Before the Rastafarian, I would attend Open Mic nights solo. So the following Monday evening, having finished work for Easter and finding myself at a loose end, I decided to push myself back into the world of singlehood (that should be a word . . . Oops – it is now because I just wrote it) and doing what I liked. I messaged Original Blues to see if he would be playing at The Cabaret Bar and I was surprised to receive a ‘Who is this?’ reply.
‘Can’t believe you deleted me,‘ I complained, with a sad emoticon, after announcing my identity.
As I pressed ‘send’ I wondered if he was the proud owner of a new phone but with the old number and he had irretrievably lost his contacts, as often happens, even though they always promise a complete transfer of numbers.
‘Sorry about that,’ was his reply so sadly, my instincts were right.
He wasn’t playing but I went anyway. I knew there was a chance that I would happen upon a certain Rastafarian, but I figured that I would have to desensitise myself, as I was already doing by continuing to indulge in the likes of Bob Marley and Jacob Miller. Music has to be the most evocative of the Muses and I was struggling to listen to reggae without wanting to sob into my speakers, but I hoped the feeling would pass.
“Mind if I sit here?” a tall, bearded, friendly-looking chap was motioning towards the empty seat next to me.
“Not at all,” I smiled, a little dismissively, as there were plenty of empty seats attached to plenty of empty tables, so I was suspicious. I wasn’t in the mood to be chatted up unless it was Ewan McGregor, Patrick Stewart or Viggo Mortensen. I wanted to listen to the music.
Inevitably, he introduced himself and it turned out that he worked in a similar field to me, so I was happy to chat. He seemed genuinely chatty about our similar jobs and genuinely interested in keeping in touch from a networking viewpoint, so I took his contact details. He was a musician, which was not in his favour, in case he had ulterior motives. He was planning on playing and I mentioned how I’d started rehearsing with a friend but one of the songs was written for the piano and I wasn’t sure if the guitar accompaniment would work. He suggested we played together, that night, but I was reluctant without a practice. Then he played – it was like The Beatles mixed up with Tom Lehrer and I have to admit I was impressed with his talent. He seemed interested in accompanying me in the future, so I took the decision to give him my number.
Then things changed.
Whereas we’d had some interesting, chilled conversations about our work and playing at Open Mic nights, the topic changed to his recently ended relationship. It was fine, for a bit, but sometime later in the evening, I would recall the moment I gave him my number as a ‘red alert’ moment. All hands should have rushed to the deck to prevent the link between him and me ever being created. The more he talked, the more disillusioned I felt and the more I really wanted to get back to listening to the talent that was abounding all around me.
“I know this is crazy,” he leaned in and looked right into my eyes. I knew crassness was following . . . 3,2,1 . . .
And we have lift-off.
I won’t repeat his words. But they took all value away from all previous conversations. I turned down his suggestion, but rather than immediately retracting it and eating humble pie, he proceeded to make the same far-fetched suggestion several more times.
“It’s not happening.” I looked him right back in the eyes and made my words as blunt as possible.
After some time, humility found a way into his psyche and apologies were forthcoming.
Then the door opened and the Rastafarian slid in.
I had told New Guy about the Rastafarian and my double-take gave away our relationship.
“That’s him, isn’t it?” he took time out from continual apologising to enquire about the tall, mysterious figure whose stealthy movements attracted more attention than they apparently intended.
“I’ll go. Give you guys some space.”
“Don’t worry,” I replied, not caring if he was there or not. His departure would suggest there was something other than hostility between us, I felt.
I walked over to the Rastafarian and he hugged me, slowly and tightly. I invited him to sit with me, which he did and so I introduced him to New Guy.
I hadn’t considered the potential awkwardness of sitting between New Guy and the Rastafarian. I asked the latter if he would like to talk outside, as the previous day I had popped a letter through his letterbox, with one of his ‘Rastabands’ enclosed, which I used to wear. In the letter I urged him to get some help over past traumas, indicated how I felt they’d impacted on his life and listed wonderful attributes to his personality. He declined my offer and said that he hadn’t read the letter anyway. The Rastafarian had never liked chatting publicly, so I found myself chatting more to New Guy, even though still, I just wanted to enjoy the music; there was one young chap singing in a Billy Bragg type of manner and playing the piano with passion and talent unmatched by anyone that evening. I wanted to catch his name, so I could look up his music, but New Guy distracted me from my mission. I did what I try to avoid: I went over and asked his name. The Rastafarian’s claim that that was flirting, still rattled at me but I tried to not care. The afore-mentioned left the table to sit with a friend and at some point the evening finished and I found myself standing outside, enjoying the first spring evening of many (one hopes). The Rastafarian was smoking, his friend was chatting and New Guy was long gone. I told the Rastafarian I was going home. He walked me to my car and I offered to drop him off on my way. He asked me to drop him at The Jazzy Pub I used to go to with Original Blues. It was their jazz evening so I agreed to accompany him for a drink. I re-parked and we wandered along . . . Then we stopped at a doorway to chat to a homeless friend. He was a pleasant chap, but when I saw New Guy randomly sitting in the doorway too, moving on seemed a better choice. Homeless Guy looked more than a little peeved at the advent of 3 extra people in his doorway which was, to be fair, not just his bedroom but his home for the night.
