding in that?”
“Shh. Please don’t shout.”
“I’m not — ”
“Pepperoni pizza, sir?” Their order had arrived.
They always served the pizzas here in equal slices of five. The restaurant must have thought it a clever and novel trick. Another one of those millennial marketing ploys. The two of them had always taken turns to get the last slice. They never dared halve it, as though in so doing they violated some integrity lay silent in that God-ordained measurement of flour and cheese. Those sacred rituals that only made sense between lovers.
Normally he would be piling the first slice on his plate by now. But this time the two of them just sat watching the steam waft up from the pizza like translucent cords unraveled.
He looked at her. Back then everyone called him lucky for having ended up with her. Everyone had said she was too cute for a nerdy guy like him, and he agreed. He wasn’t gonna lie. He did get lucky. Then. The luck’s run dry this time, buddy.
“You don’t have to, you know,” he said.
“You can still go to heaven even if you don’t.”
“I mean if you’re not going to heaven as you are now, I doubt anyone is.”
She didn’t reply.
“Then why do it?” he asked.
She shook her head. “You sound like the devil.”
“Then let me be the devil himself. If it will get you to stay.”
“Don’t say that. You don’t mean it.”
“I can mean it.”
She looked him in the eye. “Do you love me?”
“Yes,” he said. “Yes. Doesn’t God know it. Yes I do.”
“If you do, then you have to let me do this. It’s what God wants. It’s what I want. It’s what’s best for me. You’d let me go.”
Checkmate. He tried to laugh but it came out sad and forced. “That’s cheating,” he said.
They sat in silence. He observed how the waitress watched them from the corner of her eye as she wiped the other tables in the restaurant. This probably wasn’t the first breakup that she’d seen. This restaurant must by now be involuntary witness to first dates and last dates and everything in between.
“You sure you don’t want a slice?” she said. “Pizza’s getting cold.”
“I’m not hungry anymore.”
She didn’t take a slice either. She had shredded and twisted the napkin paper into small white pupae scattered on her side of the table.
“Look,” she said. “He said it himself. Those who give up loved ones and possessions to follow Him will gain a hundredfold in this life and in the next, He said. Doesn’t that sound like a good deal to you?”
“We’re only happy when we follow His plan, Mike. That’s why I have to do this.”
“But how did you even know it?” he said. “That you were called, I mean.”
“It’s. It’s hard to explain.”
“That’s easy to say.”
He shrugged his shoulders in resignation and then he put his hand up to the waitress and then asked for the bill and told her to wrap the pizza for takeout.
“I give up,” he said. “You’re right. I don’t think there’s any more to talk about.”
“I’m sorry. Please don’t be mad.”
“Don’t worry. I’m not mad.”
“Maybe a little.”
“But you’re right,” he said. “I can’t hold you back. If it’s what makes you happy.”
“And if you’re decided.”
He sighed. “Go already. I’ll take care of the bill.”
She went up to him and hugged him. His still half-in-love heart made it the most painful hug he’d had thus far. They let go and he feigned a weak smile.
“I’ll pray for you,” she said.
“Yeah. Okay. Do that. I’m gonna need it.”
He watched her as she walked away. She looked back once with a slight smile and a quick wave and then he didn’t see her anymore. He slouched back on his chair.
For those who’ve given up loved ones… a hundredfold in this life and in the next, huh? He smirked. Lucky her.
And what about him? What about for those who’ve been given up? Do they get a hundredfold to? Or at least some recompense?
The waitress came back with the bill and the pizza wrapped in a small paper bag. After he paid he walked out and got into his car. He sat without turning on the engine. He opened the bag and felt the warmth of the pizza and the smell of the melted cheese rush to his face. He hadn’t eaten the whole day and now he felt hungry. He took a slice out and took a bite. He smiled as he savored it. Pizza had always been his favorite and that restaurant made it pretty well.
He chuckled. A small compensation, but thanks. It will do for now.
The inspiration for this one came to me when I was thinking of the verse when Jesus says “Those who give up loved ones to follow me will gain a hundredfold…” and I thought to myself, I wonder what happens to the ones who were given up. Do they receive a hundredfold as well? So I wrote this story.
I went for a ripoff of Hemingway’s iceberg technique/style. Let’s see if I gave him a run for his money.