Most of the chefs were loco. The way they acted you’d think they’d never seen a pretty girl before. They were crude and clumsy. I was clumsy but I didn’t make myself a public nuisance. When they weren’t yelling at me, they were groping and trying to feel up the Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese waitresses. But Patricia was tough. She didn’t take **** from anyone. I was eighteen and Patricia was twenty-three. She was beautiful, with chocolate brown skin, long black hair and a fiery Latin temperament. Right away we clicked. Whenever we could, we took our breaks together. We’d sit in a tiny storeroom the size of a closet scoffing Lasagne, Cannelloni, pizzas and stolen pastries. The lunch breaks were a measly half-an-hour long. As soon as we sat, it seemed like we were being yelled at by one of the bosses to get to back to work again. The first three months I pushed a never-ending stream of crockery through the dishwasher for eight hours straight. It was awkward and back-break labour. When I wasn’t bent-over-double washing thousands of dishes I was being abused by one of the moronic Chefs. Yelled at like a dog to grab a broom and sweep and mop the filthy floor. At the end of every week I promised myself that that was it. So help me God, I was getting the hell outta there. But I was poor and I needed every penny, so come Sunday evening, my pulse would start racing and I’d get this sinking feeling in my gut. And the next day like a mug, I’d be back, scraping stringy cheese and bits of crusts and pepperoni off of the plates…Working myself to exhaustion and breathing in the dirty dishwasher steam, while the other chefs charged around me, cussing each other in the greasy sweltering heat. It was slave labour. And as you might expect, apart from the Italian and Algerian chefs, most of the staff that worked in the kitchen were black. And, despite all the double shifts we were being rotated for, after the government taxed our chicken wages, we wasn’t making ****. At lunch, while I stuffed my face with stodgy 10” pizzas. Patricia would tell me things about her life in Brazil. Her mother had been shipped off to an asylum. She was highly strung and she’d tried to kill herself by swallowing a fistful of Valium. Her father was supposed to be some crazy alcoholic musician. Patricia hated him with a passion. He was well known in Brazil and hosted a radio show. But of course I’d never heard of him. I was into hip-hop, and soul music. I was also a rare-groove fanatic. My knowledge of Brazil only extended as far as the Kings of football: Pele and Ravelino. Patricia had been to Egypt, Spain, Mexico, Thailand, Tunisia, and the USA. Where had I been? I’d barely been out of South London. Secretly I made her talk just to hear her sexy accent. Sometimes when the staff room was packed we’d head down to the car park where the boys smoked their weed. We’d sit on crates breathing in the toxic car fumes. Patricia would tell me stories about Brazil and the beautiful Brazilian people. How everyone lived in a sort of chilled-out racial democracy. Really? I’d say with my eyes getting big and dreamy. Yeah. And if you believe that Daniel, you’ll believe anything, Patricia would say. Patricia talked about the people of her country in a way that I’d never heard people talk about those type of things before, except maybe black Americans on the tele. She informed me that the dark skinned people in Brazil were part of a shared global situation. They frequently had the lowest paid jobs and the poorest education. That the media wouldn’t tell you ****, because those maricon had their own agenda. Basically, she said. Whether you were living in France, Britain, Finland, North America, Australia or Brazil, it didn’t matter. It was the same bull**** story the world over. That summer with Patricia was fantastic. She cooked me Feijoada and Vatapa de Galinha. And one time we even went boating on the Serpentine. Neither of us could row for ****. I splashed the oars about for a bit, but as hard as I tried, I just couldn’t get the hang of it. Patricia was slightly better. While she chopped at the water, I scooped at the waves and tried to keep the boat on course. We’d get going, and then suddenly the boat would do an about turn and we’d be stuck again. It was infuriating. We had to return the boat by a certain time otherwise we’d loose our deposit and have to pay the man at the dock a penalty fee. We were going round and round in circles. It was obvious to both of us we