Chapter 3 ; ...Great Russell Street - April
I’m actually surprised that we were able to get seats. It doesn’t seem like the place that’d let us get seats at all.
Well, mostly me. I’m not super bruised anymore but the side of my face’s still a little yellow. Which makes people look at me, but I don’t care.
I mean, it’s still a cafe, and as nice as the museum is, it’s still an outing for Adrian and Murph. So Steve and I try to keep our mouths shut about how daft this is because it’s not for us.
“It’s that language program, yeah?” Steve asks.
Adrian snorts. “N-no. Wh – yeah, but not what we’re talking about.” He’s blunt and honest. I appreciate that.
“The Rosetta Stone? So I was right,” he says.
“No, it’s not.” Murph unfolds one of the five leaflets he’s collected around the museum and begins reading it. “It’s from 196 BC, and it was written in two different types of Egyptian hieroglyphics, and then in Ancient Greek.”
“It’s an old-ass rock. Ace,” I say. I’m knackered. Murph babbling on about rocks isn’t interesting anymore.
“No, like...it was the thing to help decipher Ancient Egyptian literature and civilization.” He looks at the map of the museum and finds the Stone. His eyes look at me from behind it. “Isn’t that something?”
“It’s a bunch of old-ass pictures from a million years ago,” I snap back, glancing around the café. “Where’s our food?” We just ordered, but I don’t know why I’m this irritated.
Adrian looks at me. “It’s coming, calm down.”
Steve pats my shoulder. “Jeez, Tommy, I didn’t think you’d be so angry. You walk more than this for work.”
I think I’m just peckish, though.
Murph puts down the map and stares at me. “You liked the Ancient Greek stuff, right?”
I did. I don’t want to admit it, but. I feel like I have to. Because Murph’s looking at me with these sad big eyes. I sigh and say, “Yes.”
“The Chinese stuff was neat,” Adrian adds.
“This place’s just big. Imagine getting lost in it,” Steve points out. He grins.
I look at Adrian. “There wasn’t a lot of American stuff,” I say.
“We have to step up our museum game, Murph.” He looks at Murph and they both nod.
Murph turns, pauses, then asks, “...how?”
Smart as a whip, mate.
“Okay, I got a question,” puts in Adrian, who wipes the table with his hands like he’s clearing the field for battle. “What do you think would go in museums a thousand years from now, besides what’s already here?”
“A Nokia,” I say.
Murph laughs at that.
Adrian frowns and points to me. It’s exaggerated and the most American thing I’ve ever seen him do. “That’s cheating and you know it.”
“Oh,” says Steve, snapping his fingers. “Trick question. The apocalypse comes.”
Adrian’s trying to glare, but the corner of his mouth’s turning up into a smile. “Okay, let me rephrase.” He pauses. “In a reality where the world doesn’t end, what should go in museums a thousand years from now, besides what’s already here?”
“My point stands. A Nokia.”
Murph laughs again.
Adrian frowns and glares at me. “You can leave now.”
Murph gasps and shouts, “Oh my God, I think I like you.”
Naturally, he’s said it loud enough for half the cafe to hear, so it’s gone quiet. But I’m not entirely sure who or what he’s talking about, so I just ignore it. “Okay, but, why wouldn’t a Nokia count?”
Adrian isn’t looking at me. “Tommy? Y-you like Tommy?”
“Oh my God, you like him, too?!” he asks, horrified.
“No. I’m just amazed that you figured it out at all.”
Murph blinks, looks at me, and then back to Adrian. “What?”
Adrian wipes his face with his hands and then looks at me. “Tommy, this dummy’s liked you for the past month. Month and a half, maybe.”
He flinches, but I don’t know when. But Murph leans forward and shouts, “No I haven’t!”
I cringe. It’s too loud.
“Uh-yeah you have.”
“Even I’ve seen it,” Steve says, taking a sip of his drink. “You got it baaaaaaad for him.”
I glare at him. “Couldn’t you’ve made this less awkward?”
Steve blinks. “I...you didn’t know?”
