Airport/Groceries on the Dancefloor

Airport

London Gatwick. I find the boards and scan with tired eyes. My flight doesn’t jump out at me and I feel momentarily vexed. Has it all been one big mistake? Wrong date? Wrong time? (In airports I always feel like I’m on the brink of a huge blunder). Then I see it. Bilbao. VY7293 19:55. Boarding gate will be announced at 19:05. Grand.

I head towards Departures, negotiating the wheelie bags and fond farewells. I queue. The guys at security have an impatient air and seem perpetually mystified at the hesitancy coupled with stupidity that comes over the passengers. Every day the same. I take out my laptop and place it in a tray. I pull out another tray and drop my bag into it. I remove my jacket and stuff it alongside my bag. I stick my wallet and belt in the sides. I dig my hands into my pockets and feel for loose coins. None. Grand.

I pass through the metal detector without a beep. I meet my bag on the other side and refill my pockets, slip on my belt, place the laptop back in the bag and heave it onto my back. Passport, wallet, ticket, phone, keys, boarding pass. Grand.

Shiny shops in a busy thoroughfare. I find the food hall. The stench of coffee greets and entices me. I pay for an overpriced coffee and sandwich. The coffee feels good. The contents of the sandwich conspire to create zero flavour whatsoever.

I go down to the seating area. People are reading or pushing buttons on their phones while intermittently checking the boards. It seems a numbness has come over us all. We are in-between, waiting for our lives to start again.

Portugalete, Bilbao

I drop my bag in my room, splash water on my face, reapply some deodorant and go outside. I tackle the hill with purpose. It’s been a long numbing day of travel (3 hour bus journey, airport, flight, airport, flight and car ride) so my energy surprises me. I guess my legs are relieved to be finally set free out of doors.

It’s a big night here in Bilbao. The bars are heaving. Jessica and her friends are in the ‘Why not?’ I’m excited to see Jessica as we’ve been apart over Christmas. I’m also a little nervous as I’m about to meet her friends for the first time.

The bouncer nods at me. The bar behind him seems like a busy cave of activity. He pulls the door open and I step inside, and inadvertently, into a group of eight or so people standing in a crescent formation. They all seem to be looking at me. They must be Jessica’s friends. Meekly I scan the group but I can’t see her anywhere. Then I see her sister Andrea. I smile, kiss her cheeks and wish her a happy new year. This confirms to the group that I am him, Jessica’s new fella. I feel the eyes switch from curiosity to appraisal.

Finally Jessica appears at my side. We kiss, hug and say a few words. A drink is handed to me.People from the group step forward to introduce themselves.  Marie Luis, Alvaro, Luis, Martha, Mirren. We speak in Spanglish. We have to lean into one another to be heard above the Reggathon blasting out of the speakers. Everybody’s nice. Everyone makes an effort. Nervousness has me tilting back my glass with speed.  Aritz, Akine and Ane. After a whirlwind of introductions I’m relieved to be back standing next to Jessica. Another drink is handed to me.

‘I’ll get the next,’ I promise.

I spot a plastic bag on the floor. It’s filled with a box of breakfast cereal, a litre of milk, eggs, apples, bananas and mandarins. How curious it looks! It seems as though  it has been transplanted from somebody’s kitchen of a dreary Tuesday morning to this limitless Friday night of disco balls and lights.

‘It’s for you,’ Jessica says following my gaze.

My face clouds with puzzlement.

‘Tomorrow is a holiday and all the shops are closed,’ she explains. ‘Seen as you were arriving late I thought I’d get you a few things.’

I smile at the bag of shopping and then at Jessica. My fondness for her deepens.

 

Nocktoebenaughto

Something Similar? What is she like?

Something Different? Bilbao Metro 4am

 

Hello, what’s this?

I’m outside the Molly Malone Bar when I see them, the pair of them in Charlie Chaplin costumes. They’re not pulling faces or doing funny walks – just enjoying their fags. I ask James for some tobacco, quickly assemble a cigarette and walk over to them. Six steps.

‘Tienes mechero?’ I ask, with my thumb working an imaginary device.

‘Si,’ says the taller Chaplin, opening her hand to reveal a lighter. I light up, take a drag and ask what’s with the Charlie Chaplin costume.

