To Be Liked
On Saturday morning at nine o’clock, I arrive at Hackney Marshes to the organised family day out football competition. The departments playing today are my department, the Agency, Military Intelligence Five, Military Intelligence Six and Government
Communications Head Quarters. There are the four men’s teams and four women’s teams representing the four departments. The men’s team play each other and the women’s team play each other. So both groups of men’s team and women’s team have to play twelve games each. There are twenty-four games in total. Each game lasts forty minutes with twenty minutes either side of the pitch. There are four pitches available to cover the twenty-four games. So there will be four games at any one time. So all twenty-four games will be played in six sittings. So it should only take four hours to play all twenty-four games with time for lunch. Each team will have a minimum forty minutes breathing time per game. So all the games will be finished by three o’clock and the presentation at four o’clock. Home time will be six o’clock.
The departments have put on a barbecue for the families with free alcohol and soft drinks. There are only a few people who are preparing the pitch and the barbecue.
They use space markers to plot out the four football pitches on the grass playing field. When it comes closer to half past nine, it gets busier and Charles is still not here. I see families arriving but my family are not coming till midday. Charles is not coming with his parents till midday as well.
I am shown where the changing room is and that our football kits are inside. While I am in the changing room, Stephanie comes in and changes opposite me. She has no qualms taking her clothes off in front of me, with just her underwear on and bra. I do not know where to look. Luckily I have already changed into my football kit with just my socks and trainers to put on.
Stephanie looks at me, ‘Why did you tell my boyfriend to end it with me?’
I do not know what she is talking about, ‘I didn’t know that you broke up with Ben. It was only Tuesday that things were going great.’
Stephanie looks at me with cold eyes, ‘I am not talking about Ben. I am talking about my last boyfriend of three years.’
I still have a blank look on my face, ’I wish I knew what you were talking about. Is that why you prevented me from having a chance with Ben? ’Cause you think I broke up your last relationship?’
It looks like I have angered her even more, ‘You know what you did. He told me it was you who advised him.’
I am struggling to think who it could be, ‘It’s okay. Is that why you have been giving me a hard time. I guess it must be from the time you started giving me hassle.’
She stands up in her underwear and stands directly in front of me. Her crotch is directly in line of nose and sense. I can smell her aroma, which being a boy would be exciting but not for a woman. I try to look anywhere but her crotch. She grabs my hair which is down. She pulls me up to my feet.
I wince, ‘Aahh!’
She has anger in her eyes, ‘I have wanted to do this for such a long time.’
She punches me in the left side of my stomach as I beg
her to stop. The more I ask her to stop, the harder she attempts to hit me in the same place. I start to struggle to stand as I am doubling in pain. She is still holding my hair to keep me from falling to my knee. She looks behind me, then shoves me against the wall of lockers behind me. My back slams against the row of lockers. One of the locks digs into my back giving me more pain. She then smashes the crown of my head against the locker.
She lets go of my hair and I slide against the locker to the floor. I think it is over and I wait for her to change and then leave before I get up myself. But she grabs one of her football socks and wraps it over her knuckles really tightly.
She smiles at me, ‘This is how no one knew how I was treating my last boyfriend. Ben is different. He is a really man. My last boyfriend was like you, a loser and so I had to try to man him up.’
I have a feeling that this will not be quick, ‘I am glad I told him to end it with you. I don’t care what you do to me.’
She grins at me, ‘Don’t worry, I won’t make you look out of place. No one outside will ever know that this took place.’
She grabs my hair again and forces me to stand up. She then forces my head against the locker and begins hitting me the face. The pain is dull and does not hurt like it did when she punched me in the stomach. But it does not make it any better. I start to get concussion as she repeatedly hits me in the face. When she has had enough of hitting me, she lets go of my hair and side-swipes me in my cheek forcing me to fall to the ground. As I lie there in pain with my legs slightly bent, she casually puts on her kit, taking her time while watching me.
She smirks at me, ‘Now this does not mean that I am going to stop giving you grief. You have to account for those bruises on your stomach somehow. So I will tackle you, which will give them the impression you got those through a foul.’
I am in too much pain to take any notice of what she is saying. When she is finished changing, she walks up to me while I am still on the floor. She kicks me as hard as she can in the stomach with the front of her trainers. I scream out in pain and start to cry. She casually walks out of the changing room leaving me to sort myself out before the game.
