Almost the End

‘I suppose you’re just going to go now,’

The lodger, with whom I had never conversed, turned on me as if I had been an accomplice in this situation. I didn’t reply. I was going to go, but his statement implied that that would be a poor move, which I found baffling, yet I had no reason to stay.

‘Are you the one from Portsmouth?’ he enquired.

‘No,’ I found my voice – I could answer these questions, ‘I’m the one from Brighton.’

I was wrong-footed by his question, but he had set the tone of our relationship by being accusatory in our first interchange and I was not about to reveal any weakness to him, so I treated his question with as much dismissiveness as I could muster, making a mental note to enquire about ‘the one from Portsmouth’ at the next opportunity.

As I arrived home, my phone rang. It was a WPC who asked if I was the Rastafarian’s partner. I wanted to say ‘no’ but it would have been a lie, so I affirmed her question and she told me that he was with them and that he was fine.

It occurred to me, that if I wanted to say ‘no’ when quizzed about my relationship with the Rastafarian, that I should ensure that I was able to say ‘no’ sometime soon. Meanwhile, I replayed the unpleasant situation I had witnessed in my head. He didn’t seem surprised about the violent knocking at the door. Indeed, he was ignoring it when his lodger let the police in. Silently, he had put his forefinger to his lips, in a hushing gesture, when I had looked at him inquiringly, before they were invited in.  After greeting him and telling him that they were going to take him in for questioning, they had said, gently, ‘you know what this is about,’ which reinforced the notion that this was expected. He had replied ‘I was going to come to see you today,’ which indicated to me that it concerned The Ex, as he had told me that he needed to go to talk to the police. However, his questionable relationship with the truth had rendered me lukewarm about most things that fell out of his mouth.

I continued with my day, surprising myself at how little I cared about the Rastafarian’s fate.  In my imagination, he had been charged, tried and sentenced and I wasn’t going to be the type of girlfriend who ‘stood by her man’ despite overwhelming evidence that he did not deserve anyone to even sit by him, let alone stand by him. But then, around mid-afternoon, he rang to ask me to collect him. I’d rehearsed for the ‘will you bail me out’ conversation and my stance was going to be a resolute, resounding and righteous ‘NO’. But they were releasing him without charge; I hadn’t rehearsed for this. I agreed to collect him, despite having an appointment to view a house (I was keeping my options open) and I was going to be on a tight schedule, but as long as there were no hitches, I could do this. On reflection, I cannot fathom why I inconvenienced myself to this degree for someone so undeserving; his unexpected innocence had caused me to pity him, I guess.

My assumption that there would be no hitches, was misplaced – this was the Rastafarian, after all. There were always hitches. He constantly reneged on arrangements, changing times and places last-minute and sometimes denying all knowledge of an arrangement in the first place. For a long time, I attributed this unreliability to forgetfulness, but the more it happened, and the less he apologised, and acknowledging other unpleasant facets to his personality, I was starting to suspect that it was a deliberate act to control. So when I had almost arrived at the designated collection point and he contacted me to say that he was at home but please, please, please, could I still come, surprise eluded me but sheer, red-mist fury didn’t. I was overwhelmed with self-pity – the events of the morning splashed over my mind like a wave of reason, seeming to shout that this was not acceptable, that this was not my life, I had fallen into someone else’s life . . .

The Rastafarian was sitting on a chair, tying his shoelaces, looking as meek as he had looked when he received the eviction notice. The lodger was standing over him, seeming concerned. I ignored him, as I hadn’t forgotten his strange rudeness earlier.

‘We need to go,’ I stated, looking squarely at the Rastafarian.

‘We’re discussing something,’ replied the lodger, weirdly speaking for him.

‘I have an appointment,’ I argued.

‘Can’t you wait a minute?’ he argued back.

‘No.’

In the car, I felt an obligation to show compassion. They’d questioned him about The Ex’s claims and evidently, it was all fine. Apparently, she had discovered, via Charlie of hair-clippers fame, that he was seeing me and so her report was borne out of jealousy. I attempted some empathy over the fact that he’d been detained all day, but he was dismissive, claiming that he was sufficiently equipped, emotionally, to deal with such a situation. So, when I missed my house viewing, I had no qualms about berating him for changing the arrangement about collecting him. Then, it would seem, his ability to deal with his arrest vanished. He didn’t break down or beg to be comforted, but he presented this façade of trauma, shouting that I could not know what he had been through. I fought back, pointing out that he could not expect both admiration for being blasé about his day whilst trying to grab handfuls of compassion for the trauma he’d suffered. And I told him that I’d like him to leave my car. His final performance, surprisingly, was one of contrition. He accepted my viewpoint and apologised. I wasn’t expecting that.

It was clear that this ailing relationship needed to be allowed to die, with as much dignity as I could bring about. But I knew that my chances of being repaid would spiral down to almost zero (it wasn’t a big spiral – my chances were not high, I had begun to realise) when that happened. For the moment, I would keep him at a distance from me and plan both the ending and a strategy to get my money back.

