“€400 a month?”, Janet asked, trying hard to disguise the surprise in her voice.
“Yeah. €50 a week.”, Linda replied, trying hard to disguise that she had noticed the surprise in Janet’s voice.
“For a flat in Dublin City?”
“I googled a lot of places before I managed to find it. But I share it with my boyfriend Roy so it only works out at €200 really so it’s grand. The €400 might have been a bit much alone especially with all the commuting to and from college.”
“But you seem so happy and cheerful.”
“Well money isn’t everything. Don’t get me wrong, I do the Lotto each week as much as the next person. But I have a great boyfriend, great family, my health, I’m lucky.”
Later as Janet sat in her apartment she felt tears come into her eyes. The conversation she had had with Linda earlier in the college canteen had hit her hard. Her monthly rent came to €3,000 and she had never thought anything of it. The shoes on her feet cost €1,000 alone, €200 more than Linda’s and Roy’s rent cost. She felt stupid for crying about Linda’s situation because Linda was happy and content but nonetheless she felt bad and very guilty. She wanted to take her out shopping and for a coffee in the posh cafe she went to on a regular basis. Suddenly she felt like her wealth was like a noose around her neck, an anchor bringing her down. All her life she had enjoyed the good life without a second thought. She knew there was people in the world with less money than she did but from a distance it had been easy. Easy to make uneducated assumptions about why people struggled financially. Easy to think it was their own fault: that they were stupid or lazy or unambitious. But confronted by reality in the form of a hard-working, ambitious and highly ambitious fellow journalism student she found all her old prejudices become null and void. And more than that Linda had been nice to her. By nature Janet had always been an introvert and starting college had been a nerve-wrecking experience for her. But Linda had been patient and let her guard fall over time instead of reminding her how weak a conversationist she was like so many before her had. She was the first real friend she ever had.
The next day as the two women left the college grounds Janet suggested they take a trip to one of her favourite stores.
“Jan, that’s very nice of you but …”
“I have money.”
Linda’s face fell but she soon composed herself.
“Um, you know I didn’t befriend you because you had money.”
“I know that but come on, we’ll have such great fun and after we can go for coffee …”
“Janet, maybe some other time.”
“But don’t you want to know what it feels like to put a Gucci jacket around your shoulders?”
“I have …”
“Yeah. Admittedly I got it in the thrift shop but it was still Gucci.”
“Ah yeah but that was seasons old. I’m talking brand new honey.”
“I know that. Look it’s very sweet of you but I think I’d be a bit out of place in those kind of stores.”
“So what are you saying? That we’ll never go shopping together?”
“Well can’t we go some place cheaper?”
“But they might think I’m a snob in cheaper shops.”
“You’d feel out of place? I never thought of that.”
“I know what people think of me. Some rich bitch who doesn’t lift a finger.”
“I don’t think that.”
“Well I know that but people do.”
“Ok, let’s compromise here. If I go shopping with you to this expensive shop, will you come to the less expensive cafe for a coffee afterwards?”
Janet’s face lit up.
As Linda walked around the shop she had a sense of fear. The price tags ensured that. She was scared that she might damage something and yet she made sure to touch as many of the items as possible because at least she could say she touched pieces by all these designers. After all, it wasn’t going to happen every day. The designer tags loomed before her eyes: Yves Saint Laurent, Ralph Lauren, Matthew Williamson, Henry Holland … the list went on. And Linda’s eyes became bigger and bigger with awe. She allowed Janet to purchase her one Yves Saint Laurent handbag and although she felt bad accepting it, she knew it would break Janet’s heart if she declined. Afterwards they went to the cafe where Linda ordered the meal deal of two cakes and two coffees for €5. When she offered a second round she noticed that same look in Janet’s eyes that she had before in the shop, one of conflict of whether to accept or decline. In the end she accepted too. As Janet took her first sip of coffee from her second cup she said,
“Lin are you sure you can afford this?”
Linda raised an eyebrow.
“I know you are concerned but don’t say that again.”
“Oh, I meant no offence but I don’t want to be taking if it might leave you in some bother later in the week or something. You don’t need to impress me. I’m already impressed that you can survive without designer gear.”
“Well I have to.”
“I don’t think I’d be able to though.”
“You’d be stronger than you think. You are just used to it, that’s all.”
“Greg thinks I buy too much of it.”
“That’s alright because you don’t listen to Greg anyway.”
“True. A boyfriend should know his place should not be between his girlfriend and her Jimmy Choos.”
“I’m sure he does.”, Linda laughed.
“Lin, on a serious note …”
“It’s all only material. It doesn’t mean I’m this bad person …”
“Of course it doesn’t.”
“The best part of it all is shopping with family and friends. The objects pale in comparison. Today’s been great is what I’m trying to say.”
“Yeah, it has been. It’s been amazing.”