As I go to stand up, I feel my nose is runny and assume it is mucus. When I pick myself up, I see blood on the floor and I go to stab my nose and see blood on the tip of my index finger. I go to the sink to look in the mirror to see my nose is dripping blood. I put the back of my hand against my nose and find toilet tissue in the toilet cubical. I sit on the lid of the toilet and control my emotions to calm down. I am paranoid that my team mates will wonder where I am. I am also conscious of the time when we start to play. I see I have left blood on the cubical floor as well. I go over to the mirror above the sink to see if I have any marks on my face. She was right, I do not have any bruises on my face The sock acted like a cushion unlike a boxing glove or her fist. I check to make sure my nose has stopped bleeding before I go back outside before my team mates wonder where I have been.
It is close to ten o’clock and one of the organisers uses a megaphone to tell the players, which includes me, to look on the board to see which team we are playing against first. I can still feel pain in my stomach as I move about or run. I am too scared to see what my bruises look like in case other people see. Luckily none of my blood dripped on my clothes. I try not to run out flat to the board so the vibration of my feet pounding the ground does not dislodge my congealed blood clot in my nose. They have used the colour of our kits to let us know what time we play against each team.
I feel naked without seeing Charles here or my family.
The first six games start about quarter past ten, fifteen minutes later than scheduled. My team is one of the first to play. I am in the position of striker since I said I was in a girls’ football team at school. Yes all those years ago.
The first game was a bit rusty for me because I have not played since I was sixteen. Even though it is a fun game, I felt I could have performed better. We were able to win our first game by one-nil. By the time we play our second game it is mid ay. So I look out for my family among the crowd of other families while still playing. I feel confident that my nose will not bleed again and so I play much more aggressively chasing the ball. I am not looking my best now as I am hot and sweaty from the first two games. I feel a slight chill from the breeze blowing on my sheen of sweat on my forearms and legs. It is a sunny day with no clouds in sight. The temperature is around twenty-two Celsius. I grab a free bottle of water that is distributed by one of the organisers of the day, while I wait for our third game. I find out that our third game is with the team that Stephanie is in.
After we finish our second game, we win again, three-two. Our team have a half an hour break before we play our third game. I decide to start looking for my siblings as well as Charles. I cannot stop thinking about him. In the distance I get a glimpse of my siblings walking over to the seating area and so I run over to see them.
When I get closer to my siblings, they notice me as well and welcome me with huge smiles. My older sister Claire comes over first to greet me with her husband John and her two kids. I excuse myself for being sweaty and clammy. Her children cringe when I hug them with my sweaty arms.
We catch up with how we have been since we last saw each other. By the time we run out of things to say, my other two siblings arrive and it makes my day. They make fun of my football kit and how short I am compared to everyone else playing football. As I am busy talking to them, my sister Sarah looks behind me asking who this guy was walking towards us. My mind goes blank and I turn round to see what they are looking at. It is Charles. He is not wearing a suit.
Charles is walking with what seems to be his parents. His parents look sweet and he points in our direction as I see him talking to his parents.
Sarah’s eyes almost pop out, ’who… is… that. He is hot.
Sorry Simon. Close your ears children.’
Claire says, ‘Is that your boyfriend? He is fit.’
I go embarrassed, ‘He… is… just… a friend.’ I feel down as I know I am fancying Charles more each day.
Charles looks sexy in boot-cut jeans, a T-shirt and fashionable cardigan. He carries the attire really well.
Charles introduces his parents to me and my family. I do the same.
‘Hi Mr and Mrs May.’
Charles’ mum says, ‘Please, I am Abigay.’
Charles’ dad says, ‘I am Algernon.’
‘It is so nice to finally meet Charles’s parents. Meeting the parents who have to put up with him.’
Charles’s parents laugh and Charles smiles at me, rolling his eyes.
Algernon says, ‘You are playing football?’
I look at myself, ‘What gave that away?’
Charles looks at me as if to say do not embarrass me. I smile at him as if to say I am going to. His parents find my comment funny.
I continue in a bubbly way, ‘Yeah. I got roped into it.’
Abigay, ‘Why aren’t you playing, son?’
‘I didn’t get asked. Besides I have two left feet.’
