In our twenties, my husband and I thought nothing of using garden furniture for indoor dining. The wrought iron chair with the crooked seat cushion scraped against the pine floor as my neighbor pulled it up beside the table and sat down. Theresa eased her pregnant body into the world’s most uncomfortable chair with a sigh, while I puttered in the kitchen, preparing our make-shift meal. My daughter kept Theresa company from her high chair, kicking her feet in staccato against the foot rest, which Theresa politely ignored.
I was an American trying to survive my first year living abroad in London, and Theresa and I shared paper-thin walls in a row of painted brick homes on Second Avenue. I was twenty-six with a child and questionable taste in furniture. She was older, brilliant, and a talented professional violinist. We’d met for tea a few times, and in a move entirely unlike myself, I’d asked Theresa to join me for a beginner’s Bible study. She had no religious background to speak of, but much to my surprise, she agreed.
On this particular afternoon she’d arrived tired, carrying the weight of a soon-to-arrive first child, and all the uncertainties of impending motherhood along with her. We read a short passage in Psalms from the comfort of the overstuffed sofas in the front room while my daughter played in the corner with fake fruit and plastic cups. I prayed, she listened, we chatted.
I watched the sky deepen from grey to black velvet through the windows behind Theresa, as my daughter’s tea-time approached. I’d adopted the British custom of feeding her kid-friendly food for “tea” around 5pm, and I waited until eight or nine to eat a proper meal with my husband when he arrived home in the late evening.
As the clock ticked and we chatted, I grew increasingly anxious as it became clear it would be rude to begin cooking without asking Theresa to stay for dinner. And when I say “cooking,” I mean defrosting. My husband was out for the evening, and all I had to offer was an emergency stash of peas, chicken nuggets, and French fries shoved into my tiny, European freezer. All kid friendly, all decidedly embarrassing to offer a new friend who had yet to find herself eating off plastic toddler plates and using ketchup as a major food group.
I secretly hoped she’d say no, but Theresa decided to stay even after I shared the less than sophisticated options on the evening’s menu. I put the kettle on and brewed strong, hot mugs of tea while the peas defrosted and the fries baked in the oven. We sat down together, three girls and one little boy on the way, and we ate a feast of toddler proportions.
Sitting in wonky garden chairs, chatting over limp fries, Theresa revealed she’d been too weary to plan her own dinner. My reluctant invitation had come as a gift. She was all hunger, with nothing at home to satisfy her. While my daughter threw peas on the floor, we talked about babies and work and life in London, and I realized I too had come to the table empty. We parted full—satisfied at having met each other’s hunger across mugs of tea and simple food.