Introducing the Ex

The Rastafarian was a hybrid of a party animal and a traditionalist. Some of his traditionalism made me bristle somewhat and evoked a blunt reaction from me, but it is important to note that our cultural backgrounds were very different. That said, he had sisters who were well-educated, one of whom was a doctor in France (if he was to be believed . . . I was starting to realise that he was a part-time fantasist, to be kind), so his stance was arguably old-fashioned, even with making allowances. Returning to my original point, some traditional values allow the man to have a whole heap of fun, so maybe he wasn’t a hybrid; maybe his love of irresponsible fun was part of his traditionalism. His traditionalism led him to talk about marriage a lot. With two marriages behind me, I wasn’t keen to test the ‘third time lucky’ adage, but I didn’t express this to the Rastafarian, as I suspected that these were empty words. Initially, during that delicious honeymoon period, I was surprised that he had remained single for so long, but as our relationship progressed, I understood.

The loan changed our relationship. Or, at least, my view of our relationship. It was as if we were engaged. He was indebted to me; I had lent him money, so there was an assumption, presumably on his part too, that our relationship was grounded enough for us to be together long enough for the debt to be repaid. However, repayments were not forthcoming. He got a lodger, but then there were other things that needed to be paid/paid off/paid for. No sooner had the money left my credit card and zoomed into cyberspace to float down and slot seamlessly into the appropriately sized space that was the Rastafarian’s debt, did another debt for Council Tax pop itself through the letterbox, almost cheerily, unaware of how unwelcome it was . Don’t ask me, I said, wearily but angrily. I haven’t got any more money to lend you. He realised that he’d pushed the boundaries too far this time and he slunk away, meekly, like a naughty pet. Realising that I wasn’t going to get the full amount any time soon, I told him to set up a standing order to repay me in monthly instalments. He duly got his phone out and concentrated on it and I gave him peace and quiet to set it up. My phone was charging behind him and when it ‘pinged’ I wandered over to it and unplugged it. As I wandered back to the sofa, I glimpsed the familiar layout of Facebook on his phone.

‘You’re not setting up a standing order at all!’ I accused, ‘You’re on Facebook!’

‘I never said I was setting up a standing order,’ he hissed in response.

This was a classic example of his immaturity. His defence was as above; he was using semantics to fight his corner. I argued that he lied by implication; he led me to believe he was setting up the standing order and he knew that he’d misled me, but when someone’s ethics have ceased to develop beyond their childhood, this is the type of argument you have to expect. He set up the standing order, angrily and I knew that he could cancel it the following day but it would be hassle for him, at the very least.

The other revelation about spotting Facebook on his phone that evening, was the realisation that he had ‘unfriended’ and ‘blocked’ me. I was aware of his disappearance from my newsfeed, but I assumed that, like me sometimes, he had needed a breather from the insomniac world of social media. He argued he didn’t know how it had happened, then that it was because I’d changed my surname to my maiden name and he didn’t know who I was, then to protect me from his ex-girlfriend. The fact that he couldn’t settle on one story indicated that they were all lies, so I simply told him to send me a friend request or we were through. His final punch was ‘is Facebook that important? Why is this so important to you?’ That was an easy one to conquer . . .evidently it was pretty important to him, otherwise he wouldn’t have gone to the trouble of unfriending me and blocking me. So we became ‘friends’ again. On Facebook. The hostility in the room was tangible.

The ex-girlfriend had been mentioned before. He told me at the start of the relationship that she had struggled to accept it was over. He said that she had become angry one night and attacked him and so they parted company. Apparently, she had threatened to report him for assaulting her, because, he said, he had defended himself against her assault and she’d ended up with a bruise on her arm. I hadn’t really wanted to hear about the pitfalls of his previous relationship; I never volunteered information about my (soon-to-be-ex) hubby. He asked me about him though, which I thought was reasonable; I would have quizzed him if his ex-girlfriend was actually an ex-wife. What wasn’t reasonable, were his accusations that ‘I was always talking about my ex’ which, simply, wasn’t true; I answered questions about him only. But truth and fantasy seemed to be interchangeable, for him.

When the persistent knock at the door became louder and louder, I thought that the loan had come too late and bailiffs were going to descend on his worldly goods. Nothing was said. A normal reaction from me would have been ‘aren’t you going to answer the door?’ But things weren’t particularly ‘normal’ about this relationship anymore. He said nothing, deliberately ignoring the determined pounding on the front door. The lodger didn’t ignore it though, because suddenly we were sharing the room with a small percentage of the local police force. I stepped into the kitchen but caught ‘who’s the young lady?’ I almost stepped out and thanked him for the compliment but thought better of it.

And then they left, with the Rastafarian.