weren’t gonna make it. There was about a foot of water in the bottom of the boat and every time I moved, my trousers squelched. It was freezing cold as well and both of us were getting moody. Eventually we got to the bank, abandoned the boat and ran like hell. Once or twice a week Patricia and me would go to the pictures. She had a passion for arty films. She’d already studied a year of fine arts in Brazil. Some of those films were OK, but most of the time I couldn’t sit still for more than five minutes. Either that or I’d be falling asleep, snoring like a baby goat and disturbing the rest of the audience who like Patricia had a passion for movies where nothing significant ever seemed to happen. Personally I wanted to see something with a bit more zip. I’d grown up on big budget American movies. Patricia preferred Independent films to American blockbusters because in her words: They were about real people with real problems, as opposed to one guy, whose unlikely mission it is to save the entire Western world. We’d hold hands during the movie. And although it didn’t really mean much, I’d spend most of the film wondering what would happen if I actually summoned up the nerve to kiss her. I’d see the lights flickering on her face and for some reason it would make me smile. She’d catch me sneaking looks and use her thumb to tickle my palm. I’d turn away embarrassed and go back to staring at the screen. For all the times I dreamed about pushing my lips against her lips, it never happened once. We spent a lot of time in each other’s company. We were best friends. We were inseparable. Whenever we hung out together, I imagined I was her bodyguard. I pictured myself defending her in all sorts of freaky situations. Me against a troupe of insane pizza chefs, me against a gang of drunken sailors on leave, me against some guys from the SAS. In my imagination I knew Kung Fu, but I was a modest and reluctant hero. I always let the arseholes slap me first. I’d sample the blood on my lip, smile disdainfully, and then like Bruce Lee, I’d Kung Fu chop the crap out of everybody. My biggest obstacle to love was the fact that Patricia had a boyfriend. She had quite a few in fact. First there was a Brazilian guitarist. Some guy she’d met on the plane coming over. The two of them slopped off to Spain for a week. She caught him ******* a German tourist in their hotel room. She told me how she confronted him, chasing him down the corridor, screaming Chifruda, and a Cabrao till she was hoarse. He went outside to smoke a cigarette and she set fire to his clothes, ripped up his passport and tossed it in the garbage compactor. After the guitarist she met a South American painter. His millionaire father had disowned him. The two of them invited me to dinner at his flat. He talked about the hardship of being poor but he wasn’t really. Not the way that I understood people to be poor. He didn’t live in a freezing cold house surrounded by a couple of paraffin heaters. He hadn’t had to share a bed with two of his older brothers, or lay their trembling listening to the sound of vermin underneath the floorboards late at night. He lived in a squat in Tulse Hill. He’d been living there for years. One day he asked Patricia to marry him. She said no and the next thing he’d packed his bags and was on a plane back to the Venezuela. After the painter came the Irish actor. I thought he was the nicest of the lot. He was really funny. A real comedian and a joker. He swore he loved Patricia but she couldn’t cope with his drinking, not to mention his sudden fits of depression whenever he was out of work. He went on tour and when he got back they argued continuously. They broke up repeatedly and finally called it a day over a candlelit dinner. Next came the English banker with the wife and two kids. It was one of those rebound romances. She met him in our Pizza restaurant of all places. He came in with a group of work colleagues and ordered a 14’’deep pan pizza. The rest of it was poetry, as Patricia liked to joke. It was a classic situation. He was going to get divorced and leave his family any day. She was too inexperienced at the time to understand the farce. Like Patricia, I also thought he really meant it. He’d buy her things, and book them into flashy hotels. The next day when we met up, she’d give me the low-down. I tried everything. I bought her flowers. Once I deliberately missed my night-bus home and we sat talking ‘till four in the morning. I followed her from one department