I was out of work and waiting to hear about a job. Every day I’d watch television and check my phone but I never knew if and when I’d get a call. The weather was turning and it was late summer. I drank coffee and listened to the children playing in the street. They were young and they didn’t have to worry about salaries and mortgage payments. After a week I got a call from a guy who had been given my number. He told me I was on the project but it would be at least two weeks till they were due to start. I put the phone down and got the kettle on. Well at least the uncertainty was over.
I’d been seeing a girl at the weekends. I’d known her a while and we’d got together a few months previous. She lived up in North London and I enjoyed going to see her. I’d take the motorbike and when I showed up we’d usually be in bed within minutes. Before we got together I realised that I had loved her for some time. I found her slightly confusing and utterly magnetic. My friend used to say ‘You love Tania.’ And I did, I admitted that to him and to myself. I wasn’t sure I’d ever end up with her though.
We got together one night at a birthday celebration. The old fashioned way. I followed her outside while she went for a cigarette and before long we were kissing in front of a church. It felt like a natural kiss, like it had been growing on us for sometime. Then immediately I was scared and wasn’t sure how I felt about her. I trusted this as being a good sign.
After our first night together she had to get up early and meet some friends for breakfast. By the time I had dressed she was up and ready to go but she had made me some coffee and we kissed by the front door. She had a strand of her hair plastered across her face and she looked cute. I hope we get together again I said and I left feeling as if I had been kicked out but then I said ‘what the hell’. I was in a foreign neighbourhood so I went to the bust stop, got on the first one I saw and made it to a tube station. Once I’d found the Victoria line it was plain sailing.
I started seeing her at the weekends and soon we were going out for real. We started to have disagreements and get pissed off with eachother and sometimes we would even fight. Then we’d make up again and have great sex. It was standard I guess.
One night I was at her flat lying on a couch in the kitchen while she did some preparation work for her teaching class. She played some notes on the piano and I heard her humming to herself and then trying out various phrases. I was musical too so I listened in on her activities and tried to work out where she was going with it. Then I started to think about a guy had once known, this guy called Leo who I met in a pub a few years back.
He was Indian or of Indian descent and back then he must have been 19 years old, not much more, young, good looking and charming. He dressed well in a kind of a preppy way and he was cool but you know chic for a kid his age. I got chatting to him and he told me he’d been at boarding school in Ireland where his mother had sent him because she worked unsociable hours. I asked him how he liked it. It was fine he said. Better than staying in london and getting into trouble he said. I could get that. London could be a grim place, God knows I ‘d had my ups and downs here. Then he said this. He said that he wanted to stay in london when his A levels were done and maybe try and get into the film industry or you know fashion, something like that. I asked him about his studies or if he planned to go to university but he said no he wanted to go to the ‘university of life’. That’s what he said, the university of life. I dunno if he was high on coke that night but he certanly seemed full of beans. He was a young guy, just a kid really. He had his whole life ahead of him.
That night I was jealous for this boy because he had so much ahead of him. I thought about what I was like when I was that age and I remembered going to the park with my best friend and doing acid or at least trying to. He made me take the stuff to be honest because I guess he wanted to feel better about doing it himself. But here’s the thing. It didn’t work. I wanted to pretend to him that it did so I walked with him back to the house with our stereo playing out loud pretending that it had had some kind of effect on me. When we got indoors I found my mum’s pot stash and we rolled up a joint badly and smoked it. I gagged and didn’t feel great but I held the smoke down and felt sick and out of it. We we watched a video concert of a band we were into and wished we could be that band with their cool clothes and their seemingly effortless command of their instruments. We were 19 years old.
Later on Ivan would grow to become hard working and sensible and while I flitted about in a series of jobs he managed to stay on track with one career. Last time I saw him he met me in a pub in South London and he told me it had all fallen apart that he was selling up and leaving the country to go travelling. Secretly I felt relieved and smug that I was the one that had held it together during the tough years. I had my flat and I still had no debt and plenty of work while he was courting financial disaster. I spoke to my uncle, he said. My Uncle said I should sell everything and take some time out so that’s what I’ve decided to do. I took another sip of my pint and didn’t really know what to say other than just being encouraging.