Cat

Whenever I went to the Rastafarian’s place, I could hear happy, reggae beats beckoning to join the party for one even before I’d got out of the car. Unless he was asleep, which was not uncommon, given his propensity for staying up all night drinking and dancing. When he didn’t have work for a few days or more he seemed to become almost nocturnal, which meant the dinner he often prepared for me to coincide with my arrival after work, was actually breakfast for him. He reminded me of Cat from Red Dwarf. He likened himself to a lion, with his impressive mane of dreadlocks and he even had slightly almond-shaped eyes. Like Cat, he was handsome, fun and liked to groom himself. He taught me how to tie cotton round his dreads, which was an interesting skill to learn, but it was fraught with tension, as his hair was his pride and joy and it had to be perfect. I joked that he was like Samson, a biblical reference he readily understood as, like me, he had had a Catholic upbringing. (In-between the Rwandan ornaments, his flat was heaving with religious icons.) I pretended to threaten to cut his hair while he slept, like Delilah, if he upset me and thank goodness, he got the joke. Although his English was good, after all he had studied for a degree over here, there were times when the subtle nuances of our language were misunderstood and he became offended at something that was intended as a joke. He was as self-centred as Cat, but just as Cat still managed to endear himself to everyone, so did the Rastafarian. And lastly, his sleeping habits were pretty feline.

But back to breakfast. Fortunately for me, breakfast was not your usual bowl of cereal or slice of toast, it was something packed full of vegetables in a hot, home-made sauce, on a bed of rice, pasta or with a side-dish of sautéed potatoes. He was surprisingly accommodating of my vegetarianism; as you can imagine, Africans (both black and white) are pretty fond of their meat. Occasionally, he cooked with meat and invested a lot of time and effort into persuading me to eat it. I resisted (not difficult because I don’t particularly like it that much) but sometimes I would eat a meat dish, painstakingly picking out the meat. It was always a light-hearted persuasion though; he was refreshingly accepting of my vegetarianism. Both my children and I have experienced (from the minority, to be fair) some hostility over our eating choices. Some people like to challenge your vegetarianism and dig very deep to try to find something unethical that you do, as if, in being vegetarian, you have taken a vow that you will be a hundred per cent certain that all your daily practices will be wholesome. I think it is fair to say that the three of us have a pretty sound moral conscience, and we do our best to shop ethically. I know from lengthy conversations with both of my children and from posts on Facebook, that all of us have an insatiable appetite for ensuring that we are doing our best. We keep our ears to the ground about anything that we might be able to boycott to try to make the world a more ethical place. From keeping chickens to ensure free-range eggs, to buying peanut butter free from palm oil and a whole host of carefully thought out practices in-between, we do our best, but it is impossible to live a normal life in  modern society and be 100% sure that you are doing nothing that directly or indirectly supports something unsavoury. There are some aspects of modern living over which you have little choice, but where there is a choice, we will do our best. But anyway, the Rastafarian was entirely non-judgmental which was great. And I have to end by saying that most people do not judge our vegetarianism; most people are spiritually generous enough to say ‘good on you – you’re doing your bit’.

But I digress! As I was saying, before my tangent pulled me off-course, this Rastafarian chap was a bit of a hedonist. So, imagine my surprise when I turn up one day to closed windows, no Jacob Miller serenading the street and no heavenly aromas of chilli and garlic. He was sitting on a hard-backed chair, picking at his jeans. Just as a cat likes to pluck at fabric, so he liked to play with the creases in his jeans. At work we give out fiddle toys: squidgy balls and other sensory objects to help children to concentrate. But he fiddled with the creases in his jeans, out of habit, on an unconscious level I guess but when he was very stressed, it was very conscious and became obsessive. For a very tall man (getting on for 6 and a half feet) he looked very small. He was holding a piece of paper which turned out to be an eviction notice, as he was behind with his rent. I found this hard to fathom. Why did he spend so much on enjoying himself, when clearly, he didn’t have the funds for such a lifestyle? Yes, I could see Cat in this situation. I’ll just enjoy myself without concerning myself with responsibilities and someone else can pick up the pieces. He asked me to help him. I can’t, I told him, I’m in debt myself until I move. But I’ve got no-one to turn to, he purred, softly, with those deep African tones . . . Please, honey, will you help me? Please? I am scared. He wanted me to act as guarantor for a loan but I couldn’t with a mortgage approval pending (I had a buyer for my house so I just needed to get my new, lone mortgage approved). Strictly speaking, he was right, I could help him, because I could dip into more of my credit card. But I was saving that as a buffer, as I didn’t know how long it would be till I moved and I was running out of funds myself.

This situation limped on for a couple of days. My phone was subjected to an army of pathetic, obsequious messages invading on an hourly basis. I couldn’t sleep because I felt pressurised to help, yet I was not in a strong financial position myself. I’ve got 3 choices, I thought. Option 1: I use my credit card to pay off his arrears. Option 2: I don’t help him financially but offer him a roof over his head in my house. Option 3: I don’t help him at all.

There were problems attached to each option, but I chose the first option in the end, on the strict understanding that he repaid me ASAP. He was getting a lodger and he assured me that  I would be repaid in no time. I wasn’t ready for the 2nd option, which boiled down to him moving in with me and I wasn’t ready for the 3rd option, which boiled down to the relationship ending. I knew this problem was of his own making, but it didn’t make it any less of a problem. It’s easy to see which option I should have chosen NOW, and no doubt you are thinking the same, but things are not as clear when you are in the here and the now. Love muddies things. I have spoken to many people about this since and some people don’t see how I could have been so stupid. But a few people I’ve spoken to have found themselves in similar situations. I am surprised myself; these are intelligent, forthright women but I take some comfort from this. It is easy to judge from the vantage point of Far Away although I’m sure there are women who have been there, who haven’t been so foolish – maybe you are one of them – and that’s great, but it is easily done.

