Advent Stories #2 | Cigars & Late Night Picnics

Blu blows out a puff of smoke from her cigar, enjoying the cold night and the dark sky above. The night is clear, and a Santa’s grotto lights up the courtyard to reveal such beauty, Christmas in the city. Her city.

‘Thank you for inviting me tonight.’ Blu says to Dada. They’d just been to a Glen Hansard performance at the Barbican; not her genre of music but it was right up Dada’s street and if that is the requisite for spending time with her cousin, she’ll gladly take it. Any time spent with Dada is always a good time, the laughs are sweeter, the jokes funnier and time passes by without one noticing it.

‘Any time. Seamus is kicking himself for missing out tonight.’ Seamus is her fiancé, Irish, hence the influence in music taste, and a sweetheart. They met at an Arsenal football match, both ardent supporters of the club. Together for six years, newlyweds, one year. The friends got married one year after the other; they planned each other’s wedding and Blu was the last of them to get married, this was supposed to be a happy time, to celebrate their friend, but so much for that.

Blu, Dada, Maya, Simi and Francesca, have been friends since boarding school, they then attended Oxford together, all five of them, and after graduation moved back to London to study their masters. Over the years life has taken them in different directions but their friendship has stood that test of time and distance. They are in each other’s lives as the very best of friends, witnessed every milestone together and got together as often as possible. Blu being across the pond made little difference; she made it over to London often enough, every Christmas, and they to her, just as much.

Dada looks sideways at her cousin as they smoked cigars like naughty school girls they once were in boarding school; sneaking out to dances in the village, drinking alcohol at parties and smoking goodness knows what. They gave their poor Headmistress, Mrs Marsh, such a headache but had the brains to back up their notoriety. When they all got accepted into Oxford it made the school newspaper and some mainstream papers; five friends, five Black young girls, as some newspapers pointed out aghast because intelligence is often an anomaly when it comes to diversity don’t you know, all got As and A stars, and were hotly pursued by the top schools in the country. So smoking blunts behind the science lab or kissing the frogs at the village parties seemed worth it after all.

Dada knows Blu is going through something, she is yet to tell them what happened and they’ll give her all the time she needs. None of them saw this coming, they always looked so in love with each other, Brodie and Blu, they were happy. Or so they appeared. If there was anything untoward, nobody saw it, they racked their brains for the signs they’d missed. Blu and Brodie were no different to any other couple in their group; they weren’t too perfect, too cute, too cookie-cuter, no, they were simply right together- they loved each other. At least to the outside world they were. Blu never gave any indication that her relationship with Brodie was flailing, she would have talked about it to her friends, because in their friendship they share details as girlfriends do, maybe a little too much at times, so she would have said something to them, to one of them at least.

Their friend said nothing, instead, they planned a spectacular wedding ceremony that they’d all been looking forward to.

Eleven pm, and the courtyard belongs to them. This is one of Blu’s favourite corners in London; the bridge between the Barbican centre and the station. It was decorated for Christmas; trees lit and a life sized installation of the nativity as the centre piece, complete with a Black baby Jesus; somebody wants to upset the snowflakes. There are a few lights on in the surrounding apartments. Something about the space felt sacred, especially at this time of the night when it feels like the capital is asleep. Dada produced a selection of cheese and crackers from Harrods and cheap red wine from her bag.

‘You had that in there this entire time?’

‘I knew we were coming to one of your favourite places and I know how much you love a picnic. You also know what’s coming next.’

Blu rolled her eyes, she does know what is coming. The “great matter” as she has come to think about it. Her parents talk around it, but she knows it looms large on their minds and it grows a great deal larger every time she has to see them and pretend nothing happened. They are giving her time, doing the adult thing and letting her come to them, but it can only last so long.

‘Have you heard from him?’ Dada spreads some Camembert cheese on crackers and fills two Styrofoam cups with red wine.

‘I wouldn’t have, I changed my number.’

‘How are you feeling?’


‘Of course.’

‘I’m so mad at myself, I cannot believe I did that. If I could I would go back in time and… I don’t know.’

‘What would you change?’

‘I don’t know, but I wouldn’t do half the things I did.’

‘We were watching you and you sort of froze. Did something happen to make you feel that way? It’s like you were not yourself and then you ran out of there like a bat out of hell. Mate we thought you’d gone mad.’ Dada cannot help it, she has to laugh, but she does so quietly so as not to disturb the residents upon whose turf they are encroaching. ‘You gave Julia Roberts a run for her money.’

If only it didn’t end up hurting the people she loved the most, Blu might have found it funny and maybe she would someday. It happened in October, and it feels as fresh as yesterday.

Both women eat in silence in the cold winter night, atop London. Dada cannot say she understands what Blu is going through, but she wants the best for her, without question.

‘Are you still coming to the cottage?’

‘Am I still invited?’

‘It’s a fifth yours, and what the hell is that supposed to mean? You are our friend and I hate to sound juvenile, but we knew you first and only know Brodie because of you. Mostly.’

‘How very elementary of you.’

Dada shrugs, almost childishly. ‘When you’re ready to talk about it, we’ll be here for you.’

‘He didn’t do anything you know?’ Blu said, ‘Brodie didn’t do anything to me but be the best fiancé and boyfriend, and partner.’

‘So what happened Blu? What caused your meltdown at the altar?’

Blu wanted to say something but can’t, not quite yet because she has to talk to Brodie first, if he finds out from one of her friends it’ll be even messier and if she tells Dada it’ll spread to the others, and before you know it, Brodie will hear and she owes him that, to tell him herself. If she ever gets the chance to.

‘I’ll tell you, just not now.’

‘Okay.’ Dada knows why Blu is holding back, she knows it will get to Brodie before she has a chance to tell him whatever it was that caused her to abandon him at the altar. She takes a long pull of her cigar and puffs out into the night, wondering what drove her cousin to behave like a mad woman, she was so looking forward to the wedding, planned it meticulously, brought her vision of a garden filled church to life, and if she hadn’t bolted like that there would’ve been a cirque du soliel performance at the reception; their first proper date was at one of their performances in London. They would have spent the holidays toasting to them at the cottage, like they have done the last four years with the others.

Every year before Christmas, the group of friends would go to Honeydew, their cottage in the sleepy town of Snowshill Gloucestershire, to catch up and make plans for the coming year, the last four years they’d been wedding themed plans. The tradition stems from the women; their days at university, in a bid to keep in touch with each other. A five double bedroom cottage which belonged to all five couples. They purchased it together, it is a piece that connects all ten of them, or nine as the case is.

‘Well we think you should still come to the cottage. Either that or we call time and sell.’

‘We can’t sell! It’s our place.’

‘And it’s a tradition that when we go over the holidays, we go together. If one of us-’

‘Don’t be daft. You cannot possibly mean that because of what I did, you’re not going to do what we’ve always done.’

We.’ Dada says wisely, ‘meaning you too.’

Blu rolls her eyes at being caught out. ‘I’m just saying I don’t want you guys to stop doing this because of the mess I’ve created.’

‘And we don’t want to do this without you. Blu come on. At the risk of sounding like a five year old, this is our thing. All or none.’

‘Ai.’ Blu takes another drag of her cigar and gulps down her red wine, the concoction makes her light headed. ‘I have to talk to him.’

Dada’s phone beeps with a call. ‘Seamus here, let’s go before we freeze to death.’ She stomps out her cigar and clears up the left over from their picnic. ‘Can I ask you one question?’


‘Do you still love him?’

‘I do.’

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