I waited at the tube station.
‘Can we talk?’ I had texted him the night before.
I had painstakingly chosen my outfit, in the hope that it appeared ‘thrown on’, (in reality, I looked as though I was attending a fancy dress party as my bedroom chair). My thumb lingered over the keyboard on my phone. As per usual, when one most wants to receive the welcome distraction of a message or a phone call, none come – everyone is inevitably busy with work, or boyfriends, or their hamster’s 80th birthday party.
‘No one is looking at you!’ I told myself, unconvincingly. I attempted soothing yoga breaths, but only ended up appearing as though I was in the beginning stages of labour and left feeling slightly light-headed. Finally, he arrived, looking harried –
‘Hi. Uhh, shall we, uh, get a coffee or something?’ he said, glancing furtively around, as though on the run from the Gestapo.
He scratched his chin, a tell-tell sign that he was feeling extremely awkward. The noise of fingernail against stubble caused me to wince. GOD he was irritating.
The whiff of suncream and hot sewage was in the air, as we walked down the street holding tubs of ice-cream – him, making painfully stinted small-talk; me, avoiding replying by shovelling down raspberry sorbet with the aid of a tiny fluorescent spatula, (provided by the Gelateria, I don’t carry my own miniature food-spade around). He was talking about Elon Musk AGAIN. I’m sorry, but why is it that no-one seems to have noticed the absurdity of that man’s name? Elon? MUSK? Sounds like the excretion of a male eel during mating season.
Eventually, we reached a patch of grass. I’m refusing to call this patch of grass a ‘park’, because frankly, it did not warrant the honour. Sparse, scrubby earth littered with cigarette butts and the occasional sandwich crust – the ideal location for a break-up. We sat down and I realised all to late that my white skirt was not in the least part compatible with the location. Alas, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do, (also, I didn’t fancy sharing the bench with the man who was peacefully snoring there).
‘So. What do you think is going on between us?’ I asked, scraping the last traces of sorbet from my tub.
‘Uhhhhm,’ he cleared his throat loudly, another unendurable marker of his discomfort, ‘well, uhh, I think you’re really super and uhhh obviously, I uhh, I don’t often find girls funny actually, so, uhhh…’ he trailed off, scratching his chin until it positively bled.
I did feel a little bad for him. We were the same age, yet his emotional maturity seemed to have petered off at 13. On the other hand, I reminded myself, I had spent several fruitless evenings attempting to teach him how to cook, (Mummy Darling had spared him that lesson in life); showed him how to fold his clothes, (thanks again, mothers who spawn infantile sons) and endured his terrible, terrible, terrible taste in music without wrinkling my nose ONCE (ok, maybe once, but ‘the sound you need’ YouTube channel really does belong safely back in 2011). Enough was enough –
‘Well. As persuasive as that was, I don’t think it’s quite good enough for me,’ I said, I standing up and dusting myself off. He awkwardly followed suit –
‘I, uhmm, you know, I really do respect you Bella,’ he said, gravely.
Interesting. He ‘respected’ me enough to introduce me to his friends like a trophy-wife, enough to talk about how much ‘his mum would love me’, enough to seek my advice on his career, yet not quite enough to avoid swiping my friends on Tinder.
‘Right, well, I think we might have slightly different definitions of that word’, I said coldly.
With that, I turned on my heel, my hair swishing over my shoulder in the manner of a Pantene model, (well that’s how I like to imagine it). All too soon, I heard his footsteps scuttling after me. Oh God, he wasn’t going to try and ‘win me back’ was he?
‘Bella! Wait! You’ve got some…uhhmm…err…on your..errhm…’ he gestured at my bottom half awkwardly.
Puzzled, I examined myself, pulling at my clothing to get a better look. Oh Christ. I really had been right about my skirt’s incompatibility with the non-park terrain.There was a unmistakably large, brown smudge across my backside. ‘Hear ye, hear ye, all of London town, Bella Armstrong appears to have poo-ed her pants! She has cacked herself I tell ye! Come one, come all, to see a veritable ‘soiling’!’
There may as well have been a town crier ringing his bell over my head as we walked in silence back to the tube – people almost broke their necks getting a good look at my skid-marked arse. At last, we were passing through the ticket barriers – the ordeal was nearly over.
‘Do I get a hug?’ he asked, attempting a charming grin.
I allowed him a brief ‘shoulder hug’, (all bone, no boob) and we went our separate ways.
Safely on the platform, I began to text my roommate, who was undoubtedly still in her button-down pyjamas, nursing a mug of coffee in our cosy flat. Looking up from my phone, my stomach dropped. He was standing there, on the opposite platform, directly across from me. Oh god oh god oh god if only I were one of those tiny little mice living under the train tracks, and could scurry away into a hole.
Perhaps the mice gods heard my prayers, because at that moment, my train pulled in.
Arriving back at my flat, I was welcomed by the delicious smell of frying garlic and tomatoes. A face wearing fogged-up spectacles appeared around the door and suddenly, I was being hugged –
‘I’ve made you pasta,’
Never have I heard four better words.