Tuesday, October 16

Seventeen Months

I DREW SOME cash out of the ATM and walked down the street. It had just started to rain, petty rain, rain that was very weary of starting any fights. Some men held papers over their head and ran for shelter. I walked round the bend in the road and up toward the café. The hoarding was coming down from a building and the surrounding pavements were, once again, awash in watery light. I stood there and smoked my cigarette. It seemed like a good place to smoke my cigarette.
A man in a wheelchair passed me. I recognised the back of him and shouted – ‘Oi!’ he turned around.
It was R—.
As he spun I immediately realised that he had seen me and was trying to ignore me.
I felt sick.
In a moment I knew a great deal: that he was once my best friend, that he had failed killing himself, that he was trying to pretend not to have seen me, that I had been a cunt to him and he wanted nothing to do with me. He spoke to me as if I were dirt, and I was. I asked him how he was, he answered sharply. He was going to the same café as me, to buy some beans. It was as if he and I had never known each other. He was dressed in a bodywarmer over a grey hoodie, and some polyester tracksuit bottoms. His hands were gloved for the chair’s wheels. I hadn’t seen him in seventeen months.
As we walked to the café I assured him that I had become a recluse but I knew that he did not care. I knew that he hated me and was thinking very foul things about me. I had loved him so much and then many things had happened. I was paying for them then. My stomach tightened and my knees weakened. I wished I had let him pass uninterrupted. All my fears of other people howled out at me and I wanted to sob. My breathing stiffened, as if I were wearing a snorkel.
The café was unusually quiet. I opened the door for him. Why couldn’t I just order? The staff asked me how I was but I could not think or hear properly so that I was rude in return. My bedroom is a very quiet place with only me in the middle of it. I asked him what he wanted. An espresso was no apology.
‘They know your name in here,’ he noticed.
He picked up some beans but he put them down – ‘They’re too old.’
‘They’re two weeks old.’
‘You fucking tart.’
He barely smoked anymore, hardly drank. One of us was doing better than the other. I thought of the red wine I guzzle every night as if I’m picking a scab to bleed out of. He necked the espresso, didn’t thank me and we went out.
At the end of the road we spoke some more. Rain was falling. My uneasiness eased. I remembered that he was, of all the people I had met in my life, one I liked the most. Even crippled from a suicide attempt over a worthless girl I knew that I had been nothing but a cunt to him. I had been worse than her. He was off to Borough Market. I tried to recommend a route but I don’t know if he listened. I wouldn’t listen to someone who hadn’t met me in seventeen months.
On my way back to the office with my coffee, my body felt as if it were wearing twenty layers. People passed me. Their faces were very poorly-made omelettes. Buses sped along, unstoppable. Although I was in one city I felt like I was in another city, another city in a time long gone, but I could not think why; the city steamed around me in greys and blacks and I was there, sure as anything, walking in its filth and feeling everything dying and once it had died it might rise up again but nobody knew, so I just walked on. Once I was out of the cold, my body began to warm and I sniffed. I did nothing else, but I did sniff.

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