We all laugh in unison. I walk us over to my siblings and my nieces and nephews. I walk them over because I want to introduce my family to Charles and his parents. I want to make Charles a part my family life. I am a bit flustered having to go through the names, ’My two sisters and brother, Sarah, Claire and James. These are their children Maizes, Belinda and Paul, my sister Sarah and her husband Simon’s kids. A lot to remember.
‘Felicity and Charlie are my other sister Claire and her husband John’s children. And finally Jenifer, Michael and Paul are my brother’s James and Verity’s kids. I know, a lot to remember.’
My nieces and nephews laugh and say hello to Charles’ parents in unison. I feel I am the only one out of place in my football gear.
Sarah, ‘Come sit with us. Kids, go and play, but don’t stray that far. Jane.’
Everyone sits down except for Charles and I. We stay standing. We start to talk to each other while my siblings get to know his parents.
I start the conversation first, ‘No suit today?’
Charles says, ‘I took a leaf out of your book. But a football kit, that is taking it too far.’
He makes me laugh, ‘Now you’ve met my family, I am an open book. I hope my siblings do not embarrass your parents or you.’
‘If they are to go by you, my parents will love them.’
I go quiet thinking what he means by that, ‘Does that mean you like me? Or do I irritate you?’
Charles jokingly says, ‘Your siblings are normal. But you are not. You irritate me. I don’t know how your parents brought up three great children. Did you miss the queue?’
I respond sarcastically, ‘Oh, that is so funny. By the time your parents get to know me, they are going to wish I was their daughter not you.’
Charles smiles and tries not to laugh, ‘It is going to take a lot more than you in that football outfit and that cute face to make an impression.’
He makes me smile, ‘Do they know what you do for a living.’
Charles looks at me and nods his head no. We go for a walk towards the marked-out football pitches.
Charles asks me the same question, ‘Do your siblings or parents know what you do now?’
I look sad when he mentions my parents, ‘No. But if they asked, I would tell them.’
Charles asks, ‘Does someone who you care about know what we do for living?’
I go protective, ‘You already know I don’t have boyfriend.’
I ask him the same question, ‘How about you.’
Charles looks awkward, ‘Once.’
I am pushy, ‘And now?’
Charles shuts me down, ‘No.’
I feel I have touched a raw nerve, ‘Sorry if I seemed pushy.’
Charles looks as if he has upset me, ‘No. I didn’t mean to react like that.’
We both go quiet and continue walking. Charles stops walking and turns round to face me. He just stares at me and says nothing. I don’t know how to react to it.
I cannot handle the silence anymore, ‘What? Is there something on my face?’ as I think about my nose and dab it for blood.
Charles looks at me up and down, puts his thumb near my mouth, ‘I see you were bleeding. Did you get fouled during the game?’
I lie and say, ‘Yeah. I got knocked over and when someone unintentionally elbowed me.’
He rubs my nose with his thumb to see if my nose was bleeding, ’Be careful. I don’t want to see you in hospital.
We have a flight tomorrow.’
I look up at him and I find myself gazing at him as he looks at my face. I really want to kiss him. We lock eyes and he suddenly realises what he is doing and quickly moves his hand away.
I dismiss reading into it, ‘So, how long are you staying here?’
Charles struggles to appear natural, ‘Oh, yeah. For the whole day. You always behave timidly towards me until we have talked.’
I feel I should apologise, ‘I don’t mean to. It’s just you feel like a stranger to me each time we see each other.’
Charles looks right into my eyes again, ‘How can we change that?’
I still feel like he is a complete stranger to me, ‘I feel you are holding back from me. Which makes me feel that I have to watch what I ask.’
Charles looks away into the distance, ‘I have never had a partner before. I am protective. Give me time. But don’t feel you cannot ask me anything.’
I still do not feel confident to ask anything but agree, ‘It will take me time. The more I am around you, the easier it will be.’
Charles also says the same about me, ‘it works both ways. You are going to have to answer my questions.’
I go quiet, ‘I know. Once I feel relaxed around you, I will tell you whatever you want to know about me.’ Charles looks at me oddly.
Charles gives me a weird look, ‘You have something in your hair.’
I start to panic and shake my head about, ‘Where? Has it gone? I hate spiders.’
Charles tries not to laugh, ‘Let me.’