‘We are not dressed as Charlie Chaplin. We are Dupont y Dupond.’

‘Who?’ I ask.

‘Thompson and Thomson,’ says the smaller Chaplin.

‘Who are they?’

‘They are from Tintin.’

‘Fuck yeah! The detectives.’

They nod enthusiastically, relieved I get it.

‘Billions of blue blistering barnacles!’

They look at me.

‘Do you know him? The sailor captain fella…from Tintin?’

They nod, but I don’t think they know what I’m on about.

‘So, why are you dressed as Thompson and Thomson?’

‘It is our cousin’s Detective Themed Birthday party,’ says smaller Thompson.

‘And everyone thinks they are twins but they are not even brothers,’ says taller Thomson.

‘But we are sisters,’ says smaller Thompson.

‘But not twins,’ adds taller Thomson.

James comes over and we end up going through the conversation again; this time in Spanish. Then, we pair off. I’m talking to the taller Thomson. She is studying engineering in Santander. She lives in Sestao. Her sister’s name is Vane. Her name is Jessica. No it isn’t a typical Basque name but there was a trend for English names around the year she was born. As she talks I nod and nod. It’s not that I strongly agree with trendy English names; it’s more that I am in accord with how she comes across. There’s something about her – and it’s not the moustache.

She asks about me. She listens.

I become aware that James and Vane’s conversation has dried up. The cigarettes are finished and feet are shuffling, eager to move on to the next moment. For James and I that’s finding somewhere to eat. For Jessica and Vane – back inside to be enveloped by their friends and the general tomfoolery that costumes engender.

But I don’t want to let Jessica go just yet.

‘Let’s get a photo!’ I say.

Jessica and Vane agree.

I give my phone to some guy. The four of us stand together. The photo gets taken. We separate. James walks over to our friends. Vane starts to walk inside. I walk with Jessica towards the door.

‘Where are you going later?’ I ask.

‘I don’t know. My cousin will decide. What about you?’

‘I don’t know. Café Antxokia maybe. Do you know it?’

‘Yes, yes. I like it.’

‘I might see you later then.’

‘Okay.’

‘Okay.’

And then we are at the door. There is nothing left for her to do but walk through it and she duly does. It’s unlikely I’ll see her later, or ever again for that matter. Bilbao, with its 1million inhabitants, is a big and small place at the same time. Some people you bump into. Others, well; different circles, same fishbowl.

‘Jessica!’

It’s said before I have time to think myself into inaction.

She stops in the doorway and turns around. The two of us move to the side so we are not getting in people’s way; this creates an odd sense of privacy that emboldens me.

‘Are you single?’ I ask.

‘Yes.’

‘Maybe, sometime, like next weekend, we can meet for a beer?’

‘Okay.’

A pang of joy!

‘So I’ll take your number then.’

‘Okay.’

Another!

I produce my phone. She begins to call out her number but James, who is hungry and oblivious to the delicate matter at hand, comes over and presses me about going for some food. I fear the interruption will give Jessica a chance to review the situation and change her mind.

‘I’ll be over in a minute,’ I say to James. Whether it’s through my words, my tone or the look in my eyes I don’t know but, thankfully, my message is received and he ghosts away.

I look at Jessica. She nods and continues to call out her number. Joy and relief! I carefully type it in. I enter her name but my finger slips and I spell it Jessicq. No matter, it’s there now.

‘Okay. Great. I’ll call you now so you have my number,’ I say.

She takes out her phone, looks at it and shows me the screen. There it is, my number.

‘So. I’ll text you to arrange a drink or something.’

‘Okay.’

‘Okay.’

I put my phone in my pocket. She drops hers into her bag zips it shut. I lean in and kiss her on both cheeks. She goes into the pub. I go back to the lads. I have trouble keeping the smile off my face.

Six steps; a light, a chat, a feeling, a photo, a question, a number. The start, maybe, of something.

happy trails

Something similar? A Bit of Romance

Something different? The Karaoke Delusion

Bilbao Metro 4am

I turn the corner and look up. Sure enough, there is a tall pole with the lit red symbol atop. It’s a welcome sight. I walk towards it. I go down a flight of stairs, down a steep escalator, then down another steep escalator. It’s hot. Anymore feckin’ escalators and we’d be at the earth’s core. A train screeches up the track. I quicken my pace and slip my card out of my wallet. I hope it has credit. I see the roof of the train by the platform below. The doors open. A beeping sound warns people to get their asses inside quickly. I run. I swipe my card. The gates open. I take the stairs, sidestepping as fast as I can. But, as I arrive on the platform the train moves off. It screeches in a kind of sneering manner, which I appreciate none-too-much.

