One day, in the middle of December, I was sitting in Monmouth Street Soho when he turned up, that strange little man, wearing a tight black bolero jacket, bum hugging pants and orange high-heeled boots. To top it off he wore a perky little hat with a feather. I groaned inwardly. There no way I was in the mood for the tyranny of a weirdo sitting next to me at my table. I carried on reading. It was one of those dire, self-help books about how to succeed in life. I’d seen the guy on YouTube and was impressed by his American guru act, according to him all you had to do was think yourself out of trouble and mentally glide your way toward health, wealth and eternal happiness. Just Do It! had been on the New York Times best seller list for a over a year, but the more I read the more oppressed it made feel. My bleak thoughts were not up for changing and as far I was concerned, that 500 page tome was sod all use for a broken heart.
Nevertheless, it was a good people avoider and I pretended to be engrossed in the page when tranny man – or whatever he was – sat down. Much as I was bent on ignoring him, I couldn’t help but throw a crafty eye in his direction now and then, just to see what he was up to. The sun shone in the heavens that day and it radiated full pelt onto the pavements below. He was sitting there with his eyes closed, a delicate hand stroking a well-trimmed beard and I could tell from the look on his upturned face that he was enjoying the unseasonably warm weather a lot more than I was.
I gave up on the self-help leviathan and tried another volume – it was one of those earnest ‘literary works’ so admired by readers of the Guardian and other worthy publications. I couldn’t get my head into it so instead I studied my table companion.
His face – now that was interesting in itself, haughty with traces of the feminine yet with a strong undertone of masculinity. Here was a man, above the knee dressed like a Matador but wearing women’s high-heeled boots and, on closer inspection, a trace of red lipstick! What was his game I wondered? To add to the confusion, I perceived a certain raw animal magnetism about his person.
He was still relaxing with his eyes closed and twirling what looked a set of like rosary beads, though they may have been worry beads. I couldn’t say which but whatever they were made of – maybe it was mother of pearl – they glinted in the sunlight and for a time I was mesmerised by the beans weaving in and out – serpent like – through those long tan fingers. It gave me a terrible fright when his two eyes snapped open and pierced me to the core with an intense, dark-eyed stare.
‘Is a good book?’ He asked in a low, musical sounding voice that reminded me a little of Manuel from Fawlty Towers.
I picked it up from the table, turned it around and placed it back down again. ‘Not really,’ I told him, ‘boring, actually.’
‘Many books is like this,’ he said with a dismissive wave of the hand. Then he leaned in and I caught a sickly sweet, floral scent that grossed me out. ‘Do you want to know something really interesting?’
By this time, I was too intrigued by his strange manner and appearance to pretend otherwise, so I went along. ‘What’s that?’ I asked.
‘I’m an angel sent down from heaven,’ he informed me with a look of seriousness.
‘Cool,’ I said, returning to my book and hoping that my disinterested response would be enough to send him on his way. I really didn’t want to get talking to a nutter.
He looked at the title. ‘You in a heavy place now, right?’
‘Not really,’ I answered.
‘No, quite happy actually.’
He looked at me intently. ‘No! I don’t believe it. I observe the sorrow in your eyes, young man.’
This was too much.
I started up to go but his words came at me like an ice pick at the back of my neck. ‘She not comin’ back you knowing.’
I swirled around. What? Could he read my mind? ‘I’m sorry?’
He said it again matter of factly and yawned.
I was ready to interrogate him, but his attention was on the waiter who came out to clear the tables. The waiter’s distinct lack of eagerness to serve him hardly surprised me. I had always thought that gay men of a certain uniformity and style despise those not as au-courant as themselves.
I sat down at the table and dropped my heavy, self-help-book-filled satchel on the ground. ‘Come again?’
He glared at me with those feverish eyes. ‘Your girlfriend, she has left you, forget about it my fren, move on.’
For some unknown reason I wholly accepted the fact that he knew about my love story – or should I say – loveless story.