A Troubled Soul

It would be prudent for me to point out, lest anyone should think that I have become a doormat, that I am selecting the awkward moments of my relationship with the Rastafarian. If doctorates in hindsight were a thing then everyone would achieve this accolade, so on reflection, I will admit that I was a little blinded by love but only because there were plenty of affirming facets to our relationship.

As the summer cobbled together some final days of sun, we regularly walked the dog on the beach, the Rastafarian concerning himself over how much the dog and I ran around with my wrist still not fully recovered. Quite rightly so, as I managed to fall in the sea twice, which I had never done before, therefore proving that one’s balance is definitely affected by a useless arm. But falling onto water/stones/sand is nothing compared with falling onto concrete, so all was well, apart from having to squelch home in squidgy shoes. We made the most of the free entertainment down on the boardwalk, sitting on the wall with cans of beer, listening to live music and joining in with the dancing amidst a generalised ‘joie de vivre’. He introduced me to many of his friends, which was welcome, for conversational purposes, given his refusal to chat about anything personal to him or us whilst out. If it wasn’t for the fact that he was very demonstrative and affectionate in public, I would have had my suspicions. There was still the problem of ending nights out. I lost count of the number of times that I agreed to give him a lift home after an Open Mic night (because that was a regular Sunday-Thursday occurrence), on the condition that we left at a reasonable time, only to finish up the evening having a disagreement because I was ready to go and he wasn’t. There had been some nights where I had stayed out till the small hours, before returning to work, but as the return to work loomed, I wanted to adjust my sleeping pattern so that it was conducive to a full-time job.

I had noticed that ‘work’ didn’t figure much in the Rastafarian’s life. I was on holiday, but what was his reason to be bumming around everyday? Zero hour contract, he said. And ‘I’m turning down work to spend time with you’, he said. There were times when he didn’t have any money in the pub, yet it had been his idea to go to the pub. I became wary of going out with him, lest he didn’t have any money, as I didn’t want to be buying all the drinks all evening. But at some point I returned to work and thank goodness, so did he, so he had some money. ‘Some’ being the operative word. He started to borrow £5, £10, £20 . . initially, he paid it back, but then it started to add up. He said he’d pay me back when he got paid, so I said that that was fine, but I wouldn’t be lending him any more. And to be fair, I got into the habit of calling in straight after work, when he would have a plate of typical African fare, cooked to perfection, waiting for my consumption. At times, he would message me to bring some beers, but as he had cooked, I didn’t mind as I would enjoy a cold beer with a meal laden with chilli, garlic and maybe even tabasco. Then he had toothache. I knew it was genuine, because I saw the antibiotics he had as a result of my lending him money to get it sorted. We met in town in the evening after his trip to the dentist, for an Open Mic night in a bar in the more cosmopolitan area of town and he asked if he could put his medication in my rucksack. He played and we listened to a few more acts, then we left. We started walking towards my car and then he suggested we had one more drink in another bar. I said I didn’t want to, but he could if he wanted to. He said nothing and we continued to my car. Then I felt something pulling on my rucksack. I spun round and he was unzipping it, foraging for his medication. Then he went to the other bar.

I arrived home, a little bemused by the strange end to the evening and my phone pinged.

‘Where are you?’

Baffled, I replied, ‘At home.’

‘I wait for you.’

This was the new ending to nights out. We’d moved on from having the disagreement at the pub, to having the disagreement via What’sApp once I had returned home. There were times, if I didn’t have work the next day, when I would buckle and return, either for some peace and quiet or because I was concerned about him. But eventually, common sense started to dominate and I made it clear that ‘I’m going home,’ meant just that.

Back to the medication. So, next day at work, he rang, clearly agitated.

‘Why did you take my medication?’

‘I didn’t.’ I replied, ‘You took it out of my rucksack. Don’t you remember?’

‘Why are you lying to me? I need it!’

‘Why would I take it?’ I protested.

The conversation went on for a few minutes until we agreed that he would contact the dentist and get more antibiotics. I took him there after work and we got there just before closing time. This scenario was not the only one of its kind. He was paranoid and found it difficult to trust anyone. I imagined that his traumatic experiences in his homeland back in the 90s, coupled with his penchant for recreational excesses and his sadness over the daughter he never saw, were responsible for the state of his mind, although I felt quite strongly that the onus was on him to get some help, rather than on me, to bear the brunt of his past experiences, although I was trying hard to get him back in contact with his little girl. He was a difficult boyfriend for sure; needy, financially and emotionally, but hot-tempered and paranoid to boot. He liked to know what I was doing when I wasn’t with him and seemed fixated with the notion that I might cheat on him, yet he was unreliable himself and I pointed out that I had far more reason to think that he might be cheating on me.