The train is like a sideways parting curtain that slowly reveals the other platform and there, casually waiting, are the Bilbao folk that have it sussed. I didn’t miss the train. I’m on the wrong bloody platform. Dumb luck. Anyway, why was I rushing? Even if I had missed the right train there’d be another along in ten minutes. It’s not like I haven’t time to spare; I’ve just wiled away hours drinking in bars.

It’s not the same atmosphere of waiting you get during the day; voices are raised and every now and then someone bursts out laughing. I scan the crowd. Gangs crowd around benches. Well, groups. Gangs sound intimidating. Guys and girls. More guys than girls. There’s one woman who stands alone. It looks like there’s a uniform under her cardigan. A cleaner maybe, mid-fifties on her way home. Her thin lips give her an impatient expression. Two good-looking girls come down the steps and stand in front of an advertisement for an English Academy. Tight jeans and leather jackets.  I consider walking over and striking up a conversation, you know, to practise my Spanish. In the last bar I pushed myself to approach a girl and say ‘Hola. Que tal?’ She rolled her eyes and walked away. I was left standing there like a dick. Thankfully, the lads didn’t see it ( although I could feel some fella in some corner laughing at me). Anyway, I decide not to talk to the two pretty girls on the platform. Well I don’t really decide anything. I just stand there near the bottom of the stairs, waiting like everyone else.

A breeze blows through the station. I look down the tunnel and see a huge square can rattling up the track. People stand and survey the carriages sliding by. There’s a gasp and a screech as the train settles. The doors open. We inch inside, disperse, and find a place to park ours bums. Those already seated gather themselves. I sit on one of the flip down chairs near the door. The cleaner sits on the seat opposite, her two hands clasping the strap of her handbag, her back erect and her eyes alert. She’s primed to bolt at a moment’s notice. The two pretty girls find a space halfway down the carriage, sit down and busy their thumbs with their mobile phones. The train moves on. As we enter the tunnel the engine screeches like a banshee.

I can taste the alcohol in my mouth. I try to figure out how much I had. I lose count after six and conclude that it’s enough to secure a hangover, but also enough to engender the current mood of insouciance. I look at my phone for something to do. I go on Facebook. Photos, videos and comments slide by. If I have time for this it’s a lie to say I don’t have time. I feel an aching dissatisfaction slowly rising. I slip my phone away.

A couple of stops later the cleaning lady leaves and a drunk guy staggers on. It’s like the changing of scenes in an unscripted play. He sits where the lady was and instantly falls asleep; head tilted, mouth open and Adam’s apple protruding. As the train gathers speed his head moves side to side slightly. As it slows again he inches forward. When the doors beep he awakes. Confused, he looks around. His eyes meet mine and narrow in suspicion, as if he’s woken up in some hellish nightmare and I’m to blame. I look away. Eventually he gets his bearings and repositions himself in his chair. People let themselves out, people let themselves in.

The drunk guy keeps himself awake by telling himself a story that seems to both amuse and surprise him. He staggers away at Barakaldo.

‘I have no idea how I got home,’ he will tell his friend’s tomorrow.

The train pushes on. There are now just a few people scattered around the carriage. Everyone’s quiet and tired. On the way in we were nicely presented and curious to see what Saturday night had in store. Now, that curiosity has been spent. I wonder if we’re one step closer to, or one step further away from where we wanna be. Neither, I suppose. Saturday night is more a necessary side-step.

 ‘Portugalete’ announces the electronic voice. People stand and gather by the door. We exit the train and ascend the two flights of stairs and escalator.  A few people grimace as the early morning Autumn chill hits them at the exit.