He is rough with my head, ‘Ow. Ha ha, that hurt. Has it gone?’
Charles gently moves bug from my hair, ‘It is gone now.’ Our eyes catch each other again and I feel he wants to kiss me. But he just looks into my eyes. The megaphone announces my colour. Charles says in a soft voice, ‘You have to go now. I will be sat with your siblings and my parents. Don’t let that cute nose of yours get hurt again.’
I really wish I could kiss him, ‘I will try not to. Will you watch me play?’
‘From afar Jane. From afar.’
I run off to play in my third game. I feel really happy that there is some connection forming between me and Charles, regardless if I am imagining it or not. We have spent over a week together now and we are both single without any opportunity to meet anyone else.
We are told by the organiser that we are playing against the blue team. I scour what the team looks like and judging if they look any good or not. I notice Stephanie is playing in the blue team. We are told that we are now playing in the semi-finals as we have not lost a match. Mine and her team have to win at least one game in the semi-final groups to get to the finals.
Both our teams run on the pitch and get ready to begin the game. Stephanie comes up to me and stands next to me.
Stephanie smiles at me and says, ‘how is your tummy? I think you are bleeding.’
I quickly check my nose as she laughs at me and runs off to her team. She was winding me up when I check that my nose is not bleeding. I keep my thoughts on Charles to avoid worrying about her. As the game starts, I find myself helplessly glancing over at Charles every few minutes to see if he is watching. I feel an idiot trying to impress Charles with my football skills, but I cannot stop myself from trying to get his attention. I end up fouling with a yellow card and the opposition giving me grief. I can see Charles watching the fiasco out of the corner of my eye. I feel embarrassed as Charles is looking over at the chaos from the picnic chair area. Luckily my siblings are too busy chatting to Charles’s parents. I think the opposition players are over the top with my fouling. It is meant to be a family day out with a friendly competition. Stephanie gives me an evil look after fouling her team mate. I remember her saying that she is going to foul me when we in the changing room. I know this is going to happen in this game, as we only play each team once. My heart is starting to sink as I think more and more about it.
During half time, our captain gathers us in a circle to give us a pep talk on how well we are doing. I would lift my head up now and again to look over at Charles. The captain snaps at me to stay focus.
During the first half of the game, I could not stop looking over at Charles sitting with my siblings. They were laughing together and looking engrossed in conversation. I felt left out, being occupied with a football game. Now and again my mind would be elsewhere and my team mates would bring me back into the match. I found it really hard to focus, not knowing what my siblings were telling Charles and vice versa. I feel jealous, seeing them having fun and me not really enjoying the game. I find myself running harder and dribbling the ball more aggressively. My tackling is more accurate as I use my focus in the game to drive out my jealously of Charles knowing my siblings without me and vice versa.
Charles and Jane’s siblings are sat on the picnic table naturally chatting away. They are talking about each other’s work and background, moving on to likes and dislikes.
The kids are left to their own devices playing with the other kids.
Sarah, ‘How long have you known Jane?’
Charles, ‘About a year. As a mentor. Huh um.’
Sarah, ‘And now?’
Claire, ’Forgive my sister, she is always nosey. It won’t belong that she analyses you where she is a psychologist.
She likes to read into people.’
Simon, ‘Yes. And I am married to that.’
Sarah, ‘Oh give over. It is my instinct. I like to know who my sister is getting into. I want to know he is right for her. I am just interested in who my sister is dating.’
Charles is about to drink his bottle of water, ’Huh um.
Hold on, we are just friends.’
Claire, ‘Just ignore her.’
Sarah, ‘I notice she keeps on looking over at us. She cannot wait, say two minutes before she looks over again. I think she is paranoid about what we could be talking about.’
Charles, ‘Aw, leave her alone. She thinks we are having more fun than her. She has to run around like a headless chicken.’
James, ‘So are you married? Kids?’
Charles pauses, ‘No. Just not met the right person. So Sarah, what made you become a shrink?’
Sarah, ‘I found it interesting while studying at college. So I pursued it.’
Charles, ‘Jane has never talked about her family. I can’t imagine why. You seem to be a very close-knit unit. Your kids are brought up very well.’
James wife Verity, ’Well, they are okay. Except for
James. What is it that you and Jane do exactly?’