Of course, there had to be reasons why I was with him. The thing he did best was writing and playing reggae music. Even with the anger I currently feel towards him (sorry about the spoiler for anyone that wanted a happy ending but you probably realised that there wasn’t going to be one!) I cannot deny that I have rarely seen a more talented musician. I watched him write songs, music and lyrics together, and there is no doubt that this man contains a whole heap of talent. His songs are profound, beautiful and he plays them to perfection. Bob Marley is his hero but I would even say that his talent is comparable; maybe even greater. Anyone who has dated a musician will understand how easy it is to fall for someone a little more every time you watch them play. No matter how difficult the Rastafarian was, every time he played, there was no anger, paranoia, deceit . . . this was the essence of him. He could be affectionate, loving, caring, gentle, charismatic . . . I want to end with ‘and he needed me’ but I’d sound like Nancy from Oliver Twist. But the thing is, at the risk of bigging myself up, it was true.

Endings

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.

 

Early Days

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.’

Original Blues Guy and the Rastafarian

Original Blues Guy and I usually exchanged texts from Sunday-Thursday, to touch base about the evening’s entertainment. I’d cut right back on nights out over the summer, but we kept in touch and the absence of a text from him on Monday was noted. I hadn’t contacted him, because of his visible harrumphing as he exited The Folky Pub the night before. But anyway, I had a girly night out planned and I’d suggested a trip to a pub where there would be Open Mic and another where I knew there would be live jazz. We went to the former first and both Original Blues Guy and the Rastafarian were there. I spotted the Rastafarian at the bar when we walked in, so I took charge of the first round and while the girls found a seat, I headed over to him. He turned and grinned; there’s something really uplifting about someone looking so pleased to see you. (As long as it’s welcome, otherwise it can be awkward.)

He greeted me with a hug and a kiss and he was about to play, so after the distribution of drinks, I took the girls next door into the Open Mic room, which was set up like a cabaret. He played his very listenable reggae and then I introduced him to the girls, whom he charmed. He spoke fluent French and so conversed with my French friend and I guess he must have flattered her in some way, because she giggled and then he kissed her hand.

Even though Original Blues Guy had been there from the start, I hadn’t had a chance to say any more than ‘hey’, so when I spotted him outside, while the Rastafarian was being charming, I slipped out in hope of clearing the air.

‘What are you doing?’ he inquired.

I stared back blankly. I knew this was a criticism of my growing friendship with the Rastafarian, but I still didn’t know how to answer his question. But it didn’t matter, because he expanded on his question.

‘What are you doing running around with him?’

Now I had something to argue against. I pointed out that I wasn’t ‘running around’ with anyone. If ‘him’ referred to the Rastafarian, then it was true that we had become friends in the same way that the two of us had become friends. But there was no ‘running around’ and if that was an implication that we were spending a lot of time together, then seeing as less than 24 hours had passed since we met, that was a stretch. And so what if we were? So what if we wanted to? If the implication was that we were in a relationship already, then we just weren’t, but again, so what if we were? So what if we wanted to? And who had invited him to sit next to me, and then told me to ‘stay’, when I had started to leave the pub?

He had arguments with which to defend his opinions. He has plenty of women, he said. I’m not surprised, I said; have you noticed how gorgeous he is? More harrumphing. As long as he’s not two-timing. He has a girlfriend, he said. How do you know these things, I said . . . you couldn’t even tell me his name, when I first asked you about him . . ? That brought about a furious look of frustration on his face. He was caught between maintaining his lie and then victory was mine, or admitting his lie and being branded a liar. He did the latter which made me laugh and which made him mad.

His growing fury stepped up the rant . . . he’s younger than you, he said. It was true that he was younger than me, but not by as much as I thought. He was older than he looked and I pointed these things out to Original Blues Guy and threw in another ‘so what anyway’ for good measure. My (soon-to-be-ex) hubby had been younger than me but good grief, I said, I can’t believe I’m making comparisons with my (soon-to-be-ex) hubby! I met this guy 24 hours ago, we’re not even in a relationship (yet, to be fair – I could see how the land was lying) and what does all of this have to do with you? And while we’re on the subject of ages, I said, the age difference between you and me is about the same, it’s just in the opposite direction? I didn’t think he’d have a problem with our age difference, were I to fall into his arms and profess eternal adoration for him.

But he was stuck on the ‘what’s it got to do with you’ question.

It has everything to do with me, he said, because I thought . . . I thought that . . . I thought that we might have been going somewhere. I knew this had been his wish, but I had made my stance clear. I couldn’t continue to win this argument though, when we were arguing because of his fondness for me.

But then the Rastafarian came outside and Original Blues guy roared at him:

‘WE’RE HAVING A PRIVATE CONVERSATION!’

‘He can come outside if he so wishes,’ I swiftly defended him, angry at the rudeness of Original Blues Guy.

The Rastafarian used calming tones, without being patronising, to attempt to diffuse Original Blues Guy’s anger. I decided to return to my friends, as the Rastafarian, clearly, was done with charming them and so I needed to return to my girly night out. I was done with arguing, anyway.

We went to the quaint, jazzy pub and continued our night out away from the dramas of the previous pub. At some point I arrived home and as I walked in my phone pinged.

‘I miss you.’

