Sunday, 11 November 2012

38. A jumbled-up pile of chairs

When I walk out of the building Chris is waiting at the bottom of the stone steps, under the piece of corporate art which looks like a jumbled-up pile of chairs and is supposed to represent striving towards excellence.

The day is sunny but chilly and a fresh breeze is blowing his hair into his eyes. He is checking his phone and frowning.

I take the opportunity to study him before he sees me. We’ve just had a hot summer but he’s still pale. He’s fit, but not skinny - he has a gym-toned look, there’s muscles. I involuntarily visualise what he looks like with his shirt off. Good, I would imagine he looks good. He has beautifully shaped hands, long-fingered, with slim wrists.

I try to imagine what it is like to be him, what he’s feeling, but it’s a blank. It’s all tied up with what I want him to feel. I’m too invested to empathise with him. This bothers me, because it means I’m going to be too wrapped up in how I’m coming across to be able to pitch the conversation properly. When I meet people, any people, I can usually - after a few minutes of observation - figure out instinctively how to relate to them. How to make them feel comfortable, how to make them laugh, how to get them to open up to me. It is a remarkably useful ability when developing relationships of all kinds, especially professional.

The difference is that sometimes, when I very badly want someone to like me, I can't do it. It's always a shock when this happens because that invisible sixth sense is usually with me. When it suddenly disappears, it feels like I've gone blind in my emotions and I'm left panicky and rudderless. I'm terrified it will depart today.

Chris is wearing sunglasses, brown aviators, a white shirt which looks like quality, and grey trousers. No tie. Again, no designer labels, no identification. He’s a No Logo man, and I like that. I tend towards it myself.

He sees me. He smiles, takes his sunglasses off and folds them and slides them into his pocket.

I reach him. I’m unable to think of anything to say. I’m suddenly not sure whether the physical response I have to him is lust or fear.

I thought we could go to the pub down the road,” he said. “Just get a beer.”

Sounds good,” I say.

The pub is nearly deserted. He orders a Guinness. I have a pint of Fosters. He wants to sit at a table near the back, with a deep leather sofa, near the window. He sits down beside me, not across from me.

We talk about the city. He doesn't like it here.

"Don't you think it's a bit provincial?" he says.

I'm not sure what to make of this comment. I've never really understood how people use "provincial". The strict definition is "of or relating to a province of a country or empire" which is meaningless in this context. It appears to be used to mean somewhere or someone that is backward or behind the times and I think that is how he is using it.
I don't think the city is backwards or behind the times. It offers me decent coffee, a cinema with a good range of independent films, a lot of bands, clothes shops, art, restaurants serving food from a variety of cultures, and many good pubs. Besides, in the age of the internet, can anywhere really be said to be behind the times? These days you can broaden your mind, see great art, and learn interesting things whether you live in New York or on a remote Scottish island. All you need is broadband.

Conversely, you can also choose to be ignorant as hell in the centre of a thriving world-class metropolis. It's not the place you choose to live but how you think that matters.

Does he mean it's not a fashionable place to live? Which is also meaningless.

"Well, you must know what I mean. You must have been a bit disappointed when you moved here."

"I've lived here all my life," I say.

"Really?" He looks at me, brown eyes wide with surprise. "I thought you came from London." There's a faint trace of disappointment in his voice.

"No," I say.

"You don't look like you're from round here. You know how to dress. The first time I saw you I thought you had style. I like this."

He reaches out and strokes one finger lightly down the cameo brooch I've pinned to one side of my grey cardigan. I consider telling him that the only reason I'm wearing it is because when I got stoned with Amanda two weeks ago I blimmed this cardigan and I used the brooch to cover up the burn hole. But I'm very distracted by the way he is nearly stroking my breast and anyway I don't think he will find it funny.

"Thanks," I say. 

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