store to the next. Top Shop, Chelsea Girl, Hennes. I visited them all. I bought her a necklace. Took her to a concert. I even wrote some bad romantic poetry I’d half plagiarized from a book of verse, which I stole from the public library. None of it worked. She treated me more like a younger brother. One hot Saturday afternoon I was lying on her bed and as usual she started going on about her banker. Sometimes I feel like he’s treating me like a Quenga. What’s a Quenga? Prostitute. Whore. Then why do you insist on going out with him? My heart was beating so quickly I literally couldn’t breath. I was jealous all right. It was making me feel sick and putting me in a terrible humour. After a while I shut my eyes and pretended to be asleep. I heard the tape recorder click on. Danny, are you awake? I didn’t move. I felt a hand squeeze my thigh. I still didn’t move. Patricia rolled on top of me, and tickled my ribs. Oi get off! I shouted. I pushed her away. I was so angry I could feel my arms and shoulders shaking. What’s wrong Danny? Just leave me alone. I don’t feel well. I was fed up with the situation. I’d already accepted that she had a boyfriend, but I didn’t see why she had to act like a Quenga and rub it in my face. Patricia kissed my forehead and I frowned. Then she kissed my cheek and I tried not to smile. Then she pinched my arm and told me to take off my T-shirt. Well I wasn’t going to argue. I did exactly as she said. OK, now take off your tracksuit bottoms. I began to untie the cord. Now take of my boxer shorts. Oh my God this is it, I thought. This is the actual moment I’ve been hopping for. The tape recorder was playing Salsa. Patricia stripped off her T-shirt, her bra, and her knickers. Christ! She was naked. I stared down at her soft brown skin. I saw the way her back curved, the narrowness of her hips and the fullness of her arse. She had small breasts with dark nipples. I breathed deep and tried to take it all in at once. We were both starting to sweat. I got on top of her. She kissed me, then moved her hands over my shoulders and caressed my back. I was so nervous, that for a moment I didn’t know what to do. Then, oh my God, it was really happening. We were actually making love. Suddenly the fantasy and spell were broken. Patricia slapped me across the face and pushed me away from her. ****! she screamed. What do you think you’re doing? What about a condom? Are you trying to get me pregnant? I sobered up in seconds. The world had never seemed so real. I was off the bed thinking that my life was over. I was petrified. I scrambled and charged about the room, hunting for my clothes. I liked babies. But I wasn’t ready to have one yet. There were things I wanted to do with my life. Things that nappies and babies would get in the way of. On the way to work, we stopped at a Photo kiosk at Bond Street tube station. Patricia sat on my lap. The camera flashed. And on the third flash, Patricia turned and kissed me on the cheek. Danny I’m sorry about this morning. I hope we can still be best friends. I played it cool. I shrugged my shoulders like I’d seen tough guys do in all those movies we’d watched. I narrowed my eyes and looked away. For a moment we sat in silence; both deadly serious. We could hear voices and the tube announcements coming from the underground intercom outside. Three, four seconds passed. Suddenly we both started grinning. We couldn’t help it. We’d been friends for so long, it was ridiculous trying to pretend we were anything less. She threw her arms around my neck and kissed me on the lips and on the nose and on the eyes. I got a letter from my mother, she said. Yeah, I said shrugging my shoulders. How is she? She sounds much better. Good. What? I said Good. . You’re so funny, she said pinching my cheek and staring at me. No I’m not, I mumbled angrily. I went to stand up and she grabbed my arm and wouldn’t let go. In the end I had to sit back down again. My throat got tight and I began to feel a strange sensation in my chest. She pulled me closer and I suddenly I started to shake and then feeling giddy I leaned my head against her shoulder. Shush, she said stroking the top of my head. My little baby-brother. I could feel myself beginning to cry. It was stupid I knew, but something inside of me was at the point of breaking and I no longer seemed to have any control. I smiled and rubbed my tongue across my teeth to hide my embarrassment. Patricia dried my eyes with the sleeve of her top and pressed her fingertip