The Rastafarian

So I couldn’t go to the audition, but there would be more. I couldn’t go riding or cycling as planned, but I did a lot of enforced walking which, although enforced, had its benefits. Original Blues Guy couldn’t teach me how to play the guitar but maybe he would when my wrist was better. I can think of worse scenarios than my situation and people were kind to me. Not that people were normally unkind to me, but because I did seem to be lurching from crisis to crisis somewhat, I felt a kind of warmth wafting my way from people in general.

I’d cut back on nights out because the children were home from uni, although I wasn’t seeing so much of one of them. I was still going to The Folky Pub on Sunday nights and one Sunday night after the day-long event with colleagues, I was there, having remembered, rather hazily, a conversation between a colleague and the barmaid about Toby. The Toby situation had become bigger than my actual desire to meet him. I did like him when I first met him and I did regret my mishandling of the situation. Initially, I’d hoped to bump into him again, but the passage of time was dulling the desire and when I reflected on it, his attention warmed me and his enthusiasm over my back dimples made me laugh. I wasn’t convinced by the way, of their attraction. But the point is, the whole scenario had become a talking point and a reason to have a laugh only. I had some recollection of a tense interchange via text message with Original Blues Guy about him . . . I scrolled back through text messages to and from Original Blues Guy, while I waited to see a familiar face in The Folky Pub. I smiled at some of our conversations; this was a man with little humility. He was lovely company and very flattering, but did seem to have an overwhelming urge to always be right, which, I figured, would be frustrating for a person with whom he was in a relationship, but I wasn’t, so all was well. It was a good reason to not be in a relationship with him, too, as I struggle to tolerate a lack of humility. He was talented and an absolute gentleman, keeping me in Guinness and black whilst I was being ferried around on buses; always having just one half of Guinness himself at any Open Mic evening. Despite his talent, he had a small repertoire of songs (all his own) which became boring after the umpteenth rendition. He had Asperger’s, which he readily volunteered as an excuse for anything that one might criticise. As someone who works with many children who are somewhere on the spectrum, I found myself biting my tongue as I wanted to discourage him from using his condition as a shield. Embrace it, fight it, laugh about it, but don’t use it as an excuse. In order to dispel any misunderstanding at this juncture, of course I was accustomed to making allowances for learning difficulties but there should be a balance between making allowances and having expectations. If I just manage to impart to my young charges the notion that we are all masters of our own destiny, then I’ve left something other than a carbon footprint behind in this world.

Regular attendees started to trickle in, Original Blues Guy being amongst them. I’d bagged the seat he favoured, which I favoured too, because it was close to the Open Mic and tucked away. He came over, wearing his trademark trilby and braces. He looked as if he had just stepped out of The Cotton Club, always. And always he came straight over to me, embraced me, kissed me politely, offered me a drink and then sat with me, only getting up to greet fellow musicians and eventually play, of course. He had grown up in New Orleans and had a soft, easy accent, which made flirting sit rather comfortably with him, although he usually only had flirting eyes for me. The exceptions were when we fell out and all his attention would divert to another lady, not always the same one and he would dedicate his songs to her.

As I have said, I had become familiar with this network of musicians, some more so than others; some I would happily sit with until they played, chatting easily but others I just knew by sight, sometimes knowing their backstory, courtesy of Original Blues Guy. There was the big-built, long-haired chap who looked like a Hell’s Angel who had traded his leathers for a tracksuit. He sang cheery songs quite badly but no one judges at Open Mic nights. He used to be homeless, apparently and although he was a taciturn fellow, people seemed to have great affection for him. There was the fresh-faced folk guitarist who, despite his youth, had the easy-going nature of someone more advanced in years. There were many that you saw once or twice then never again. Then there was the young, black, beautiful, reggae-playing Rastafarian . . .

The Rastafarian slipped in quietly, as he always did, as if he had a secret agenda as well as playing original reggae songs particularly well. He played in the folky pub most Sundays, seeming a little detached from the reality the rest of us were experiencing. When he played his guitar (actually, it wasn’t his – unlike most people, he used the ‘house’ guitar) and sang his songs, I think we, the audience, faded away from his reality and it became just him and the guitar. His songs were his own; being a reggae fan, I would have noticed covers and they were exceptional. He sang with a warm, African accent; Rwandan, in fact, but I only knew because Original Blues Guy had told me. I wondered if some of his more obtuse songs referred to the genocide, the reports of which had left a massive impact with me (most people, in fact) in the ’90s.

He paused for a moment, upon entering, scanning the room for a suitable seat. It wasn’t particularly busy, but people had spread themselves throughout the pub, taking up all the tables. His eyes drifted over to the seat that Original Blues Guy and I were sharing; we had no more spare room than anyone else but I imagine that he wanted to sit with friends rather than strangers.

Original Blues Guy rose immediately to greet the Rastafarian and offered him to sit in-between us, which surprised me, given his romantic inclination towards me. Original Blues Guy was the next to play anyway and as he walked past me to set up, he threw a whisper my way about ‘finally getting to meet Toby’. I had managed to make the whole Rastafarian/Toby situation clear to him, that is, that the former knew the latter and it was as simple as that.

So, I met the Rastafarian and he seemed happy to be chatting to me. So much so, that I had to bring Toby into the situation early on, to avoid any misconceptions.

