I had watched the Rastafarian playing in The Folky Pub for three months. I knew it was three months because I knew the exact date when my path had crossed Toby’s path for around an hour of my life. When I think of the formula that delivered me to that pub on that night, I get a little dizzy. If my friends hadn’t been moving house and stayed over that night . . . if they hadn’t suggested the weird (but hilarious) Tinder game. . . if The Dude hadn’t popped up as a choice and if they hadn’t chosen him . . . if I hadn’t gone to London to meet a friend . . .if The Dude hadn’t allowed his jealousy to get the better of him . . . if I hadn’t stumbled across an ad for Open Mic at the folky pub . . . if all of that hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t have met Toby, I wouldn’t have met Original Blues Guy and I wouldn’t have met the Rastafarian.
My birthday came and the children and I took in the current movie at the open air cinema on the beach. We were late, but it was fine, because it was baking hot and as long as I’m able to bask in the sun, I’m happy. I was treated to some extortionately priced chips, drowning in vinegar and caked in salt (there is no other way to have chip-shop chips) down on the seafront which was pretty amazing. On my birthday, Joseph announced that shortly, he would be returning to uni, which was a surprise. So I was on my own once more in the horrible little hovel, as it had become known (by me, anyway). Rhiannon hadn’t really been there that much, as she disliked the house intensely.
Having an equally intense dislike of the house, I chose to spend a lot of time elsewhere. Returning to the Rastafarian, I had seen him play several times before the night when Original Blues Guy pushed him my way. I try not to think about the person when I am watching musicians, because I know, having done a fair bit of performing myself, that what you see is not the person. You see a visual representation of that person. You see them perform, which is what they do well (usually) and they are just acting as a medium. However, on an unconscious level, we cannot help making judgments about people, constantly, and after getting to know the Rastafarian a little, I decided that my unconscious judgment of him was all wrong. He seemed gentle and easy-going, yet I was expecting him to be arrogant and difficult. So, finding myself on my own in the hovel and still being on holiday, I started to go out and about with the Rastafarian.
I had become accustomed to which pubs did Open Mic on which nights of the week, courtesy of Original Blues Guy and there was a crossover of a few pubs with the Rastafarian’s weekly itinerary, but on the whole, he frequented a whole new set of public houses. One of them, a tiny, tiny pub right in the city centre, was his Wednesday favourite. We went there when our relationship was just weeks – maybe even days – old. A friend from the Rastafarian’s homeland was there: a musician too, who reminded me of a student with severe ADHD. He was rather excitable and this became evident upon meeting me. He made awkward jokes like ‘please can I play at your wedding’ which rendered me speechless, but which made the Rastafarian smile. A few old boys on the next table picked up on the poorly placed joke and retorted ‘no – marry me instead!’
‘Everyone wants to marry you! You will be good for my friend!’ he shouted for all (remember this was a tiny, tiny pub).
I felt flattered but slightly ill-at-ease too; almost as if I was the bride in an arranged marriage. At some point, the tiny, tiny pub shut and we left. I thought the evening was over but The Rastafarian’s friend wanted to find another watering-hole. So we tried, but the nearest pub that was open late refused to serve him. So we went to One-Step, so he could buy some beer to take home and things escalated from awkward to a little sinister. He took me to one side and told me that the Rastafarian would be very pleased if I bought him some beer. Now, as far as I could see, there were a few problems with this. Firstly, I thought it was cheeky of him to make such a suggestion. Secondly, I felt that the Rastafarian had had enough beer. Thirdly, money was a little tight and I wasn’t keen on this unplanned purchase. In order to avoid a confrontation with this already loud, but also tanked-up musician, I plumped for the third concern as my reason to not buy beer.
‘That’s ok!’ he whispered in that really loud way that drunk people whisper, when they think that they are being covert but actually EVERYONE can hear them. Partly because they’ve all stopped whatever it is they are doing (not difficult in One-Step late at night- no-one’s ever doing much really) to concentrate on the drunk person.
‘I’ll pay! And you can give them to him!’ I didn’t think it was a good idea but as I say, I wasn’t keen on the alternative, which was to argue with a drunk person, which never goes well. So I grabbed a 4-pack of Kronenbourg and put it on the counter for Drunk Friend to buy. I stepped back for him to pay, but he swayed a little instead and gazed at me (still swaying a little). I motioned towards the beer and then to him and because he continued to gaze and sway, I said, timidly, lest the Rastafarian heard and lest Drunk Friend took offence,
‘Are you going to pay?’
I couldn’t tell you what he said next, but he actually shouted. I left the shop and the Rastafarian ran after me. I said I wanted to go home, that that was unacceptable, but he grovelled and apologised on behalf of Drunk Friend and persuaded me to return to the shop with him, so that we could sort him out. I did wonder what the Rastafarian had been doing all this time, while I was trying to deal with his friend, but opted to leave that conversation for another time. We managed to get Drunk Friend out of the shop and to a taxi rank, where he was problematic all over again.
‘Are you going to pay for my taxi?’ he called out, as he was pushed into the car by the Rastafarian. I told him I wasn’t and he reacted with ‘you’re no good – you haven’t got any money’ which polarised somewhat his initial impressions of me.
But the taxi sped off, taking the problem away and we wandered off. I was a little rattled by Drunk Friend’s preoccupation with money. I mentioned it to the Rastafarian who reminded me that he was drunk and didn’t deserve to be taken seriously.
And so we wandered through town; it was a warm summer night but there was a fine mist of rain. I wasn’t keen on staying up so late without good reason, but I was on holiday, I wasn’t that tired and there was something quite liberating about wandering through town so late at night. I was struck by how awake the homeless were. By day, it was common to see them bedded down in doorways enveloped in sleeping bags but now, as people were drifting home after a night out, it was as if I was witnessing a power shift. A hush had descended upon the city centre and now it belonged to the homeless, who, it would seem, were a quiet bunch. When I catch the eye of a homeless person in town when it’s daylight and busy, I feel there is a slightly challenging look from the eyes. I had that same experience on this night, initially, but realised that it isn’t so much a challenge, but a look of fear and wariness and as soon as a conversation begins it goes. The Rastafarian seemed a part of the homeless community. Not because of his appearance – he was very well-groomed – but because of his behaviour. He stopped and chatted to every person on the street until we reached Charlie. Charlie was an erudite chap and very pleasant to chat to. He had some electric clippers, with which he was attempting to give himself a haircut. He was surprisingly cheerful and the Rastafarian offered to finish his haircut. This went on for some time, until an overwhelming desire to be in bed swept over me. I sat on the bench opposite the Theatre Royal and cried. I was still wearing a splint and it had got wet . . . my summer dress was wet . . . the Rastafarian had said he’d see me home and I’d said a few times that I’d like to go home. Erudite Charlie even came over and said, ‘She’s a nice girl. Take her home.’
And so we left this other-wordly night life on the streets and the Rastafarian said,
‘You don’t like my world.’