Charles, ‘I thought Jane already said?’
Claire, ‘No. We heard she gave up her last job by chance. I went to call her at work and they said she left abruptly. She didn’t tell us why exactly, except that she found a job that gave better hours and the weekend off. We try to talk, but this new job has stopped her from keeping in regular contact.’
Claire husband John, ‘She was dating a man called Miles. Assumed he would be here. As far as we are aware, he got her the job there and he still works there.’
Charles, ‘We are analysers. We review government budgets and its partners that contract with local authorities.’
James wants to know more, ‘You do not portray an accountant. Your clothes, your sense of humour. Now Jane. She is plain Jane. A typical appearance of an accountant. No wonder she cannot get a boyfriend.’
Charles smiles, ‘I broke the mould.’
Claire husband John, ‘You seem… like you should be in construction.’
Charles laughs it off. The rest of the conversation moves on to getting to know more about Jane’s background.
Charles asks, ‘So what is Jane like outside of work?’
Claire, ‘She is an introvert. Her day off is washing her clothes and reading a book before going to bed. She doesn’t date or have a boyfriend since breaking up from Miles. We never got a chance to actually know him.’
Sarah, ‘Jane used to be extrovert. But she changed a lot by the time she finished school. She became a hermit.’
Charles is intrigued, ‘Is there a reason for that?’
Claire, ‘I don’t know. Jane was liked a lot. Especially by the boys. They saw her as one of them and behaved like a tomboy. Then one day, they stopped coming round and she didn’t seem to bring any friends home after that.’
‘How come all three of you are married with children and she never did?’
Sarah, ‘Over time she became shy, quiet and recluse. As far as we are aware, she has never had a boyfriend.’
‘I guess over time, it got harder for her to meet anyone.’
Sarah, ‘I don’t think she has the confidence in herself to meet anyone. She doesn’t have any confidence in herself or her ability. She thinks she is ugly.’
Claire, ‘When she met Miles, I think she felt that she turned a corner and started believing in herself and her looks. But I think the break-up made her worse than before.’
Sarah, ‘Do you know him?’
Charles is caught off guard, ‘Hmm, yeah. But not to talk to. He works in the same office.’
James, ‘She took it hard when she broke up with him and with our parents passing away. She—’
Claire jumps in, ‘She is very fragile. She ended up in hospital because she couldn’t come to terms with coping with the death of our parents and everything hitting her at once. Miles dumping her.’
Sarah, ‘Claire, don’t say it like that. She was going through a bad time and she had no one to turn to.’
Charles ponders, ‘I can’t imagine what that could have felt like. She hides it well if she has not moved on from that.’
Sarah, ‘Her guard is up, Charles. Just give her time. She is the salt of the earth. She will do anything for you. She would die for you.’
Charles is take aback by the last comment. Under his breath, ‘I could imagine.’
We are now playing the second half. During the first half, Stephanie was giving me a hard time trying to take the ball off me aggressively. The referee has given her a couple of warnings, two yellow cards. I have scored two goals for our team already. I can tell this has angered Stephanie as she cannot stand losing against my team. After my third attempt of scoring a third goal, the goalkeeper throws the ball out and I manage to intercept it and head for the goal. I look over at Charles again to see if he is watching and still, he is not. I feel I am missing out on not spending time with Charles. I would rather be in Charles’ company rather than playing for this competition.
As I dribble the ball up to the goal, I cannot stop looking up at Charles. I almost lose the ball because of it. As I get closer to the goal, out of nowhere Stephanie runs into me with all her weight and smashes to the ground. I fall like a sack of potatoes with her on top of me. I am slightly concussed from the collision. I see blood on the grass and realise I have a heavy nosebleed again. This time it is bleeding more heavily. My stomach is also in so much pain from being agitated by the foul. Stephanie smirks at me as she gets off me and stamps on my knee. My team mates see it and so does the referee and he blows his whistle at the top of his lungs. The pain on my knee brings tears to my eyes.
Stephanie does not look like she has any remorse as she smirks at me while walking away. The commotion gets the attention of Charles and he walks over to see what is happening. My siblings stay where they are but look over.
