Monday, December 14

When The Lights Came On

MY BACKPACK WAS heavier than I expected it to be. Inside, there was a bottle of wine and a pair of ladies’ shoes. Briefly I remembered stealing the bottle of wine; that memory recalled to me out of the mist. The shoes I could not remember putting in my bag, but they belonged to someone who had kept me up until five in the morning. How to return them to her? Halfway through a weekend that, by all estimations, was going to be heavy, I showered for another night out, this one in the southwest of the city, an unfamiliar territory, with unfamiliar people. There were some cherry-cola sweets in my pockets that I chewed along the green length of the district line. Yes, I felt wretched – tired and hungover – but I was in search of something, as I have come to be lately, so I could not simply drop out; there is chivalry in struggling. There is a wonderful girl in front of me with a wide-bridged nose and delicious lips, her image reflected off the window, chuckling over a newspaper article and a cling-film’d plate of danishes. Wherever I was going, it would be better. I walked nervously down some side streets and ended up on the main road, along which I went keeping my eyes open for the name of the restaurant. It is the festive period so the streets were busy, many dressed for the occasion in novelty jumpers and reindeer headdresses. I was hungry and thirsty, very much looking forward to the venue, wherein my acquaintances were sat and talking over cocktails. Thankfully I was not too underdressed, however my shakes were causing trouble and taking my seat at the bench gave me some trouble that I said—‘I feel like a boxer getting into the ring.’ ‘Did you ever see Prince N—m getting into the ring?’ ‘Of course, he flipped,’ I said—‘Hey, did you hear that E—k and B—n might be having another fight?’ and so began the conversation. I ordered a beer, necked it and ordered another. I looked at the men in the group; I looked at the women.
My company for the evening.
Plates of food wafted past, smelling so good that my nose followed them. ‘I don’t care whether anyone else is doing it, I’m ordering a starter. They’ve got wings.’ The gentleman seated on my right joined me for a smoke. He was a softly handsome type in an old jumper; for some reason, I thought that my ex would find him very attractive; I found him very attractive. He was a doctor of chemistry, training to be a teacher, while managing a biochemical company as his business partner dealt with cancer. A young lady next to me started up a conversation when I went back in. She showed me some photographs of her recent trip to Vietnam and Cambodia. She was a very pleasant paralegal with magnificent curly hair that went everywhere and tripped up the chefs in the back. As delightful as they were, I became embarrassed when I spoke to them of my job, not because it is particularly embarrassing but because I immediately reveal how uninterested I am in it. They all had such ambition and enthusiasm. Talking about your profession was something you do to strangers. It was intimidating and I wondered what I should do next. The food came, not staying on the plate long, the beers kept coming, and conversation with my peers flowed. Relaxed. My tremors were intense.
After the meal was done we attended a bar I had walked past earlier in the evening when I was lost. Inside the music played loudly beneath the low ceiling. A group of women and homosexuals danced, happier than I had ever been in my life, bouncing the whole floor, shaking the room, and rubbing off on me their infectious joy. I bought a round and stood in one spot, looking about; it was a lot for me to take in, and people-watching is a pastime. The songs were popular numbers, everyone knew the words. It got busier until I could hardly move. The place was now full of beautiful young people, each of them brushing up against one another and having a right time. ‘Hm,’ I thought—‘I’m out on a Saturday night with good-looking people so I suppose I have made some good life choices for once.’ After a few more beers I loosened up further and started talking to women. There are few things I enjoy more than making women laugh, especially fresh laughs that I have not heard before. It was decided that the last tube home would not be taken, that the night was there to be seized, so the wristwatch was ignored and the enjoyment extended. The doctor came up to me and told me he just told a woman that she was beautiful, that she had a boyfriend, but that he did not care because he was so captivated by her beauty that he had to tell her. I told him I did that, too, and we knocked glasses—‘Sometimes you just have to tell someone they are beautiful. It doesn’t matter if it don’t lead anywhere.’ (He pointed out the lady in question and she was beautiful indeed, so much so that I applauded his taste as exceptional as my own and we knocked glasses once more.) When I exited for a cigarette (the curly paralegal telling me that I should not smoke) a South African asked me for a lighter, which I dutifully lent out; then he started to tell me of his bad luck with women. He wanted to meet someone, desperately, so that it consumed him; his drunk, half-shut eyes gazing at me, almost teary, as he confided in a stranger his most simple frustrations. What else to do other than to wish him luck? I saw him many times the rest of the night, in his blue shirt; he will not have succeeded, I knew that.
I met some more people who bought me drinks and heard some more fresh women’s laughs; fuel. The night ended when the lights came on. People slowly went out on to the pavement as rain fell. Women sat on the floor, men shouted. It was loud and confusing. The night was cold. The rest of the group was drunk but I was not. I walked off and found a cab; he took me back across London. The taxi driver told me about his life in Somalia and as I smiled I saw the lights of the reclining city flash me by. He was a fine end to my night, so that when I stepped out of the taxi onto the glazed cobbles of my street I felt tremendously in love with something or other, and like I was alive, and the melodrama grabbed me as I realised I had had a good evening.

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