I dreamt that I finally got it together with SF. I finally got that kiss. I worked with him in London for a couple of years back in the day and was mad about him. He was my James Dean – my rebel without a cause. Or, in his case, a rebel with all too many causes. It wasn’t that all-consuming, hormone-driven lust thing. More the slow burn type that creeps up on you and just takes root as a massive crush that simply refuses to go away. Some days, I was mad about him; others, I was mad at him!
When the office moved to Vauxhall, we’d get in early in the morning and take it in turns to make a fancy coffee on the new-fangled coffee machine. Then we’d retire to the ‘garden’ and have a cigarette and talk about the world… and her mother…and her sister or brother, depending on where we were at in our respective lives. We planned to ride Route 66 on our Harleys; he even went so far as to take motorbike lessons and get his licence. Me, I’m still talking about it. We talked a lot about what ifs – he was so much better with plans than me. Our ideas of what the future might hold differed a lot but had one thing in common – both of us wanted to live beside the sea. We talked about it for hours.
We went to the seaside one weekend – me, him and a few mates. He showed up in Victoria Station in a naff football shirt (if it’s not a rugby shirt, why bother?) I thought he looked awful. Light years away from Jimmy D. He didn’t care. He had his own version of ‘cool’. Another evening, we went to the races. Me, him, and a bunch of mates. One night, we went to the theatre in Kilburn, to an Irish play – me, him and a couple of mates. Always in a crowd. I would ‘arrange’ these outings just to get him to come along. On a couple of very rare, and very special occasions, we went for a drink after work, or to dinner, or to the theatre…just the two of us. And then we’d talk a lot more – God, religion, families, hopes, dreams, fears. Still waters ran very deep with him. And every conversation revealed something new. Don’t get me wrong: he was far from perfect. He could be a right pain the arse; he certainly had his moments. I never really sussed what it was that set him off, but in those days he had the monopoly on contrariness. He was cool, though. Really cool. I tried everything I could think of to make him take a romantic interest in me and for every two steps we took forward, he’d take three huge leaps back. But it didn’t matter. That was half the fun.
Then he got sick. It started with a cough. He knew without being told. I would light candles for him when I travelled and send him a postcard to tell him I’d done so. He thought this was hilarious. He didn’t believe in God and he reckoned the candles wouldn’t do him any good; but if doing it helped me, then he was fine with it. I was in St Thomas’s Cathedral in Chennai on October 2, 2005. I had bought five candles and had lit four. I always kept his until last. I was in great form. Happy out. Loving India. And then, suddenly, I was bawling. Hysterical. In floods of tears. I couldn’t get the candle to light. After a minute or so, it passed. The candle lit. I said my prayer. And left. Clueless.
Back at the hotel a few hours later, his mate called me to tell me that he had died. Contrary to the last, I am convinced that he stopped into Chennai on his way and kept blowing out the bloody candle. Maybe he was right. Maybe they didn’t do him any good in the end. But they helped me a lot. I still light one for him on occasion – just out of badness!
Last night, I dreamt of him. Before he died, his voice had gone all raspy. We laughed about how sexy it made him sound. In my dream, he had that same voice. Thankfully, he wasn’t wearing the football shirt! We were out with friends and had wandered off on our own. We ended up in a prison of sorts where women were making clothes for the missions. For some unknown reason, we were there to meet the warden. She was rather sweet actually, despite the Victorian garb. As we left, we walked through a turnstile and passed through the gift shop (I know… in a prison???) There was a sale on diaries. It was July. Diaries were half-price and priced in forints (down from 80,000 to 40,000; about £130). I couldn’t make up my mind between a blue flowery one and a purple one. He got impatient. There was a party to go to. I opened the blue one and saw a photo of him inside. I decided to buy that one. Ever practical, he pointed out that it would cost as much again next year for a new refill. He wondered what I needed a diary for. I said I was buying it because it had his picture in it and I would have it to remember him by. He said I didn’t need a picture. And he kissed me. In the prison gift-shop. And he was Sean Connery in Hitchcock’s Marnie; Al Pacino in Frankie and Johnny; the best of James Nesbitt, Sam Waterston and Keith Wood rolled into one. It was pure and simple and lovely. The world stood still.
It took ages to find the car in the underground car park – we hadn’t driven to the prison so we didn’t know where it was parked – but we were driving back to the party! I drove; he gave directions. Everyone was wondering where we’d been. They’d never have believed us, so we didn’t bother explaining. The evening carried on. He was so attentive. As funny and as witty as ever. Life and soul when the mood took him; quiet and contemplative when it didn’t. But he was there. Not just physically, but there in mind and spirit. He was present. He was listening. Not that puppy-dog ‘hanging on every word’ listening, but really paying attention, in his own unobtrusive way. Aware of and involved in what was going on around him, he would glance over every now and then, and give me that knowing look – the one that cut through all the bullshit and got to the very core of who I am. He knew me. He really saw me. He lit my cigarettes. Our hands would touch. He ‘d smile. I got up at one stage to go to the bar and as I stepped behind him, I leaned over to ask him what he wanted and he kissed me again. This time in front of everyone. He smiled. He didn’t have to say anything. He was a very private man and this….this said everything! I floated away, just as the bell for last call was ringing. I woke up. I was practically levitating.
I’ve thought of him all day today. When I was in a meeting this morning, trying to sort out a difficult production timetable for a text book I’m working on; when I was bartering with my Afghani carpet-seller trying to get him to budge on a Chobi I really wanted; when I was wading through the rivers of rain that deluged Budapest this afternoon; when I was so annoyed and angry that I was fit to kill someone at the Internet shop; and when I had a celebratory glass of vino this evening. He was with me all day. And I’m still smiling. I know now he’s got my back…he’s watching out for me. I have great faith in my candles, mate… ta much!