I hear Charles’ voice and I am relieved. Charles pushes his way through my team mates and kneels before me to see how I am. Charles sees my injured knee is bleeding from her studs and sees my face. I can see he is worried for me and also angry. Charles helps me up and tells me that he will take me to the changing room to clean me up. I am out of the game now and so they will have to play without me.
Once we are in the changing room, he places me on the bench below the cloak hooks. He lifts my hurt knee to take a closer look.
Charles asks if I am okay, ‘Can you feel this?’
I wince in pain again, ‘Yeah. That really hurts.’
Charles found a first aid kit and puts an antiseptic cream on my knee, ‘This will sting a little. You’re lucky it is not broken.’
I watch him dabbing it on, ‘I am glad you are here. I feel more relaxed with you looking after me.’
Charles looks at me, ‘Are you okay. You look worried.’
I tell him about Stephanie, ‘You remember Stephanie at work?’
Charles look curious, ‘What about her?’
I tell him about her giving me a hard time, ‘I advised her ex-boyfriend to end a domestic violent relationship. When I first started work for the agency. She started giving me a hard time ever since. And didn’t realise at the time.’
Charles brushes against me stomach, ‘What’s the matter. Did she hit your stomach when she fouled you?’
I look away, ‘It is okay. It is just my knee.’
Charles can see I am lying and lifts my shirt up. He is opened-mouthed as he sees my bruised stomach, as it is almost black.
Charles looks angry, ‘How did she do this, when she fouled you?’
I look at him with a blank look and do not want to say. He looks around and notices blood on the floor and then looks at my face. He says, ‘I see. Well we can’t do anything now. We have to head to the Caymans.’
I look at my stomach, ‘Great. I won’t be able to wear my bikini now.’
After Charles patches me up, we say goodbye to my siblings including my nephews and nieces and Charles says goodbye to his parents. He gets a taxi for his parents and we go back to his place for a night out. After we get a taxi back to his place, he looks at my stomach while we are sat on his sofa in his living room.
He puts his wine down as he says, ‘Lift up your blouse. I want to look at your stomach. You look uncomfortable.’
I do as he says, ‘It is okay. It just aches if I move too suddenly.’
He walks into his kitchen and I hear him opening a cupboard. The sound a cupboard makes is distinctive. He comes back with a pot that I have never seen before. The pot is plastic and clear through. The content is brown and the texture looks like Vaseline. He loosens the lid and takes it off. He dips his forefinger inside the jar to take out a large dollop of the substance.
He motions me to lean back against the back of the sofa and make me expose my whole stomach, ‘This will work better than the antiseptic cream. By the morning, you will not feel any pain, the skin will heal completely after a couple of days.’
As he rubs the Vaseline like substance on my belly. It smells really bad. The smell is like a really sharp strong disinfectant. I am thinking I am going to stink tonight. No pulling anyone tonight. But once the Vaseline is rubbed in, the awful smell dissipates. Thank heavens for that.
I cannot help but feel that there is some kind of spark. I like the feel of his hands rubbing over my stomach. I almost feel like plucking up the courage to try to kiss him. Charles looks at me and stares at me while seeing to my skin. We lock eyes and I cannot help staring into his dark brown eyes. I notice Charles is making an effort to try and stop himself gazing at me and clears his throat as I see him fidgeting. I pull my skirt slightly down to allow him to get to my lower bruised stomach. My underwear is almost showing as he slides his hand below my belly button. I feel closer to him as a result. I am gradually less timid and shy towards him. I can see his eyes wandering below my belly button. He pulls me towards him, to rub on my bruised back that the lock caused. I wince as I forgot how much it really hurt. My chin is on his shoulder as he is rubbing my back firmly. As we pull away, our faces almost brush each other in slow motion. I imagine what he will be like to kiss.
I decide to make conversation to break the silence, ‘Thanks for doing that.’
Charles is not looking at me, ‘That is fine. Anything for my partner. I can’t believe she did that to you.’
I agree with him, ‘I would not have given him advice if I knew it was someone at work. But I could see in his eyes how emotionally hurt he was. I couldn’t say stick with them.’
Charles is still upset about how bad my stomach looks, ‘When we get back, I will deal with her. You are my partner now. I have your back. Don’t talk me out of it.’
I feel his anger, ‘No. Of course not.’
When he is finished rubbing my stomach, we decide to pack our belongings for our trip to the Cayman Islands tomorrow. I guess we will be too tired and drunk to do it in the morning. After we finish packing for our trip, we head to Charles’ favourite bar.
