I remember running together along the cobbled pavement of St. Giles to catch the beginning of the play. Something French and obscure. Afterwards we walked back to college, said goodnight beneath the clock, went our separate ways.
He left suddenly part way through second year, and we lost touch.
‘Anna! How are you? If you’re in London – want to meet up?’
I stare a moment, and not because the punctuation is whack.
A few weeks back, I’d been invited to a salon in South London, the kind of terrifying Bohemian affair I can never quite muster the courage to attend. I’d noticed his sister’s name amongst the list of organizers and his own, under ‘Going’. Idle curiosity took me to a sparse profile, which took me to another, more active, full of smiles and blonde bubbliness. Not what I’d expected, but they looked sweet together.
It feels strange, writing to a man without worrying that I’m coming across too keen or replying too fast. Good strange. I say I’d love to meet up, and how about this evening? I can even fool myself, when he comes back minutes later saying tonight would be good, that I don’t mind so very much about VP‘s sudden silence.
The theatre comes into view. I imagine he’ll be easy to spot, above the crowd. He’s tall, very tall, I remember that, with messy red hair. And then I see him.
‘Hello!’ We hug. ‘I’d forgotten how tall you are! I must have asked you to ballroom dance at some point!’
‘I think you did,’ he says, smiling.
His hair has lightened and – wait for it – falls down his back in a ponytail which reminds me of Legolas.
‘Shall we find a coffee?’ he says, scanning the street.
It’s a glorious evening, too hot for coffee, and the pavement is crowded with tourists and commuters.
He laughs. ‘It’s not much better than Piccadilly Circus!’
Where we’d originally planned on meeting.
‘I was just thinking that!’
‘Let’s find some green.’
‘Are you hungry?’
I prop myself up on my elbows, look at my watch. ‘I should be.’
‘That’s a no then,’ he says, smiling. He hasn’t changed.
‘I will be soon.’
‘Shall we walk?’
We rise, brushing leaves and grass from our clothes, and start walking in the direction of life. He has a habit, initially disconcerting, of stopping every now and again to discuss something, so our progress is slow. At the playground we pause. He tells me he used to come here as a child.
The sign on the fence reads, ‘Adults may only enter if accompanied by a child.’
‘Which of us is going to be the child?’ I say, looking him up and down. He gives me a look; we climb the railings.
‘What sort of food do you like?’
I lower myself gently to the ground. ‘Errr… good food? What sort of food do you like?’
Our eyes meet along the length of the see-saw.
‘I’m just going to find the loos…’
I examine my reflection in the mirror. I look tired. I should refresh my make-up, comb my hair. If this was a date I would do those things, but it’s not. Is it? I frown. I’m not sure what’s going on. It feels like a date, but that might just be him. He has a way of looking at you, piercing and intense, which makes you think… But he has a girlfriend. Facebook says so. I check my phone. Nothing from VP. The girl in the glass looks sad, wants to go home, but she’s agreed to dinner.
‘Have you tried this?’
Skilfully he transfers a slither of perfectly rare beef to my dish. I eat it.
‘Wow,’ I say. ‘Wow.’
He nods, and again our eyes meet. They keep doing that.
On the walk to the tube, I brush against him.
‘Don’t let it be another five years!’ I say with a nervous laugh. ‘Well, goodbye.’ We hug. ‘Oops I trod on your foot.’
‘And… I’m around on Saturday, so… let me know.’
‘I will – I’ll talk to Catherine, see what her plans are.’
The next day, I find myself once again on his profile, barren save for a relationship status. He didn’t act like someone in a relationship. I bring up the girlfriend, browse the pictures. There’s one of them in the half-darkness, playing on swings, and a location: the same playground. For the first time I feel anger towards him. Just a week after Matthew and a virtual repeat. I close the tab and delete the draft text suggesting Catherine and I meet him for lunch when she’s over on the weekend.