I thought that the blunt and rather unfair statement issued to me by the Rastafarian, at the end of a very strange night out, signalled the end of the relationship before it had even left the port.
But he messaged me the following day, evidently with no memory of his pouting anger the night before. I had defended myself in the light of such a harsh conclusion, drawn from a natural desire to end a night out which had gone on far too long, was pretty aimless and was taking place outside in end-of-summer drizzle. He expanded on his accusation that I didn’t like his world, by explaining that he was the king of his kingdom and he so wanted me to be the queen of that same kingdom. Just to clarify, he wasn’t an African king (although he did try to convince me a little way into the relationship that his family was royalty) and this wasn’t a marriage proposal. He just liked his metaphors. I nodded and smiled and assured him that I did like his kingdom and then I justified my tears with the reasons above that I’ve mentioned already.
During the finale of the summer, for which the sun had been saving itself, as it was gloriously warm, I had one or two occasions left that involved getting together with friends. I was smitten with the Rastafarian and, it would seem, he with me, so I invited him along. One was a big garden party where there would be many, many of my friends from the theatre and in allowing him to accompany me, I was aware that this was a meeting of worlds. In order to get my arm ready for driving to work, I’d started driving short distances again and so I drove us both there. I chatted nervously all the way there. On the one hand, I felt pleased to be showing him off. On the other hand, I felt a little concerned as he was an acquired taste.
Probably, I needed to be focussing more on the ‘other hand’. I had struggled to understand him in the early stages, not only because of his heavy accent and deep voice, but also because he was very softly spoken. He didn’t easily engage in long conversations while out; I preferred staying in with him, because he had a strange aversion to talking about things that related to him in any way whilst out. I realised that this might make conversations with my friends difficult. They were bound to ask him about himself and I knew he would be evasive, difficult to understand and random. At one point I went to get him a drink and when I returned, I was pleased to see him laughing with a good friend. I passed him his beer, smiling at this picture of summer happiness and my friend leaned in to me, rasping under her breath, ‘I can’t understand a word!’
This scenario was repeated throughout the afternoon and I found it curious that he never heard any of the whispered confessions to not understanding him. I’ve always assumed that if someone is quietly spoken, then they probably hear similarly quietly-spoken people quite well, but it would seem not. Unless he heard every word and wasn’t surprised because he had engineered it deliberately?
The guests started to become sparse which was my benchmark for leaving. I told the Rastafarian that I’d like to go and he gestured towards his pint-glass, which had a small amount of beer still. I said that that was fine, I’d wait for him to finish and so I went to the loo, intending getting my coat afterwards and starting to make my farewells. However, on returning to him after my trip to the loo, his glass was mysteriously full once more. I queried this, angry but trying to keep my anger for his senses only. He laughed it off and wobbled outside, to join a circle of teenagers who were enjoying the mellowness of the evening sun. I followed him and knelt down next to the garden chair that he was occupying.
‘We need to go,’ I said firmly, but with a smile which, although facing him, was for the benefit of the others, who didn’t know the backstory and who might think me harsh.
‘Sit,’ he commanded, with a smile that was probably as strategic as my own.
‘There is no chair,’ I argued.
‘Oh – here – you have this,’ he stood and gave me his chair, ‘I get another,’
‘No – I don’t want to sit,’ again, firmly said but I was aware of the increasing volume of my voice and realised that I might seem rude for appearing to not want to be with these lovely young people.
‘The party is over,’ I announced, quietly this time, for his benefit only, ‘and we are outstaying our welcome. This is the inner circle of which we are not a part.’
It was partly true. I knew that I would be welcome to stay on my own, but not the Rastafarian. Everyone had been friendly and welcoming to him, but he had behaved a little strangely, spontaneously singing quietly in the middle of conversations and being his usual evasive self. Currently, he had made a pun and was repeating it repeatedly, every time corpsing with laughter before completing his (largely ignored) performance.
‘You go. I stay,’ he announced.
In the initial stages of leaving, which seemed – and probably were – a long time ago now, time constraints were not an issue, but now they were. I forget why I had to leave, but I know his obstinacy was making me cross and so I was forced to assure my hosts that I had to go, but I would be back to collect my seemingly mad boyfriend.
An hour later I returned to much the same situation, but he seemed a little more self-aware. So that when I said ‘we have to go because we are outstaying our welcome’ and everyone within the force field of tension looked but made no attempt to argue, he became submissive and we left.
We went to The Folky Pub that night and I noticed how different his face was after a day of drinking. His smile was different; it lingered for longer than it should and for no apparent reason. It was an empty smile. His eyes had retreated into their sockets, which was a shame, because he had beautiful, crafted eyes that were such a rich brown, I imagined someone mixing paint for a long time to get the shade just right and then carefully painting in the irises. He wore sunglasses in the darkest of pubs and I assumed that it was a reggae fashion statement, but he had told me previously that his eyes were light-sensitive and he squinted when he wasn’t wearing shades. He was concerned that people would think it was drunkenness, but it did happen only when he had been drinking . . .
As there weren’t many nights of the holiday left, I wasn’t driving home from the folky pub on this night, so I could down Guinness and black. (A good friend had introduced me to this thick, black drink and I was an immediate convert.) The Rastafarian played to a warm audience who appreciated his talent and laughed, forgivingly, at his mistakes, of which there were many, due to an afternoon of excesses. He had promised to see me home and I had informed him of the bus times, so some time after he’d played I said we needed to go. He nodded and continued to spectate. I waited till the end of the song and repeated my plea. Still, he remained there. So I left. He followed and seemed flustered and cross at my departure. I reminded him of our agreement and he denied all knowledge, so I decided to begin my journey to the bus-stop alone. He called after me, so I waited.
‘Don’t rush me,’ he ordered.
‘I don’t want to miss my bus!’ I argued.
And so we drifted down the street, at his pace.
I missed the bus and cried again, but this time they were angry tears.
I got a taxi home and was baffled.