We are at the bar getting our first drink. The venue is packed and the bar is two-people deep. The atmosphere is buzzing and feels electric. There is current dancing music playing.
Charles has squeezed himself through with a twenty-pound note already in his hand. I am standing behind him. I feel like he is my boyfriend and I cannot stop looking at his bum. I am thinking what he would be like in bed, grabbing his firm buttocks.
Charles is still waiting, ‘What drink would you like?’ I have a blank mind, ‘I… will… have, an Amaretto.’
Charles is surprised, ‘Wow. A sophisticated lady.’
I decide to find a table, ‘While you wait, I will find a seat.’
He nods his head to acknowledge me and I squeeze through to come away from the bar. I am lucky to find a spare seats with a group of people, on the end. There are no spare seats by themselves.
His choice of bar is a modern wine bar and so not the old East End type of bar. I notice that they do afternoon tea and also have a piano. The kind of clientele are white-collar people that look like they work in the city as bankers, lawyers and recruitment. We must be the only people that work in the civil service. It is not long before Charles gets our drinks and we start talking about ourselves.
I look at his drink, not knowing what it is, ‘What’s that?’
He takes a sip then, ‘Rum. Neat.’
I find it amusing that he is not a typical man, ‘You don’t drink beer or Martini, ha ha.’
He pulls an expression of disgust, ‘That is not a man’s drink. Besides, I like my rum. I prefer my Guyanese rum.’
I find him funny, ‘So this is it. We are really going after Vladimir.’
Charles smiles at me, ‘Yes. This is what spying is all about. Now, let’s forget about work. Let’s drink to oblivion.’
We do not take long to finish our first drink. We get to our fifth drinks. We are merry and not drunk to a stupor. The alcohol is starting to fade my inhibitions that are my shyness and timidness. I feel I am falling for him even more. We are just having banter and laughing with each other. There are a couple of times when our eyes catch each other. I really want him to make a pass.
I start to think of what to talk about next, ‘What do you do to relax?’
He looks away to think, ‘I listen to music and read.’
I am surprised, ‘I did not expect that.’
He laughs, ‘When you have been in this game for so long, you want to do something opposite to wind down. How about you?’
I think back to before I joined, ‘Drinking a bottle of wine and also reading a book or watching a film on DVD.’
He moves to my personal life, ‘You do not have a love interest.’
I clam up and don’t know what to say, ‘Let’s talk about you first.’
Charles is not fazed, ‘Okay, well I do not have anyone in my life. It is not easy to meet anyone in this job. You may find it the same.’
I want to know about his love life, ‘How long ago was your last relationship?’
He is happy to tell me, ‘About two years ago. She was pretty. Very smart, intelligent.’
I am hooked, ‘Why did you let her go?’
He calmly says, ‘She decided to end it. It was out of the blue. One minute she was there, the next she went. I let her slip through my fingers.’
I feel he is hurting, ‘That must have been painful. To lose someone you cannot fault.’
He looks surprised at how I get it, ‘She lit a room whenever she came in. My parents loved her very much.’
I hold his hand, out of nowhere, ‘How did you deal with it.’
He pauses, ’Well, I drank myself to oblivion. Then almost killed a suspect with my bare hands, then quit the spy business. I turned to training. That is when I met you.
Didn’t think I would bump into you again and then work with you. Normally you guys have your training and you’re gone for dust.’
I give him a sorrow look, ‘Well I am not going for dust. What is your educational background?’
Charles continues, ‘I went to Bristol university. Studied management. Then I ended up joining the army from doing the territorial army. After a couple of years doing that, I was approached by a secret service woman. I just happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. I was asked to change roles. And you? Now it is your turn.’
I feel put on the spot, ‘Where do I start… I like you went to university. I knew I wanted to be an accountant. It was at a point in my life when I was watching life go by. Everyone including the kitchen sink is married. I am on still on the shelf. I am single, so why not join. I was approached at a engagement party.’
He looks more interested, ‘When was your last relationship?’
I am embarrassed to admit, ‘I have never had a real relationship. Just close encounters.’
He gazes at me, ‘I don’t understand how someone like you is still single.’