“You definitely saw it, right?” Adrian asks me. “He’s always up to invite you to come with us on outings. Or what about the googly eyes around you? The big goofy smile all the time, that stuff?”
But Murph’s gone beet red. Either from being embarrassed or because he doesn’t know what to do. Both works, actually. “H-how did you know before me?”
“A-are you serious? You’re not very subtle, Murph,” Adrian points out. He looks back to me and asks, “You saw it, right?”
I blink. “You mean to tell me that wasn’t just him being...him?”
Adrian stares, mouth open, at us for a while before asking, “Oh my God. What is happening right now?”
Steve stands up. “Adrian, these guys got some talkin’ to do.”
“Wh – you’re just leavin’?” I ask.
Murph’s looking at his hands. Or the table. Just not me. Or them.
“You’re both oblivious. Sorry, but it’s true.” Adrian stands up. “I’ll be somewhere where Mesopotamia and Babylon meet up.” He pushes in his chair.
“Wh – why?” I ask.
“Because it’s interesting!” he hoarsely whispers, and then leaves the cafe.
Steve pushes in his chair. “Murph – He gestures to the tomato sitting across from me. Who still isn’t looking at anything. “ – you’re a pretty cool guy. Tommy, you...” Steve doesn’t finish the thought. He just leaves.
So now I’m planning to smother him in his sleep.
But it’s more so just me and Murph sitting at a table, alone.
Our waiter comes over and, seeing we’re now down two people, asks if we want our food to go.
I just nod, and he walks away. “...wouldn’t a Nokia count for going in a museum in a thousand years?” I ask, chuckling.
Murph’s not looking at me, though. He’s watching the table and fidgeting.
“Murph, I’m tryin’ to make this less awkward.”
He looks at me for a second, then back to the table.
“I’m sorry,” he whispers, face twisting in either frustration or confusion. He buries his face in his hands.
I’m not peckish anymore. There’s just something about Murph squirming in his chair, struggling to explain how he feels, that makes my stomach twist.
“I just...” Murph runs his hand through his hair and fixes his glasses. “...didn’t think that...I would get to…this point.” He sighs. “I...it’s not you, or anything. But...like...” He just can’t find the words, and it shows.
I shrug. “It’s not like I’m gonna stop being friends with you.” That doesn’t seem to make any difference to him, because he’s still looking away. “Murph.”
He puts his hands over his eyes. “Sorry...” he mutters. “I’m just...it’s too...” He puts his head on the table.
For fuck’s sake, man.
The waiter comes with a bag of food for us. He leaves after I give him the rest of my money in my wallet.
“Wanna go outside?”
“I’m gonna eat my pizza out there, just lettin’ ya know.”
He nods again.
Screw Adrian and Steve. Enjoy cold pizzas, assholes.
We stand up and head out.
The public plaza in front of the museum seems like a good place since there’s so many people there already. We find some steps off to the side that aren’t taken or covered in bird shit. “Are you okay?” he asks me.
I blink and take out my pizza. “Shouldn’t I be asking you that?”
Murph chuckles. It’s forced, though. “Sorry.”
I sigh. “…why’re you saying sorry?”
A smile sneaks up onto his face before it goes away again. “...sorry.”
Oh my God. “Murph, are you okay?”
He rubs his hands together and looks away, this sad smile on his face. “It’s just...funny to me. And, and embarrassing, to say the least.” He looks at me. “Most of the time, when I realize I…like someone – ” His ears turn pink. “ - it’s after they’ve realized I’m...me.” He gestures to himself. “Most of the time, people just can’t stand me.”
“I can stand ya.” It comes out worse than I had meant it to be.
But Murph smiles. “Thanks. For that.”
I hand him his pizza.
He sits down next to me. But while I begin eating mine, he just kind of fiddles with the top of his container. “I probably make Adrian frustrated, too.”
I swallow what’s left of the piece I just shoved into my mouth and say, “You’re not frustratin’ to deal with, mate.” I mean, he kind of is. But that’s just just him.