‘Ah . . . it is TOBY you want to meet?’

There were already misconceptions.

‘Yes! Do you know him?’

He took my hand and together we walked through the pub and through the people in the pub, all the while my heart threatening to actually leave my chest, it was thumping so violently. We stopped in a dark nook where there were a few men sitting together.

‘Toby,’ said the Rastafarian, looking at me and gesturing towards a man who clearly wasn’t Toby. That is, I have no doubt that he was called Toby, as people were looking at him and saying the name ‘Toby’, but as far as the whole Toby Hunt was concerned, he wasn’t Toby.

We established this reality and went back to the seat that I had shared with Original Blues guy but now shared with the Rastafarian, as the former was well into his second song. I felt awkward about being introduced to a random man called Toby and then making my excuses to walk away. I felt a little guilty, too, as I realised that the Rastafarian and I had chatted so far throughout Original Blues Guy’s set. The Rastafarian was softly spoken, but Original Blues Guy would be upset. He named and shamed people who chatted whilst he was playing, with which I disagreed, justifying my disagreement by pointing out that no-one would talk in the pub at all if everyone obeyed his would-be rules for every musician. For me, pub music should be the backdrop to my conversation, choosing to stop and listen from time-to-time if I felt so inclined.

Original Blues guy finished and his body language told me that he was cross. I started to gather my things and he questioned my actions.

‘Stay,’ he ordered.

‘But you’re walking me to The Prince Albert?’ I protested. I’d been to watch my friend’s band at a gig there the previous night and he’d had left his coat there. As he’d gone back home to Bristol, I said I’d collect it and keep it for him until he next visited. Original Blues Guy had said he’d walk there with me to collect the coat and maybe partake of a drink.

‘He can walk you there,’ he motioned with his trilbyed head towards the Rastafarian.

‘What? No – you said you would,’ I argued, realising that his anger wasn’t so much about my chatting but more about my chatting to the Rastafarian.

‘Well, I’m going home anyway.’

And he left.

And the Rastafarian and I chatted . . . and chatted . . . and I was struck by the irony of the situation. Original Blues Guy, in his anger that I was giving another man some attention, when he wanted me for himself, had left me with the other man. Our chatting was innocent (from my stance, anyhow), up until Original Blues Guy left, but his act of leaving me, in anger, had pushed me into the arms of another man.

 

 

 

The Theatre

The audition for the play that I had earmarked as the vehicle for my return to the boards came and went without me. I felt it would have been selfish to make myself available, not knowing whether or not my wrist would have placed restrictions on the production, although the splint should have been off by then. I’m not a fatalist, but I have to admit that I was beginning to think that it wasn’t meant to be.

I’d been to a gruelling audition earlier in the year. The play was deliberately gritty and coarse and I had auditioned for many parts. It was . . . graphic, and although it was a challenging couple of hours, it felt wonderful to be acting again. Out of the things I feel I do well, acting is probably the thing I feel I do best. A long-standing friend who had cast me in many productions was directing it and arrogantly, I thought I simply had to go home and wait for the phone to ring. Which it didn’t. A week passed and I received an email telling me that I’d been unsuccessful. I felt humbled by the experience and realised how far I’d drifted away from something that was once my raison d’etre. Once, it was a potential career choice. Once, it was my only pastime. Once, at any given time I’d be rehearsing for one, often two and sometimes three productions at a time. From plays in small, yet perfectly-formed theatres in the backstreets of town, to musicals in concert halls and even compering shows to massive audiences in the Brighton Centre, I’d lost count of the number of times I’d laughed, cried, sung, danced, even vomited (yes – won’t forget actually hearing the audience recoil from me as I wretched into the strategically placed ice-bucket) on Brighton stages. I’d rubbed shoulders with celebrities and even shared dressing-rooms with them. I knew I was fortunate. You’re only as good as your last play but if you do well in your first, then success is everyone’s frame of reference when you attend subsequent auditions. The difficulty is getting that first part; getting a director to believe in you, because that play is his or her creation, conception, budding plant. Bill Shankly (footballer and Liverpool manager in the 1960s and 1970s) once said that ‘Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that.’ Replace ‘football’ with ‘putting on a production’ and that sums up most people’s attitude towards their involvement with the theatre.

I had a ‘moment’ about ten years ago in the middle of a rehearsal period. This particular play was going to be a part of the Brighton Fringe and then the Edinburgh Fringe and I was in a hotel in town for a preview evening. We performed a scene from our play and other people were doing similar things, depending on the nature of the wares they were offering to Brighton Festival. I was always pretty reliable with my lines; I usually had loads and so you have to be, but on this particular night I struggled. I didn’t know why; I’d learnt them, but I was also struck with an overwhelming urge to leave, to go home, to be with my children. Obviously, I had cut right back on my involvement with the theatre since having children, as time with them was precious, but I still did plays from time-to-time. I didn’t do the play, which was a first for me; I’d never walked out on a play but I knew the results would be catastrophic if I didn’t abandon ship. I performed since then, but at a rate of around one production every few years.