I look away and brush off his comment. I think he is just being polite. I don’t listen to one word. I gulp my drink to ignore his comment.
He does not let up, ‘God, you are gorgeous.’
I laugh it off, ‘Yeah… right.’
Charles thinks of his conversation with her siblings, ‘You have a shell, that cannot be cracked. I get it, it is your amour. One day I would like to get through that.’
I smile, ‘It is nothing personal.’
He gazes at me again and moves in to kiss me. I do not stop him. As he is about to kiss me, someone comes up to us drunkenly. She is a woman who tries to get Charles. He quickly moves away, leaving me hanging.
The drunken woman slurs, ‘Hi Charlie. Is it you? Ah, haven’t seen you in a long time.’
Charles looks a bit awkward, ‘Oh yes… you are…’
She smiles drunkenly, ‘It’s Melanie!’
Charles still does not look like he knows her, ‘Yes I remember.’ The penny drops, ’Yes! You are the
receptionist from the German bank.’
She speaks loudly slurring her words, ‘You were to call me.’
Charles looks embarrassed in front of me, ‘Yes. I had to go outta town on business. Ended up being a month. By the time I got back, work and catch up, I forgot. But now you are here.’
She gives me a scolding look, ‘Who is the skinny blonde?’
Charles looks awkward mentioning me, ‘No one. We are just mates. Who are you with?’
Melanie gives a junk smile, ‘No one. How about you keep that promise.’
She goes close up to Charles to whisper in his ear. She thinks she is whispering but she is loud, ‘Get rid of her. Come back to my place.’
Charles look at me in embarrassment, ‘Jane, I will see you at my place.’
I am upset but I do not show it, ‘No problem. Where’s your keys. I will leave them outside.’
Charles looks apologetic, ‘I will see you tomorrow.’
He gives me his key and as I get up, she whispers out loud, ‘She’s ugly. I saved. You owe me big time.’
I walk away and when I am far away, I turn round and see her all over him. I am tearful and push my way out of the venue.
I was hoping that we would spend a whole night drinking together and getting to know him more.
I flag down a taxi and go straight back to Charles’ place. I stumble out of the taxi and pay the driver. I then go inside his apartment.
I want to drink more and so go in his kitchen to look for alcohol in his cupboards. I find a half empty vodka and take it into his living room. I decide to just drink it from the bottle. I also look inside his travel bag to see if I can find his gun.
I drink the vodka in four swigs and do not feel drunk. I look for any other alcohol in his cupboard and find an unopened bottle of dark rum. I open it and start making large swigs straight from the bottle. I hold his gun in my left hand while I down with my right. I walk around his living room aimlessly wobbling while drinking rum from the bottle. I hum a song in my head and start dancing with my wobbly legs.
I remember it is the anniversary of my parents’ death when I hear his clock chime. I am still humming till I start to cry. I have the gun by my side while I swig more rum as I trip over the leg of his sofa. I think about how my day went.
I think about Stephanie beating me up and fouling me and that girl calling me ugly. And now my parents’ anniversary. The combination opens up old wounds I thought I had locked away. I remind myself of being bullied at school, Miles misleading me, Stephanie taking Ben from me and that girl calling me ugly.
I hate being seen as the person no one wants to be around. I want Charles to see me how he saw that girl. Regardless whether he would go out with me or not. Seeing my siblings today reminded me of what I want in life. But that is not going to happen anytime soon.
I manage to finish the bottle and now I am really drunk. The room is almost spinning as I still dance around the room humming music in my head. I finally sit down in his upholstered armchair. I put the empty bottle down by the side of the armchair. I then look at the gun in my left hand. I pull the magazine out to see if there are any bullets. The magazine is fully loaded and so slam it back into the handle of the gun. I then point it at my face and start imagining pulling the trigger. I think that it will not do the job and so I put it against my forehead and close my eyes. I picture pulling the trigger and seeing my parents again. I suddenly have Charles in my head picturing him making love to Melanie having a graphical image of them doing it together. I feel like crying that I cannot be like her. Confident, willing to sleep just like that. The more I think about it, the more I feel angry. I try to pull the trigger but I can’t do it.
‘Aaaaah. Just do it!’
I start to cry because I cannot have the strength to pull the trigger.
‘Damn it! Come on! You are not a scared! Aaaaahhh!’