There were just about eighteen coats hanging on the coat rack, and although it was a sunny day so that fewer coats could be expected, the office turned out to be reasonably understaffed. I liked this kind of Fridays, because you could work undisturbed on one piece. By noon, however, I needed to have a conversation and then I thought; the secretaries are always up for a chat.

‘Almost time huh, are you going to do something fun this weekend?’, I asked with interest.

‘Oh, I do not know yet, that depends on the weather, but I do want to barbecue.’ I said that I had looked on my IPhone and that the weather forecast was not so good. I did not want to ruin her plans, but it would be eighteen degrees, with lots of clouds and rain.

‘Is that really true?’ she replied, and she checked the weather forecast on her computer.

‘Well, you’re right’, she said, bewildered. She quickly recovered herself and said:

‘But I won’t let my plans get ruined, I’m going to barbecue anyway.’

‘Quite right’, I answered, because I had not yet talked enough nonsense – after all, we had only arrived at the weather. So I asked her if she was going to make vegetable skewers.

‘No, a lot of meat skewers. But we put pieces of onion and sweet pepper between them.’ I did not tell her that a vegetarian friend of mine compared barbecuing meat with the re-enactment of Dachau but with animals. Instead, I asked her about the type of barbecue that she used.

‘Do you use an electric, charcoal, or a disposable barbecue, and why did you choose that one?’ She replied:

‘Well, that is quite funny, I have an electric barbecue, and it has chosen me.’ Intrigued, I asked her why a non-living product had chosen her.

‘Well, I regularly buy my meat from the same butcher, and there I save meat points. Now I have been saving points for two years, and then you can choose a nice product. They have kitchen knives, kettles and blenders. I only had to pay 70 pounds, and then I could buy this nice electric barbecue.’ I asked her if she did not miss the smoky taste now that she had an electric barbecue.

‘Yes, I do, yes,’ she sighed, ‘yes.’ To cheer her up, I said:

‘Smoke on your meat is unhealthy. But if you miss the smoky taste, you can always buy a disposable barbecue to use only once.’ She shook her head and said she thought it was a waste.

‘Well, I understand that too,’ I said sympathetically. To keep the conversation going, I added:

‘I do not have a barbecue because I have no room for that, but my parents in The Netherlands have a Weber barbecue, which is also good.’               ‘Yes, I know,’ she said, ‘once I got a Weber barbecue for my birthday, from my ex-boyfriend.’ I had a bad feeling, because now the conversation was revolving around the unfortunate home situation, and I was disappointed that a conversation that had started about the weather, was now threatening to end in personal malaise. She continued her story:

‘When I parted with my last boyfriend, I had to move to a small apartment.’ I could imagine her living in a gray small apartment, which she tried to make cozier by buying houseplants.

‘But my ex-boyfriend had played it very cleverly, because when I left our house, he was standing in front of my barbecue. I had not seen it, because the barbeque was black, and he stood there right in front of it.’ I realized that someone had to be very cunning to obscure a barbecue that you’d given for someone’s birthday. In that respect, the secretary was better off without that guy. I tried to lighten the situation by using this great Friday afternoon line:

‘Yeah, a barbecue with a history, that doesn’t do you any good either.’ The secretary cheered up:

‘True, that is true too. And I do not miss him either, the barbecue, or that man.’ We laughed a bit uncomfortably, at least I felt uncomfortable, she just laughed.

‘Yes, I have a nice man now.’ End this conversation positively, I thought to myself, end this positively. I answered with:

‘Good, and you also have a nice electric barbecue now. And if you’re bored this weekend, you can still buy a Weber. At least, do you have space in the garden for that?’ She certainly did, so she said that she would maybe go to the garden center for a second barbecue. I thought that was a nice way to end the conversation, and I took some pride in having sent someone to a garden center again.