‘Gone – as in – dead or just gone from my life?’ I asked, with the same air of flippancy as before but with an unmistakable poison in my words. I realised then how much I resented the cow. Why did she have to go and leave me? Wasn’t I good enough? Couldn’t she just accept that a guy has off days from time to time? And Christ knew she was no saint herself!
We sat facing each other, him like bloody Mystic Meg intent on reading my fortune. ‘She has foun’ another.’
My voice faltered, ‘an …. another?’
‘Is good thing,’ he told me, ‘now you, open your heart to the universe and the right person will walk into your life.’
He was sounding like the cheesy self-help book now. It wasn’t down to him to tell me who I should be with.
I felt frazzled by his words. ‘I don’t want the right bloody person, I want the wrong person, I want her!’
‘Like I say, she is with another, an’ very happy.’
Talk about rubbing salt in the wound!
‘Rubbish!’ I said, ‘it’s all rubbish. What’s her name anyway if you know so much.’
He gave her name, just like that. When the waiter came prancing out again I ordered a shot of vodka before remembering that I was seated at a coffee shop, not a bar.
However, having blown my mind and blitzed all hope from my soul, my companion came to the rescue. Discretely, he pulled a quart bottle of something from his jacket and handed it to me without a word. I grabbed it and hastily unscrewed the cap. Despite my nervous condition the strong smell of that liquor got my attention, it was a combination of herbaceous honey and fine old brandy and when I took a greedy swig it tasted just fine. Almost right away I started to mellow out.
He held out his hand and clicked his fingers. Reluctantly, I returned the nectar into his possession and watched as he carefully screwed the top back on and slipped it away again.
‘You want to see her?’ My companion asked.
‘She won’t have anything to do with me,’ I answered.
He laughed. ‘If you want I can make it so.’
It was my turn to laugh. ‘Want what?’
‘To hook up with her again.’
I stood up to leave. ‘Thanks for the drink.’
The voice that came after me was a like a command from God, it stopped me in my tracks. ‘Wait!’
I turned around. Against my own good judgement I sat back down. ‘Allow me to demonstrate,’ weirdo said.
‘Mind over matter,’ he told me.
I watched as he folded the beads into a small silk pouch. He tucked it away in his pocket. What other treasures did that jacket contain I wondered. ‘When that waiter come out, I make him break the glass.’
‘What glass?’ I sneered.
It so happened that a couple at one of the tables had ordered mineral water and seconds later the comely waiter emerged from the restaurant carrying a bottle of Perrier and two glasses. As he bent over to set the order down on the table, he dropped a glass and it fell to the ground smashing into tiny pieces in front of the horrified pair.
The waiter was mortified. ‘Oh, I’m so sorry, so sorry,’ and he ran back inside to fetch a dustpan and broom.
My companion gave me an exaggerated wink.
‘Pure coincidence,’ I said getting up to leave, for real this time.
I felt his eyes on me – amused – as I walked off down the street. What a headcase, I thought.
A week later, I bumped into Angelina at a garden party in Twickenham. She was seated under a tree chatting with her friends while the retro 80’s music blared. I might have been a ghost she was that oblivious to my presence.
I watched her through the kitchen window laughing with her companions and wondered if the joke was on me. She was beautiful as ever, her long blonde hair flowing in all directions, her face glowing under the moonlight. Bright and bubbly as ever. I scanned the garden to see if she with someone else, feeling the old snake of jealousy eating at my soul, but there didn’t seem to be any other guy around, just Angelina and her friends.
Taking my courage in my hands, I sauntered outside and sat down. ‘Hello Angelina’.
She turned with a look of shock and incomprehension. ‘What are you doing here?’
‘Same as you,’ I said and laughed nervously.
‘Who invited you?’
I pointed at my friend Joe who I’d known for years. The way she put it, you’d have been forgiven for thinking that Joe was her friend, but not mine. ‘Joe asked me to join him for his birthday. He didn’t say he’d invited you too.’
She turned back to her group of girlfriends and told them, ‘this is Alec, my ex.’