“Guys, sorry – I don’t mean to sound rude but I have to be up early in the morning.”
The Rastafarian and I made moves to go but New Guy seemed immovable.
“What do you mean?” he quizzed sleepy Homeless Guy.
“The people that work here – they arrive at 6am, so I have to be up and away by then.”
I was embarrassed on behalf of New Guy, for his lack of sensitivity. Did it matter why Homeless Guy wanted us to leave? It was his place for the night – he shouldn’t have to justify himself to us, I thought, all of whom have proper homes to which to return.
“It’s my job to get homeless people off the street,” New Guy claimed as we left Homeless Guy.
I queried his claim, as that wasn’t his job an hour or 2 ago.
“I do that too,” he explained, defensively yet unconvincingly.
“Why aren’t you getting him off the street, then?” I questioned.
The question was ignored and he talked about how intelligent Homeless Guy was. There was an irony about his series of speeches; he was trying to impress me, but achieving the opposite. He was trying to impart an insight into the issue of homeless people but his clumsy comments just served to make him seem bigoted, patronising and full of preconceptions. I couldn’t be bothered to argue with him and at some point, he left.
The Rastafarian and I went to another pub – not The Jazzy Pub – which was disappointing.
‘Lose your friend and join me,’ New Guy messaged me.
I ignored his message.
It was at this point that the moment I’d given him my number became a Red Alert moment in my memory. I continued to ignore his messages until finally, after around a dozen communications asking me to join him and alerting me to his continually changing whereabouts in town (I was starting to genuinely think he was homeless) I sent a curt message explaining that I had no intention of meeting him in town that night and please would he stop messaging me.
After one last random message which was a weird proclamation of love (this guy needed some serious help in successful chat-up lines . . . I marvelled that he had ever had a relationship) all became quiet on the New Guy front. I also marvelled at the amount of male attention I was receiving. I’d run out of lenses and bought some cheap glasses instead. They were massive, ‘don’t come near me’ (to put it nicely) glasses. Marilyn Monroe was so wrong: men do make passes at girls who wear glasses. Even more so, it would seem.
The Rastafarian wanted to know who had been messaging me.
“It’s that man from the pub!” he accused.
I didn’t answer. It was none of his business now we were just friends. He continued . . .
“That is why I moved,” he admitted, “I did not want to be near people who were interested in you. I sat with my friend, because I knew I was safe there.”
The Rastafarian had many acquaintances, because of his penchant for frequenting local hostelries. Half the time he was playing in them, but the other half he was just drinking. He’d grown up in a pub, so I felt it was a nostalgic past-time for him, as he missed his homeland and his mother. But he called everyone his ‘friend’, even though he could not remember most people’s names. Other ‘friends’ of his had propositioned me; one claimed that the Rastafarian had many women and I should ditch him to go out with someone else (him, of course). He was African and didn’t realise I’d heard him say to the Rastafarian that he fancied ‘finding a nice English girl and marrying her to get a British passport’. He spoke in Swahili to the Rastafarian for the most part so it was a faux pas that he forgot for the important bits. Not that I was interested anyway . . .
We sat with Open Mic guy in the pub, but Open Mic guy really wasn’t in the mood for being a good friend to the Rastafarian, which, to be fair, he usually was. He was trying to have a meaningful conversation with a friend and became bored with the Rastafarian’s attempts to join in and simply told the bar staff to stop serving him as he was too full of Kronenbourg already. This was absolutely the right course of action, but I did feel a little sorry for the Rastafarian, who looked dejected and lost. I’d been trying to convince him that having a lift home (to his home and me to mine) was a good idea and eventually he caved and agreed to allowing the evening to end.