Colleague leans in, keeps his voice low.
‘If you were a guy, would you get with Chloe?’
I’m surprised, not to learn that he likes her – they’ve spent most of the evening together – but that he’s asking me. We barely know each other.
I glance over at Chloe, all feathers and face paint. She’s dancing in that happy, drunken way. No, I think to myself, I wouldn’t: not because she’s not a lot of fun – she is – but because I find her a bit overwhelming. And he’s so easy-going and pleasant. There’s only one thing I can say.
‘Yes!’ I hesitate before going on. ‘Why, are – are you gonna?’
He doesn’t reply immediately but smiles.‘I just wanted to ask your opinion.’
I can feel eyes upon us, can almost hear brains whirring, jumping to conclusions.
‘Can I get you a drink?’ he says. ‘Beer? White wine?’
He returns with a glass of wine, then wanders off. I join the others on the dance floor, ignoring their pointed looks.
It’s the last song of the night. Colleague is dancing with Chloe – just dancing. One of the girls gives me a nudge, and looks over at them.
‘I know,’ I say. ‘He asked me if he should get with her.’
‘Oh! I thought – did you like him?’
I shake my head. ‘No.’
Two days later, I’m eating my lunch on the steps, listening to music, when he appears. There’s a row of bins nearby. He drops a bag into one of them, and turns to see me sitting there.
I give a wave. ‘Hello.’
He speaks again; I remove my headphones. ‘Sorry?’
‘Why do you have to work today?’
He sits down next to me on the step. I explain about the exhibition.
‘So, did you enjoy Thursday?’ I say, with a smile.
He runs his hand through his hair, big hair.
‘How much of it do you remember?!’
‘Not all of it, but people have been filling in the gaps for me!’
I laugh. ‘Did it go on very late?’
He tells me about the failed attempt to find a club south of the river; and his three-mile walk home.
‘Did you have a good evening?’ he says.
‘Yes! I love dancing so that was fun. And the music was good.’
‘Hmmm. I’m not big on the dancing – I get self-conscious. Actually,’ he laughs, ‘for that reason, when I do dance, I close my eyes!’
‘Isn’t that a bit of a health risk?!’
‘Oh I don’t flail, fortunately.’
We discuss some of our colleagues’ more unusual dance moves. There’s a pause.
‘So, err, was it a good outcome?’ I say.
He looks blank. ‘What do you mean?’
‘Do you remember asking me a question – at the party?’
‘N–o. What was it?’
I’m about to tell him, but something makes me change my mind.
‘Oh it doesn’t matter. How come you’re in today?’
His department is moving to an office in another part of the building. ‘It has a window.’
We joke about the company’s fondness for basements. There’s another pause, then he says,
‘So, what did I ask you? Was it… awkward?’
‘No, it was quite sweet really!’
He looks surprised.
‘I have to tell you now, don’t I?!’
I feel happier than I have in days; certainly since Nice Guy failed to live up to his name. I don’t want to hear that this nice guy likes someone else.
I nod towards the bins, each one initialled ‘DMS’.
‘I know someone with those initials. Maybe they’re his?’
He laughs, and suggests they might be an exhibit in the upcoming show.
‘I’d best get back,’ he says, rising. ‘I’ve got to hoover the office. Antiquities hadn’t done it for months.’
‘They probably think dust adds value!’
He laughs again.
‘See you later,’ I say, also getting up.
I walk away, a spring in my step… dust rising.
‘Still I Rise’ is a wonderful poem by Maya Angelou (1928–2014). You can read it here.