Cold Tea And Condensation

(Posted in my old Livejournal, April 6th 2014)

The young man was handsome – nothing more and nothing less either. I’d not been in the pub long and had started writing in my notebook, when he came in. A nervous and twitchy creature – all elbows and knees. He walked in, looked around at the locals and regulars as though being forced to walk through a safari park, before finding a single table and chair near the window. After sitting down for about ten seconds, he got up awkwardly without pushing the chair back and walked to the bar. He scanned the pumps and settled on a cup of tea. He was, I guess, about nineteen.

I didn’t pay him any heed after that. Good looking young man, probably hasn’t been in a pub much and especially not this one which has a lively reputation even in broad daylight. Will no doubt gulp his tea after realising his mistake and dart back out, leaving the rest of us savages to resume our disturbing orgies of violence and carnage.

After ten minutes or so, I started watching him. No particular reason, I just found him curious. I stopped writing and pretended to be reading my notes. He cradled his tea like it was an egg that he wanted to hatch. Below the table, his legs jiggled constantly and he never once looked inside the room; only out of the window.

Not long after I’d abandoned my own writing, he pulled out his own notebook and a novel – it was a Kazou Ishiguro but I can’t remember the title. He made a couple of scribblings in his notebook, then opened the novel. He’d read a chapter and then return to staring out of the window. When he attempted to read, it was clear that his mind was elsewhere. He spent minutes on one page, his eyes darting up and down the page as though he was having to re-read paragraphs, but then skipped three pages in thirty seconds. Then, sometimes, he’d go back to the notebook, spinning the pencil in his fingers but never actually writing anything. Then, the pen and notebook would go down. Look back out of the window. And always the legs never stopped, up and down like the pistons in an engine.

He constantly worried about his hair. There was a troublesome lock that fell out of place across his forehead. Occasionally at first, but then more frequently, he would play with it in his fingers. Unfortunately, without a mirror, he kept putting it back in an odd place. He started visiting the gents, and when he emerged his hair would be perfect, but then that lock would slip back out after a few minutes and he’d be wrestling with it again.

Half an hour had long passed by now. He’d been on his own for close to the three-quarter mark. During this time, he’d ‘read’ about six chapters, but ingested none of the book. He’d written a couple of words but spent the rest of the time staring out of the window playing with the pen or his hair. Around this time, I hoped that he or she was worth it. The young, handsome man was immaculately dressed. Everything was perfectly coordinated, if slightly ill-fitting. He looked like a Topman model who’d recently been a bit ill and lost some weight. It was the latest fashion – for someone else.

I guessed it was a date, but a one-sided date. Something about this situation didn’t seem like a young man waiting for a platonic friend, or a partner who was running late. Every time his phone lit up, he pounced on it like a cat on moving string. He wasn’t just a young man in an old man’s pub, and he wasn’t just anxious because his best mate had been held up. This meeting meant a lot to him.

I’d been there before. Arranging to meet a girl with whom you have had a bit of a crush. You might already be friends but you want to evolve the friendship. You dress perfectly, in clothes that you deliberately haven’t worn for a week to make sure they are washed and dried in time. You’re anxious. You drink tea because you know you’ll neck the beer and you don’t want to be slurring. You wonder where she could be. You wonder what the meaning is of the lateness? Is it time mismanagement or does she have better places to be? The novel and the notebook are there to pass the minutes, or maybe to appear intellectually casual. I’ve been guilty of both. I have been known, in the dim but not distant enough past, to sit in cafe’s reading Sylvia Plath because I thought that good poetry and hearty kisses go hand in trousers. He was probably half an hour early for their meeting, as I would’ve been. It had dominated his day, as it would’ve mine. And she was running late. Which, maybe, spoke volumes about how she regarded the friendship evolving into something else.

He never once looked over to where I was sitting. He never even looked at the rest of the pub. His tea went untouched, having had just a few sips which no doubt did two things to him – made him even more hypertense and probably gave him a bloated stomach. And then, like a meerkat, he arched himself straight as a white blur wafted past the window.

She came in, casually dressed and flustered with excuses and perfume. He got up, banging his knee on the table and they hugged. I noticed that, in the moment before the embrace, his hands hovered over her hips before settling for the small of the back. She let go first and started talking at him. He sat back down, nodding, his legs crossed away but his feet pointing towards her.

I’d finished my drink by now, and I packed up my things to leave. As she walked over to the bar to order herself a drink, I saw him staring at the chair she’d dragged over so she could sit opposite him. He raised the tea to his lips, took a sip and then grimaced realising it was cold. With no ill will and with genuine sincerity, I silently wished him good luck and left the bar.

To the young man in Redcar, Saturday 1st March 2014

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