They looked at me like I had two heads then Joe came out and handed me a joint, which I quickly toked and handed back. I didn’t want to get all paranoid on the stuff like I had done in the past, but the hit was instant. I realised I hadn’t had a puff for ages, not since Angelina and I had split. I lay back on the grass looking up at the stars, thinking of the Matador and his prediction that she and I would meet again. Now that I was in her presence, it felt oddly unreal and not as exhilarating as I had anticipated in my endless fantasies about being next to her again. Her voice reached me from somewhere far off. ‘It’s good to see you Alec.’
I turned to gaze at her face, sinking into those big cornflower blue eyes. ‘Really good to see you too babe,’ and I remembered how I used to call her ‘Angel’ and how she hated it, saying it made her sound like a South London troll.
To my surprise, she lay down next to me on the grass. ‘lt’s a shame Alec but we don’t belong together.’
‘Why not?’ I asked, the old hurt gnawing at my heart again. She’d said that over and over when we were together as a couple – I love you Alec but we don’t belong together – and it used to make me mad hearing those words uttered right after we’d made love. I would simmer with rage and then eventually lash out, calling her all the names under the sun for the slightest most insignificant offence.
‘I can’t say why,’ she told me, ‘we just don’t get along, that’s all.’
‘Are you with someone new?’
‘That’s none of your business.’
The music washed over us as we spoke and I heard the soaring soprano voice of Jimmy Somerville, ‘Don’t leave me this way …’
An airplane went by overhead, I pictured myself going to some distant land, a desert, where no one lived except me.
‘You never gave us a chance,’ I told her. ‘Right from the start you put me in a box and shoved me in the corner, only taking me out when it suited you.’
‘That’s not true,’ She told me. ‘You had mood swings Alec.’
‘And you didn’t?’
I remembered how she would all of a sudden go quiet and cold, not speaking and acting as if I wasn’t there.
‘No, not like you.’
I thought to myself, the pot calling the kettle black, but it occurred to me that here I was, at a party, with my beloved Angel at my side, and all I was doing was dragging up old painful stuff.
The music slowed down – I heard the velvety voice of Barry White, ‘You’re my first, my last, my everything …’
It was one of Angelina’s favourites. I looked around – there were a few people up dancing and smooching in the kitchen.
‘Wanna dance?’ I asked expecting to be rebuffed.
‘Sure,’ Angelina said, ‘for old time’s sake, why not.’
We were both a little drunk and stoned – it felt good holding her close again after a month apart. I drank in the softness of her hair, the warmth of her body, the familiar scent of her perfume. We danced and eventually we kissed. It was electric. After the song we went back outside and sat down on the grass again, holding hands.
For a moment or two, it felt as though we had never parted.
‘You two an item again then,’ someone said in sarcastic tones and Angelina immediately let go of my hand. She went back to speaking with her friends. The conversation turned to gossip about work. They were obsessed with their high-flying jobs, like it was the only thing that existed. I grew bored and got up and went into the kitchen to fetch more beers. When I returned, people were dancing on the grass to Bruce Springsteen. I looked at the jerky over-exaggerated movements of Angelina and her friends. In the corner, I spotted a girl sitting quietly by herself. Like me, she didn’t seem to belong to the crowd – I went over and offered her the beer I had fetched for Angelina.
She accepted and I sat down next to her. She reminded me of the Matador, the same dark eyes, the same high cheekbones, the same intensity of expression. Her name was Betty and she was softly strumming a guitar while no one was listening, but I listened, she had a beautiful voice and she sang songs that she made up in her bedroom. I think Angelina may have glanced over in our direction a couple of times, I felt the glare of her attention, but somehow it didn’t seem to matter.
Betty and I have been going steady for years. She works in a bakery and at the weekends she writes songs. I act as her agent, going around getting her gigs at bars and venues. We never argue and when she holds my hand she never lets go.
Sad to say, I didn’t meet the Matador again, but I often think of him, and last I heard of Angelina, she had broken up with her boyfriend.