East London’s restaurants are better prepared for single diners compared to their West End counterparts. Walking into Pizza East can be intimidating. The restaurant used to be a grimy bar that used to be a warehouse. If you ignore the smiley waiters, wood fired ovens and designer tables you could easily mistake it for an old factory floor. But where Pizza East loses with the tired exposed ducting it more than makes up for with some of my favourite restaurant features – leather button-banquettes, an open kitchen, hardwood floors and counter seating.
Sexy Italian wasted no time getting me settled when I said “Just me please”. He led me to the counter, asked me about my day and went on to chat about his until the waiter was ready to take over. I’d been walking a while and was thirsty! Tap water, fresh orange juice (£2.75) and a Bloody Mary (£7) – I’m set. The clam pizza I had heard so much about is no longer on the menu. Sexy Italian comes back to explain that in spite of great reviews their diners didn’t quite take to fish on their pizza. Pity! He helped me choose a soft polenta appetizer (topped with spicy, deep-fried chicken liver £5) and a Gorgonzola Pizza (£10).
I’m ravenous and my appetizer arrives just before I kick up a fuss. The polenta glides like warm butter around my mouth, and the light crunch of the deep fried batter gives way to creamy, perfect chicken livers. So much bliss in such a small plate.
The waiter comes over and asks me if I would like a newspaper. “No thanks, I brought my own.” After scanning the front page I usually jump to the weekend paper’s Agony Aunt column. The pizza arrives and I chew on a letter from Betrayed Betty. She found out that her best friend knew about her husband’s affair and kept it from her. Now she doesn’t know whether she “should” forgive her friend or not.
It isn’t scandalous to presume that, responding to our wavering moral centre, we advise Betrayed Betty to forgive. Really? Is that what we would do?
Would have, could have, should have – I work hard not to use these words in any sentence about my own life. This doesn’t mean that I have no regrets… of course I do! However, I have made my peace with these regrets and refuse to let the tyranny of ‘would’, ‘could’ and ‘should’ destroy any more days. All regrets except one.
Four years ago I was party to a secret that affected someone I knew. (Let’s call her Mrs A). A secret I kept from my close friend who had known Mrs A for twenty years. Mrs A had known me for eight. I met my close friend twelve years ago. There were reasons why I should have told my friend about the secret; but several more reasons why I could not. High up on the list was a fear that I would lose my friend. More often than not it is the messenger that suffers the consequences; nobody likes to be the bearer of bad news and I am no exception. More importantly, I had not quite resolved the secret in my head.
It was my secret to tell, and not my friend’s to share – would she understand this? Also, would telling this secret be good for anyone? Not for Mrs A; her life as she knew it would come to an end. Not for my friend; who would have to forever bear the burden of having caused her friend great pain, no matter how noble her intentions. And definitely not for me. For the first time in a long time I did not believe that honesty was the best policy, and my black and white world was cloudy with too many shades of gray.
I recently took the decision to tell my friend about the secret. It was as horrible as I had imagined. But together, over many, many spoonfuls of chocolate fudge, we decided it was the better decision – my having waited to tell her, and for both of us deciding not to tell Mrs. A. We knew that we were now both guilty of keeping a secret that really should be exposed. There it is again – “should”. Does having someone share your burden make it lighter? Not this time I’m afraid.