They agreed to wear sunglasses and pretend it was summer even though it was summer. They looked like two people who were very at ease whilst the unease of Soho squeezed by, shuffling, muggy; and people shrieking or smiling and not making sense. Voices complained about the weather, words and humid complaints, left hanging behind by the mouths that made them, but this man and this girl, wearing their shades, they did not become a part of it. They were disconnected from such conversations because they were very pleased to see each other.
They found a bar, a great bar amid mediocre bars; they took a beer for him, a double vodka for her and she mixed it with lemonade and they sat outside and they were the only ones wearing shades but that didn’t matter, because they were in their own little world. She asked to look out over the people moving, commuting; they with free papers and guitars and long faces and appointments. He said that was fine and took the chair beside her, turning it towards her, giving her his full attention but he could feel London behind him.
Her finger and toes nails were painted with perfection and this was also the colour of her lips. Beauty fell from this girl’s forehead down to the tips of her feet. Her hair was dark. A change. She said she liked these changes she was making about herself. Her skin was healthy and tanned. The changes were working. That night she was the best kept, best dressed girl in Soho.
The man was older by thirteen years. His face was homely and not at its best but there was evidence of handsomeness; left-overs if you will, warmed up like a roast dinner. He drank his pint quickly as they spoke. She said she hadn’t eaten, was taking it slowly. He was finished before her and went to the bar for another. She was used to this. Waiting for him, she flicked through his notebook and picked out poems that she liked. Her favourite begun:
Come in, come in, come in, says the sea.
Bring you lotioned torsos closer and I’ll look after thee.
She liked rhythm to words, she told him. She liked things to have an order to them which was ironic because the man, he had no order to him. At that point a drifter with a ruffled beard and long finger nails skimmed past their table. He was full of desolation and smiles at the same time. “Oh she is a credit to you brother,” he said and put a hand to the man.
The hand ended up on the man’s shoulder. “She is beautiful. Verrrrrry beautiful. You’re good together boss. Reeeeeal good.” The man did not correct the drifter. Nor did the girl. The drifter leant down on their table and shook the man’s hand. He then kissed the girls hand and she winced slightly for he was not a clean drifter. He turned to the man and said: “I need money, my friend.” He turned to the girl and said: “He’s a keeper this man. You marry him” and she smiled. Summer was in the air even though it wasn’t in the weather. The sky wore a great grey flat cap but the couple still wore their shades. “I have no money, my friend,” the man said and he was mostly telling the truth. He gave the drifter a cigarette instead and the drifter seemed happy with that and left. The girl poured part of her vodka on her hand to kill any germs that may have been transferred. It was a sweet and pointless action that made the man smile.
He finished his second pint. With the third he returned holding two shots of whisky. The girl said she would absolutely not drink it so he drank both and told her secrets from his past. She talked about her new man, her niece, her family. She spoke of an auntie who had triumphed in life and the girl said lovely things like: “It motivates me to know I share blood with a woman who did that.” It was funny how many secrets were being shared considering how close they were. Lives are long and memories are staggered. All this to a backdrop of London business closing down; all this to the sound of the evening beginning to surround. They smoked a lot of cigarettes. They were both big smokers but never coughed or looked dirty. She then said that she loved his girlfriend. The girl said: “She is like a wall that you run your hand along, tapping, looking for the hollow part but you never find it.” The man thought that was one of the most beautiful things anyone had ever said about his girlfriend and decided he would include that in a story some time.
It was warm enough for t shirts, mini-skirts, summer dresses, flip flops and cropped tops and they all wandered past at some point or another in a flurry of city hurry, but the man and the woman were in no such rush. The beer felt good in his throat but the vodka took her empty stomach by surprise.
Yes, the temperature was perfect, only the sun had missed the party somehow but the girl was on holiday now so sun or no sun, summer had arrived. The man was always on holiday, in his mind. Week days and weekends were all the same to him. He felt the whisky in his blood and listened to her speak wise words about relationships and women and particularly women you can trust and those you cannot. He listened to her because he loved and admired her greatly. He always felt the need to keep her close in his life because he trusted her. She was also one of the few people who could persuade him. Usually he was too stubborn for persuasion. He rarely ate whilst he was drinking for example. At this moment, she persuaded him to go for burgers and cheesy chips. He thought it outrageous to leave a pub in favour of a diner but allowed her to drag him there anyway because she promised to buy him a beer.
The diner was wonderful. It was set in the fifties and had a funny waiter who was serious to the man and charming to the girl. They sat first at the window; then moved to the counter where he got steadily drunk and she got steadily milk-shaked. The chips were fat and heavy with cheese. The girl stared at the jukebox and he offered to give her 20p to choose a song. She said she didn’t want to put a song on: she just liked looking at all the titles and listening. She said they reminded her of her father. She called him The Big G and she loved The Big G without limit.
When they left the diner, they saw that Nature had been a magician: shuffling the card of light with the card of night seamlessly. Soho was full of smiles and ponytails and smoke now. They were two friends amid the chaos. The hour was still young. Taking the girl’s hand in his he pulled her gently towards the next pub.