I thought about these two while I lay on that sofa listening to Tania humming her tunes and playing little melodies on the piano. Her cat lay beside me on the floor purring contendedly and I got up to make some tea. While I filled the kettle I thought about Leo some more and the next time I saw him.
It was on an escalator in the underground and I spotted him coming upwards towards me. He had two girls on his arm who were beautiful and they were all smiling and laughing full of youth and contentedness. He was wearing some red pants and a black three quarter length coat and he looked more affected than when I last saw him and the girls laughed and giggled as he spoke. Very soon they had gone past me and away towards the top and I carried on to the bottom and boarded a train thinking about the last time I had seen him when he told me about his boarding school and how it kept him out of trouble. I wondered what he was up to, if he had found a job.
I took Tania’s tea out into the living room where she was working and placed it on a small mat beside her. She looked up with her intense eyes and gentle frown and said thanks so naturally I gave her a kiss. She was wearing a kind of 60s dress and she looked great, pink against her dark hair. I left her to it and walked back into the kitchen to stroke the cat. He didn’t like me or at least I think he was afraid or jealous of me but he let me do it for a while. I always liked cats until they lashed out, even though they were playing. Dogs hardly did this but I still liked cats nonetheless. It was the way it was.
Leo started working in a bar. I knew this because my friend James told me this. James had a dj residency in the same establishment and knew him from way back. When I went down to see James play I caught site of Leo at the till. He had a white t short on and he looked fit, in good shape, ringing up the drinks and keeping the girls happy. I stayed for a while and then I left. As I walked out the door I caught Leo’s eye and gave him a nod on the way out. He kind of acknowledged me and half raised his hand in the semi darkness. The place was full of smoke and heavy beats and I could hear drunken girls giggling nearby. When I got outside I found the nearest bus stop and waited a while till the first one came. I got home half an hour later and slept well that night.
It was getting late and Tania had to work early the next day so I started to think about leaving. I sat in the kitchen with her for a little while on the edge of the sofa and talked some stuff through with her. She told me she was upset that weekend and that she thought she’d done a bad thing. I sat and listened and then I tried to reassure her. No, she said. I did a bad thing. I sat there for a little longer then I said, we all have things that haunt us babe and in a week or maybe two you’ll forget about all this and it won’t matter. I hope so, she said. Because I know I did a bad thing. You can’t change the past I said and I gave her a little hug. I could feel her arms round me but she didn’t feel that close to me. That is, she felt a little distant. I rubbed her feet a little and stroked her hair and then it was time for me to go.
As I walked to the bust stop I started thinking about Leo again. I thought about the time I saw him at the cinema in town when he was standing outside the front doors shivering and smoking a cigarette. It was as though the health had gone from him and as he smoked he turned round to look inside and I saw this patch on the back of his head where his hair was missing. It was a largish patch and the hair had completely gone and I wondered how that had happened. Was it some kind of operation or had it happened naturally? I couldn’t figure it out. I said hey Leo as I walked past but he didn’t see me or acknowledge me he just kept smoking and looking into the distance. I wondered if he was working there but I decided not. Of course I couldn’t be sure.
I was standing in a newsagent a month later when I saw a picture of him in a magazine. It was a photohoot for a big label and then I suddenly saw him there amongst the other guys and a girl doing his stuff, dressed and coiffured taking in the camera. He looked like I had first seen him those years ago when I first met him and he had sparkle and a future. In the back of the photo I could see a building and I realised the shoot was on Hampstead Heath, I’m not sure what season it was but looked a little bleak and I wonderd bout Leo, wondered what else he was up to what he was doing other than this and smoking cigarettes and hanging out in bars. Did he work in retail or somthing like that? Maybe he was a rent boy or maybe he drove a delivery truck. The truth was I just didn’t know.
I put the magazine down and I said to myself, I wonder what happened to Leo man, I wonder what will happen to him, I wonder if he’ll be alright?