Until very recently no one before had ever bothered to ask me to marry him – not even come close. Before Guido proposed I hadn’t really known what to expect. Naturally it goes without saying that I had routinely fantasised about this particular marital phenomenon. For someone like me, no detail of it could be too detailed. I’d thought about where I would be and what I would be doing. I’d considered the benefits of it taking place somewhere in public or somewhere in private. If it was in private I wondered if I would be wearing minimal clothing at the time and if I was just how much clothing would that involve. I was particularly worried that if I was topless at the time how hard would I have to suck my stomach in whilst still being able to breathe long enough to answer yes, or, I do. The ponderables were limitless, trust me.
I had also read about it in books and seen it happening to lots of characters in films and TV shows. In books and films and TV shows this usually only ever happened to couples involving a man and a woman and almost always involved a lot of tortured preparation. This included endless and mind numbing flicking through things like the latest Beaverbrook catalogue. In books and films and TV shows there is also some minor calamity which crops up along the way. This is nothing serious but simply a side line plot to keep the reader or the viewer hooked and wondering if it will all turn out alright. It can be gripping or highly annoying in equal amounts depending on what you are reading or who you watching. The woman, of course, never suspects a thing. She is always such a complete dope. She never sees it coming until the guy is down on one knee or she discovers a diamond ring strategically placed like a cherry in the cream of her pavlova. In books and films and TV shows she always says yes.
When Guido asked me to marry him I surprisingly turned out to be just like that dope who didn’t see it coming. It was my birthday last month and he took me to lunch at The Real Greek. It’s on the south bank of the River Thames. If you are partial to small but tender mouthfuls of lamb, as I am, you will love it there. It was a warm afternoon so we chose a table on the terrace. It’s the sort of place where if you sit and dine outside almost every pedestrian who passes by on the pavement has a visible opinion about what you just happen to have on the end of your fork. Some people even stop and ask you for an in depth review. It’s like a confrontational Tripadvisor questionnaire you cannot possibly avoid. Guido ordered a bottle of wine and I immediately reminded him that my genetic make-up meant that if I drank too much in the middle of the afternoon then it would be highly likely that he may have to carry me home. I regret to have to tell you that would not have been a first. The memory of that particular event still makes it hard for me to walk down Bell Yard Mews even now and, funnily enough, if I am stone cold sober and happen to be thinking of cheese it isn’t any easier. However on that particular afternoon I am pleased to report that I still managed to admirably battle through the fog of a good Rioja to see Guido take a small worn blue velvet box from his jacket pocket. Though, you have to remember my brain was obviously parked in complete dope mode at that point.
“I was talking to Rosa about your birthday present,” said Guido looking serious.
Don’t worry, at this point you have absolutely no reason to know who Rosa is. She is Guido’s mother. More of her later. In fact I suspect there will be much much more of her later.
“I didn’t have a clue what gift to give you.” This was not a surprise to me but I nodded sagely any way. “She had this bright idea,” and he put the little box down next to my side plate. May I just now for the record, and etched in print on the world wide web for complete posterity, say – God Bless You Rosa. “She reminded me that my grandmother gave me this for safe keeping.” He opened the box and inside was a gold wedding band. “My grandmother gave this to my grandfather just before their wedding.” He took it out of the box and he held it in the palm of his big hand. The ring looked really beautiful and I could see some tiny words engraved around the outside edge.” The words are Spanish,” he said, “it reads, No soy nadie sin ti, tu sin mi.” He rolled the ring around so I could see it. “Translated that means, not you without me, nor me without you. I’d like you to have it,” he said. “Happy Birthday.” He leaned forward and kissed me. Then for a moment the ring just sat there on the table, ominously all alone, with just a half eaten bread roll for company.
Before I could even think whether a wedding band for a birthday gift might be baffling when trying to explain it to anyone who asked, he said, “When my grandfather died my grandmother gave it to me. She always said that I should pass it on as a gift. She wished that whoever I gave it to would have as much happiness as she and my grandfather did in their marriage. They were married for more than fifty years.” At that point in the proceedings I remember Guido swigging a big gulp of wine. Then I think I said something utterly ridiculous like, “Wow” or “Cool.” Fortunately it didn’t throw him off his stride. “She knew whoever it was, it was going to be a man in my life. But she really didn’t care, she just wanted me to be with someone and be happy.” He smiled, “She was a great woman. I wish you could have been able to meet her.” So had I, I would probably have married her. “The ring also got me thinking that we should make it mean something more than just a symbol. We should do that ceremony thing. You know, make us legal.”
I think I might have initially looked poleaxed.
“Ceremony thing?” I said. “As in married?” I said like an idiot, “as in you and me, as in a married couple? All legal?” I honestly thought I could start to hear angels play harps. At the very least I heard the flutter of their tiny but steady beating wings. Guido took another big gulp of wine.
“Yeah, why not?” and, right there and then between the tables, he pulled up his trouser leg and got down on one knee. Even in full on dope mode I knew what this meant.
As he was down there at my feet holding a box with a wedding ring poking out the top of it, a group of teenage Japanese tourists just happened to be strolling by in a pack. It is my experience of Japanese tourists that they always travel in a pack. If not a pack then at least a tightly formed huddle. Up until that point they had been calmly following a tour guide waving a Union Jack umbrella aloft her head as a marker towards the general direction of Tate Modern. If you have ever strolled along the south bank of the River Thames you will know that there are lots of truly interesting and fascinating landmarks and sights and old buildings to see but I could tell that given our current position, i.e. Guido down on one knee and me staring at a wedding band in a box, none was more fascinating to them than the two of us. They stopped and started to stare – several had their mouths wide open. I had never seen so many ipods and mobile telephones and cameras being refocused on me, rather than trained on the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral. Then Guido took hold of my hand and slipped the ring on my wedding finger. “Will you marry me?” he said looking up at me, slightly worried about what I might say next.
Let me make it clear in answer to his question I immediately said yes. We also kissed. At that point the Japanese pack went wild. This involved the instigation of a Mexican Wave which unexpectedly ended up extending right through the restaurant and into the kitchen and back out again. Guido climbed back into his chair to a round of applause. An American guy at the next table leaned over and said, “Hey dudes watching that was like totally stand-out awesomeness. Has something legally binding just gone down between you two bros?” I said I certainly hoped so but could I just point out that it had taken my boyfriend almost fifteen years to get on his knees so let’s not run before we could walk.
We drank all of the wine. I stared at the ring. We ate baklava for dessert. Then we weaved our way back to our flat above The Spanish Onion. When we got back we went upstairs and we stripped off all of our clothes and went straight to bed and had the best sex we had ever had and none of it involved having to suck in our stomachs. Then Guido fell asleep and I just lay there next to him and listened to him breathing.
The evening sun did that thing it does where it shines round the tall buildings on either side of our flat at about four o’clock in the afternoon and then it shafts straight through the skylight above our bed. The ring on my finger felt big and twinkled. I was wearing a ring that had been worn as a sign of love for longer than I had even been alive. I looked at it and wondered if I was worthy of it. But you know what? Most of all I just lay there thinking one thing. Thinking that, at last, I felt just like a character straight right out of a book or a film or a TV show.