against my nose. My throat got tight again but this time I managed to stop myself from crying. Maybe it was only puppy love, but for me it felt like the real thing. I sat up straight, held out my arms and she giggled and squeezed the tops of my biceps. Listen, she said. I have a party we can go to on Saturday night. Would you like to take me? What d’you mean take you? You know, be my date. I was grinning so much I could hardly get the words to come out of my mouth fast enough. Yeah. You just try and stop me, I stuttered. Just then we heard a man coughing loudly outside the kiosk. I think someone wants to take a picture, I said. Patricia pulled the curtain aside and peer out. Let him wait, she said. She giggled, pulled the curtain back again and started to kiss me on the lips. I grabbed her arms and kissed her back. It felt fantastic. I was in love. We could hear the man making snorting noises on the other side of the curtain. It was Saturday and the restaurant was packed. As usual they were lining up the street outside. I was crouched over the sink covered in sweat and steam from the dishwasher. Typically the Pizza chefs were running back and forth like crazy. Someone had turned the radio on out back and Billy Joel’s, Up town Girl, was playing. All of a sudden the whole of the kitchen began to sing along. My dishwasher partner and me began shuffling this way and that as we dried the cutlery and put the plates away. After Billy Joel, Pig Bag came on and everyone went Samba crazy. The whole of the kitchen grabbing pizza dishes, knifes, plates, spoons, anything that would make a racket. For about a minute the whole place sounded like Madrigras ‘till the Iranian manager came running into the kitchen with a terrified look on his face, and asked the head chef what the hell was going on. Some of the customers were complaining. I finished work at four. I rushed to Boots to buy a pack of condoms. By the time I got home I was so excited about my date with Patricia I couldn’t eat. I danced into the bathroom, scrubbed my face with Biactol trying to get rid of the stink of pizza. That smell stayed with you forever, embedded in your pores so that at night when you slept, your pillow smelt like the menu. I sang songs in the shower. I brushed my teeth so hard my gums bled. I dressed and smothered myself in Blue Strattus. I was in love. I whacked up the volume on my tape recorder, and pranced around my bedroom grabbing my crotch, and squealing oooh to Michael Jackson’s Thriller. It was eight o’clock when the phone rang. I rushed downstairs to pick it up. Patricia, hi. What time are we meeting? I asked. Listen Danny. There’s been a slight change of plans. I can’t make it tonight. Why, what’s happened? I can’t talk now. I’ll explain everything on Monday. See you then OK Danny? Yeah sure, I said, trying to sound cool so she wouldn’t know how disappointed I was. For the whole of next week Patricia didn’t show up at work. I went over to the flat she rented in Brixton. I stood there for twenty minutes like an idiot knocking on her front door. No one answered. On Thursday, after work I stopped at a telephone box. A foreign sounding girl, probably her flat mate, answered the phone: Hello, she said. Hi, I said. Can I speak to Patricia please? Who’s that? It’s Danny. Hi Danny. I’m sorry, she’s not here at the moment. D’you know when she’ll be back? Didn’t she tell you? Tell me what? I could feel butterflies in my stomach. I knew that whatever she was about to tell me wasn’t going to be good. I took a deep breath and braced myself for a crushing blow. Her mother just came home from the hospital, said the girl on the phone. Patricia flew back to Brazil this morning. Do you think that she’ll be coming back? No she took everything with her. I think she’s gone for good. She mentioned something about having to take care of her. I got home I went up to my room and shut the door. I lay on my bed and jammed the pillow over my head. I clenched my fists and listened to the jerky sound of my breathing. I could feel my heart stabbing painfully in my chest. Then all at once I could feel my body shaking and as I squeezed my eyes shut the tears began rolling down my cheeks. Tomorrow I was on a double shift. I wiped my eyes with the back of my hand and got up to go to the bathroom. My head was in a swirl as I walk across the landing, sniffing back the tears, then I used the back of my hand to wipe my nose and suddenly I could detect the undeniable smell of Passionara Pizzas.