Messed Up Radiowaves

The cab pulled up outside of this bar whose name one could never quite pronounce, so that it was always spoken with a degree of hesitation. There were three windows, dividing the front into thirds, and in each there was a couple. They were arranged like an advertisement, religious art, or one of those nature books when every species in the ecosystem comes together perfectly, all the animals in the right place at the right time, posing just right so that a child might understand such things. The cab paused there. The driver had removed his head-rest; I noticed that. His dreads fell down the chair. He had music playing. When he asked how I was, I lied. When I asked how he was, he lied. He had music playing: All or Nothing At All by Wayne Shorter. I recognised it, seemed like a sad song. We listened to All or Nothing At All and puttered along in the traffic, and I stared at summer’s passer-bys until we came to a stop outside of the bar with all the couples inside. They looked older than me, maybe they were not; different as a solid to a liquid. They seemed to have a stronger hold on things, better cheekbones. All beautiful. What a sentence! all better, beautiful cheekbones. She spoke and he listened. He fingered the stem of his glass. She spoke. I watched them. A homeless man walked down the median and asked for change through the open windows. I turned back to the three couples, put my head onto my fist, stared. I had no change.

I stood in the café waiting for my coffee. Four Spanish people were there; two of them came past to get some fruit from the shelf I stood next to. It has been so long since there was good fruit low enough to get your hands on. Past St. Paul’s. Wind came round the corner of buildings, and loosely I held my shirt open so that I might catch some about me. I was nervous. Everything about me was nervous. Recently I felt as though I’d been shot to pieces, and yet all that was left of me was walking along the Victoria Embankment that Sunday afternoon. When I pulled my phone from my pocket I saw that it was dragged in lines of sweat so that my thumbprints stood out. My family all messaged each other: my parents were in Spain, my brothers were on the coast; they all shared photographs. I had not said a word because I had nothing to say and my mother always taught me if you’ve got nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all. She text me—‘You’ve been quiet. Are you alright?’ I sank the coffee and replied—‘Yeah, bad weekend. I’m out today though. I’ll text you later.’ Something in me didn’t want to tell her where I was going.

Was late, got confused, rushed all over the place, sweating & disastrous — I caught a tube one stop (which I hate; the behaviour of tourists) and then snuck under the bridge to see her sitting alone on a high table in the pub. Pausing for a moment, I looked in. It was certainly her.

Four years.

She looked different. She had been growing her hair before but it was long again, wavy, as it was when we first met. Quickly I counted her new tattoos. ‘Do you want a drink?’ She was already one down. I knew what she wanted but I asked anyway; afternoons in Birmingham, drunk as sailors. Morgan is sweet enough. Her drink was served in a faux-cut-crystal tumbler. The chair was uncomfortable and I couldn’t sit quite right. I was in the right place at the wrong time. We looked at each other strangely, not knowing where to begin, nor what to say. I suppose neither of us really knew what to make of things.

Four years is one-thousand-four-hundred-and-sixty days, and I am as bad a mathematician as I am a lover. Four years is a long time. During those four years I: moved out of our flat, gave the cats away, stopped biting my nails, cut down on my meat consumption, saw a dentist, reduced my the number of cigarettes I smoke, got another niece, stagnated professionally, made new friends, met new lovers, got tired of London, fell in love with London; going nowhere; I often wished I was the person I had been. When we asked each other how it was going, it did not feel right. Such are those four years.

The sound of her voice affected me greatly. Had I really not considered that it might touch me so, that, having heard it so much, it would grasp and turn me in unfathomable ways? It was one of those things, you see, a kind of infinite melody, like a pop song from your childhood or the school bell on that last day before summer; it stuck with you, never left, haunted you, made you smile, made you feel a catalogue of things that could never be chronicled on paper nor described to your best friend. It was something that came through in the womb of love, so that, outside, you were imprinted with something that chimed with you in ways you could not comprehend.

Her hair is longer; she no longer dyes out the grey, it has the wavy form I knew of when she was younger, when we first met. In between sentences, I smiled to myself: she smelled how she smelled back then. She smelled of sherbet. I knew where the smell came from precisely. Over time you learn the recipe of someone’s smell.

We speak of things that I don’t speak to anyone else about: she knows me, knows my history, she knows my family & my fears, my joys and how it is I sit in front of her. She speaks at great length about her own family and I understand it all. I listen carefully. Indeed I pay great attention and every question is asked sincerely, not to keep things moving & polite, but because I care.

When I return from the toilet, she asks me a question and it is what I had been thinking of talking about, as though she was reading my mind; I smile to myself. The conversation goes on & on. All she remedies in me is done with her voice and eyes. Both are immeasurable. Both swing me back through the years, remind me of being in love. No other is equal to her. Sitting there, with tepid ballads from the pub p.a. and a steady flow of punters coming & going, I revel in how things were. I am watching home movies in the eyes of one I loved.

What had I been feeling? It was gone. One more drink? ‘I have to get back and pack.’ So it is. We walk down the street… again… one-thousand-four-hundred-and-sixty days. Side by side. Accordions behind an upside-down cap. The District Line has that smell about it. I feel it is over too quickly.

Why had I desired to see her? Two hours. It was so warm. I did not know whether to walk around and kill some more time, or to go home. Once upon a time she had been a stranger: an image on a screen, a friend, a decade, a lover, a best friend, a stranger; then I was back alone, passing between the day-trippers on Embankment. I would walk for a bit, enjoy a cigarette, maybe I would witness something to shake me out of stupor I found myself in.

Nostalgia fizzes like some messed-up radiowaves that no-one else is tuned into, and when it lands it plays old love songs. I got in the cab. ‘All right, mate?’ he said. ‘Yes, thanks. You?’ ‘Yeah, fine.’

‘Sometimes I hate London, but then I’ll love it again. I’ll get so fed up with it and then something’ll happen and I’ll fall in back in love with it,’ she said.

‘Exactly,’ I replied—’There’ll be this moment, usually when I’m in a cab on my way home or something, and it hits me when I’m looking out and I’m in love again.’

She smiled.

The driver had a jazz station playing. All or Nothing At All came on. The window was halfway down so that warm air rushed into my face and I closed my eyes.