At the audition for this risqué play, I was reunited with an old friend and we supported each other with mock looks of horror and shock as we read naughty words from the script at the bidding of the director who wasn’t really a voyeur, just wanted to get the rude words out of the way at the start, lest future rehearsals should be held up by time-consuming fits of the giggles. And remembering him from days of old, he wasn’t the most patient director and had been known to actually scold members of his cast. Usual rules of etiquette are broken quite frequently in the theatre; I even remember being reduced to tears in my teen years by angry or drunk directors. Maybe it’s the nature of the beast: because you are, in effect, fantasising about being in a different reality as soon as you are in a play, perhaps we leave the rules of the real world behind upon stepping onto the stage.

So anyway, maybe Old Friend and I had an inkling that this wouldn’t be ‘our’ play, because we agreed to meet at the next audition. And now I’ve done full circle, because that’s where I started at the top of the page. I let her down, because I didn’t go, because of my wrist. Which is why I started to think that maybe this just wasn’t going to happen . . .

The Wedge

I had been given a 9am appointment for the ‘wedge’ to be investigated. This is the sort of appointment time that usually pleases me, but as I had to take public transport which didn’t go directly to the clinic and I don’t have a particularly good sense of direction, the 9am appointment was the source of some anxiety for me, never mind the concern over the contents of the wedge.

So, I caught a bus which was about two buses too early for a 9am appointment and duly disembarked where my iPhone told me to. My iPhone also told me I was 7 minutes away from my final destination, so with 40 minutes to spare, I strolled through a nearby park and then popped into the park loos before deciding to head off to the clinic. As I left the park loos I took my font of all knowledge out of my pocket and being the fickle font of all knowledge that it was, it had now decided that I was 32 minutes away from my final destination! How could this be? Did I lose track of time in a park which spanned the width of the town? Was the loo in the park really a TARDIS? Whatever the reason for the sudden change in my ETA, I knew I had to step on it. I didn’t like stepping on it whilst my wrist was wrecked, because I didn’t trust myself to not slip over again and break another part of myself. Helpful people had reassured me with pearls of wisdom such as ‘nothing could break that wrist now with a steel plate in there!’ True (actually, I’m not sure if it was true that the plate was steel) but there was a reason it was in a splint and a sling and couldn’t bear weight for another three months. It wasn’t fixed yet and I was not convinced that the pain wouldn’t be unimaginable if I fell on it again. And anyway, there were plenty of other bones that could snap and when you’ve got your arm in a sling, your balance is not great, frankly. But I quickened my pace to a brisk walk and proceeded to get lost. There was a railway line in-between my current location and my destination and I was starting to feel like I was in a maze, while I became increasingly frustrated at my inability to find a way over/under/through the track. But succeed I did, with no time to spare, so I found myself running awkwardly, as one does when one is incapacitated in some way and I got to the clinic a few minutes late.

Of course, the department I wanted was a few floors up so I called the lift which didn’t arrive and ended up taking the stairs two at a time, thinking that if I fell now, at least I would be surrounded by medical people, even if dislodged plates in wrists (which probably can’t happen) aren’t their speciality. I burst through the double doors on arrival at the correct floor and skidded to a halt at reception, panting all over the desk. I gave my name and time of appointment but this didn’t seem to interest her.

‘Fill this form in please,’ she commanded as she handed me something resembling a writing frame for a short novel. She, along with the other two receptionists, were transfixed by my sling.

‘Sure,’ I rasped, still catching my breath from my unexpected sprint, ‘but would you like my name?’

I knew I’d told her my name, but I was concerned that it wasn’t noted.

‘No,’ she replied, ‘I can’t tick you off till you’ve filled in the forms.’

‘It will take me some time,’ I pointed out, holding up my slinged arm by way of explanation.

‘I can’t tick you off till you’ve filled in the forms,’ she repeated.

I would have requested some help, but I found all of them so unwelcoming (just think of the DSS lady in Bread) that I did my best on my own. No – that’s a lie – I didn’t do my best. I was cross and anxious about the time, so I completed the form hurriedly. My writing is not the neatest, even with a working right arm, but as I was using my left hand and I was rushing, it was truly messy. I marched back to the front desk and plonked the short novel containing my medical history under her nose and got myself a coffee. I relaxed into a comfy chair and realised that quite a few people were transfixed by my sling. Maybe they thought I was really dim and had made a mistake by going to the wrong clinic. Or maybe I was just attracting attention because I was huffing and puffing and being quite noisy and clumsy, as everything is more complicated and takes longer when you have a temporary disability. I’ve specified ‘temporary’ because when your disability is short-lived, you don’t have time to adapt before everything’s back to normal for you.

I was lifting my cup to my mouth for the first glorious intake of caffeine, when my name was called and so began my journey from pillar to post as is the way in these clinics. I underwent many scrutinies, just as when I’d had the lump, but with the added bonus of a wrecked wrist. The nurses were suitably sympathetic over my medical double whammy and I accepted all offers of help, even though I had got used to just getting on with things, like squirming in and out of tops, but it was nice to have some help. Eventually they told me that the wedge was an innocent wedge. It was actually a cluster of lumps which they couldn’t really explain but that was fine; I considered my mind to be securely at rest over the matter.

And so I went home and mentally ticked off ‘the wedge’.