Murph throws open the top to his chicken pizza and sigh. “I don’t – I don’t want to be, though.” His hands shake in the air like he’s trying to squish something. Then he grabs a piece of pizza.
I take another bite of my ortolana pizza. “Is that why you’re hard on yourself? Cuz you don’t wanna be frustrating?”
He shakes his head and bites into a slice of pizza. He inhales and asks, “Maybe not the full reason, but it’s something.”
“Hm,” I sniff, looking away. “Not really an answer, but okay.”
His gaze comes back to me. “Would you give me a straight answer if I answered properly?”
Murph licks his lips and puts the pizza to the side. “Okay.” He inhales. “You know, I’ve...never really thought about why I push myself.” That’s a lie. He’s too easy to read. “I mean, I like learning stuff, but to this degree, it’s probably burning me out.”
He continues like I hadn’t said anything. “But when you asked me why before, I…took the time to, to really think about it. Because I wanted to give you an answer. A good answer.”
“Not just because you like me?” I regret saying it. I am not okay having said that. It just slipped out.
He turns into a tomato again. “N-no. No. I wanted to answer you. And me. Because as dumb as I am, I just...want to prove people wrong. That I can do it. You know?”
I shudder. There’s just something that rubs me the wrong way when he says he’s dumb. Like, he isn’t dumb. I’d fucking kill for his brains.
But I sigh again. “Okay.”
He side-eyes me for a little, like trying to judge how I’m going to react, but I’m still there. I’m just not really trying to overthink things like he probably is. Murph inhales and picks his pizza box back up. “Aren’t you going to ask why I like you?”
“Nope,” I say, taking another bite of my pizza.
“Not curious at all?” he asks, folding the piece of pizza in half before biting into it.
“Nope.” I scoot back a little to stretch out my legs. I mean, I am curious. I’m kind of an asshole, not going to lie. But I don’t want to have this conversation. So I’m avoiding it. Besides, having that conversation would probably put both of us in a weird position.
Murph swallows and bites his lip. “Then it’s your turn. Why don’t you like school?”
Fuck. “Can you save it for another time?”
“I-I mean, I can, but I want to know, too.”
I look away. “Why does it matter?”
“You said you’d answer my questions if I answered yours, Tommy.”
He’s right. I look back at Murph and ask, “Why do you think I hate school?”
“Probably because it’s a centuries-old institution that isn’t keen on changing or adapting to the world as it is right now.” He takes in a breath. “Instead, it values unnecessary knowledge and test scores over actual real-life skills, probably backed by nostalgia, constant obstructions from all over, and the plethora of unnecessary and unneeded subjects for a work system that no one seems to accept is changing.”
I mean, he’s not wrong. But that’s only really the surface of it.
I still say, “Nice answer. Don’t have my reason in there, but that’s...the gist of it.”
Murph tilts his head to the side and takes another bite of his pizza. “What a rabbit hole that all was,” he sighs. “You said you weren’t studying at university when we first met, and I wanted to know why. Be-because you’re smart in your own right.”
My stomach twists and I smirk. “Thanks. At least one of us thinks that.”
“Don’t say that. You’re smart.”
I don’t say anything.
So he doesn’t say anything.
So we stop talking. We just eat for a little and people watch.
“This any different than before?” I ask after a couple minutes of not talking.
Murph looks at me with a piece of cheesy chicken hanging on his chin, confused.
“Before you figured out ya liked me?”
He shakes his head, sighing. “No. And I’m grateful for it.” He clears his throat and then asks, “We’re still okay to go to the Railway Museum next weekend, right?”
I nod. “Unless you make it weird.”
He looks away. “I probably will.”
I mean, he’s probably right. But I still say, “Nah.”
And we just kind of sit there for a while, eating our pizzas and watching everyone in the plaza. I can see the lorry exhaust disappearing over the terraced homes across the street. It’s a noisy, awful place for anyone else, but to me, it’s a way better distraction than anything else.
Murph brushes himself off and stands. “Want to go find Steve and Adrian?”
I nod and fold up my takeaway box.
He offers his hand to me.
I take it. He leads me inside, and I can’t help but smile at the back of his head.