Thursday, September 8

The Overhang

Someone, a passenger, asked to take the scenic route; why hadn’t I thought of that? In the northeast of England and the day had gone well. It was evening and the sun was descending eagerly. Out of nowhere it has seemed to become darker earlier. The gentleman drove us the scenic route, along the coast of Blyth. The dockyards were kept hidden behind great metal sheds, exposing occasionally the peeping hull of an enormous ship, and the masts stuck high in the air. In the back of the car I felt calm and unlikely to respond to any question thrown at me, such was my pleasure at just being. The sheds fell away and the sea bloomed. Children played football in greenest grass that tickled in the wind. It was grand to take the scenic route. Everything was interesting to me. The driver, whom we had spent all day with, a kindly man with a scar on his cheek and glinting eyes, knew everything about the area; indicating one landmark after another with his free hand, a landmark of little consequence but within a few sentences he revealed its whole history and it became swollen against the view.
We checked in to the hotel. Businessmen away on business. Long hotel concourse with a bar and a restaurant branching off it, a hubbub of elderly dull against the wood, a manikin wearing a wedding dress stood elegant and headless next to a sign listing the rates of the venue. We got a beer and relaxed. There were six of us. Everyone talked in a circle but I hang back because it was my wont to do so. I will observe and feel no impulsion to join in. It is of no consequence whether I say something or not. When I finally felt like talking – after a pint – I struck up a conversation with a man who, I knew, was a lover of jazz, so we could speak about that. What was jazz if not a good topic of conversation for two people in a bar that wasn’t playing jazz?
The overhangs of hotel entrances fascinate me greatly. The road looped in front of the hotel for passengers to be released. The overhang provides protection from the sun and rain. Some of them are long and spectacular. I stood beneath the overhang, fascinated. What a silly pastime.
After I returned from freshening up we had been joined by two more: a young lady and a man. We were not introduced. I did not even see them properly. I thought that the young lady would get all the attention, such was her look and timbre, and was therefore keen not to offer her any preference. After all, if I wasn’t to be introduced, then I was really quite unimportant. We went for dinner in a large taxi; this gentleman and I continued discussing music. The restaurant was Indian, in a small village that had a river running through it. The river was perfect: pricked by grasses like masts by the sea, swirling beautiful water, lush smells trickling off of it and meandering. We all sat on a table, ten of us now, and everyone was jolly. It was a joy to be amongst. I was sat in the middle. After a few beers I found my confidence and became talkative. It amused me to make everyone laugh, so I did. I acted silly and made everyone laugh. They were big laughs and we all wiped our eyes. Making everyone laugh made me happy. I thought—‘Ah, yes, I have a slight purpose, but, still, take it easy on me.’ The young lady who had joined us asked—‘Who is this guy? He’s hilarious.’ I was introduced. So I am worthy. It is all business. We are businessmen on a business trip; some of us have families. I smiled at her compliment and we ate.
Much was drunk. They were good company; a few of them I genuinely liked. It was them I wished to make laugh the most. I felt good. When we walked back across the bridge over the river I saw the river and felt good about that, too, pointing it out to the rest of the group—‘Look at that river! Lovely, isn’t it? Except for that traffic cone.’ The traffic cone disturbed the water, interrupted the scene with its functional announcement of colour. Aside from the traffic cone, it was a lovely river. Even with the traffic cone, maybe.
A nightcap at the hotel, why yes, of course, what else? Without a thought to the next day’s obligation, or any concern to what my boss might say, I just wanted to drink. I wished to drink without being drunk, but that was impossible and I was not so cute with my hands. Red wine. Red wine, the devil sings your hymn, red wine, I have my heart set on you. Red wine. I drank, regularly escaping outside for a cigarette on my own. On one such excursion, the young lady said—‘Mind if I join you?’ ‘Not at all.’ We sat down on some table and chairs next to the overhang. The overhang was good to see at night too, slightly less spectacular but just as long. We sat there as a tiny film of dew fell on us. She was good to talk to. I was drunk but she was good to talk to. She had a dirty laugh and we spoke candidly about a great number of things. When we ran out of wine, I went back inside with both glasses to get some more. Who was she, this stranger, that I could talk to and not blush? Time went by, yet I did not feel it, not even once did I sense it brush against the rolled sleeves of my shirt. It was early morning, certainly, but my mind was not there. We talked and talked. After a while longer our conversation was entered upon by all the others. The salesman who accompanied us was very drunk. He lent down and bit her on the neck. She told him—‘Fuck off.’ He reached down and grabbed her breast. Her colleague screamed at him. He was drunk and a fool! I asked—‘What the fuck are you doing? Do you think that’s appropriate? Show some fucking respect.’ He lowed his head, because he liked to sell me things. ‘Apologise to her right now.’ He apologised. The mood had turned. Everyone went to bed.
Finding disappointment in how the night had descended, I lingered alone in the hotel bar. It was closed and no one else was around. Why was I up? I was not sure what I was waiting for. She reappeared. I asked her what she was doing up. Water. Of course, a cold glass of water at half-three in the morning after a night of drinking was a perfect reason to emerge from one’s room. We went to bed.
Neither had closed the curtains, so that at seven o’clock sunlight was on us and made everything kind of blue. We smiled at each other. Hotel sheets are quite white, laundered by professionals; her nudity was cut against them, darker and exquisite. We laughed at our predicament and with the drunkenness still in us. We got in the shower together and I held my mouth open to the hose, clearing the stale flavour off my tongue. She washed my hair and I washed her back and bum. I bent down when I washed her bum. We smiled a lot. When the water was on her I shivered and laughed shivering. I enjoyed us naked in front of each other and the whole sacrament of washing someone I had not known twelve hours previous. She aroused me with giggly innocence and then wrapped a towel around herself to apply makeup. I wrapped a spare towel around myself too, kissed her good-by on the forehead and told her I would see her downstairs. I walked down the hallway half-naked. An employee of the hotel walked beside me—‘Good night?’ she asked. I laughed and secured the towel.
I ate breakfast but there was no sign of her. After breakfast, and feeling terrible, I went back outside to the overhang and sat down. An old man and his wife came and sat next to me. We started to chat with the fresh day of sunlight beating down on us, each taking time to lean their head back and enjoy the rays. A friend of the old man’s showed up and they began to joke about how much the other had lost gambling last night. ‘He do you for a lot?’ I asked one of the men. ‘Nah, just pennies.’ ‘Doesn’t matter! Still skinned ya,’ said the man and we all laughed. I wished them a good day and went back inside to the rest of the group in the hotel lobby. Still no sign of her. We had to leave. We left. The overhang saluted so-long. We left.

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