After five seconds the crowd have vanished. I’m alone on a quiet street surrounded by tall buildings. It’s just a matter of getting to bed. Sleep awaits me there.

nocktoebenaugto

Something Similar; It gets off to a bad start…

Something Different; A Black Star on the last Day of School

 

 

Insomnia

Last night I was tilting back glasses of yellow, smoking cigarettes and talking like a man who had a handle on things. The bar was crowded with smiling faces, the dance-floor a blur of bright dresses and dark suits.

Now though, I’m alone in my bedroom. My body hums in rejection to the whole idea of sleep. Thoughts race through my mind. I keep expecting these thoughts to arrive at a conclusion, whereupon I turn over, drift off into a satisfying slumber, wake up refreshed and go forth into the rest of my life with a brand new attitude. But, it ain’t happening.

I’m scared too. Of what? I don’t know. Something I forgot or did or said, or something I should be doing, apart from sleeping.

I throw off the cover and let the air at my legs. It’s 3am and I have work tomorrow. Fuck, today. I envision the pre-work routine; getting the bus, a quick coffee, the stale air of the classroom, devising plans, photocopying, checking my tired, weary red eyes in the mirror. I picture the students coming through the classroom door; The kids loud and boisterous, the teens slow and unenthused, the adults chirpy. How am I gonna do it?

Outside, a distant dog yaps. A car passes.

My mind jumps from past to present to future.

I think of last night’s sing-song. The choruses were belted out, loud and assured. The verses were fragile things, often solo efforts with muddled lyrics. We leaned in and willed on the one charged with taking us to the good parts. My cousin was confident with ‘Streams of Whiskey’ though. He galloped through the verses.

‘I have cursed, bled and sworn/Jumped bail and ended up in jail/Life has tried to stretch me/But the rope always was slack…’

I can’t think of the rest. The lines hang there, dissatisfied, like their journey has come to an abrupt and unwanted ending. I guess that’s what makes Shane McGowan such an amazing song-writer. When he puts words together, they belong to each other. I contemplate turning on my phone to check the lyrics but then I think of Paula and how I should never have given her such power. I don’t know what’s bringing my thoughts to her but I can’t control the bastards. The last few weeks were shit. I knew it was gonna happen but I clung on anyway. Let her do it, I thought. Still though, if I had more self-respect I would have split. How could I let someone waste my precious time like that, worrying over whatsapps?

I think of girls I have dumped. I’m haunted by the look in their eyes. What gave me the right to cause such hurt?

You can’t win.

I get out of bed. I get the pack of cigarettes from my shelf, open the window, sit on the bed and spark up a fag. The escalators are still. There isn’t a soul around. I see the ‘Hanging Bridge’ looming over the buildings. I like that bridge. So do the locals. There is a photo of it in every café in town. Portugalete and its famous hanging bridge.

‘How did you end up in Portugalete?’ Paula had asked, mystified.

‘Well, before I moved here, I was worried about two things more than anything else; not having any job and not having any friends. Dee promised me both, in Portugalete.’

And Dee had delivered. She was unhesitant and unrelenting in her help. Recently, she was told to move out of her apartment. There were two rooms available in my apartment.

‘Do you mind if I move in?’

She saw the look on my face, my shrug.

‘I understand if you don’t like the idea,’ she added.

‘It’s just we work together and socialise together and to live together too…’

‘Okay. I get it.’

What the fuck was I protecting? My solitude? I should have been a better friend.

The difference a day makes. Yesterday I felt like things were tidy, that behind the scenes things were somehow working in my favour. Today, the opposite. The tide was in, now its out.

I stub out the fag and close the windows. I lay down and look up at the ceiling. I try to concentrate on my breathing. I hear birds tweeting. Please.

What can’t be more than thirty minutes later a too loud alarm goes off. My bones, tongue and eyes are heavy. They have been touched by sleep and yearn for more. I force myself to sit up. Sleep has arrived and is ready to carry me away. I have to push it off and get outta bed.

nocktoebenaughto

Something Similar? A Post-Holiday Whatsapp Crisis

Something Different? A Trip to Quirky Salamanca

It gets off to a bad start…

Portugalete train station. 927am Sunday. The platform is empty. I look up the track – nothing. I listen for a toot or a chug – nothing. The screen is a blur of red letters, but I don’t need it spelt out for me; I’ve misread the timetable and there’s no train coming. Fuck. I exit the train station and start running towards the taxi rank. The clouds are heavy and low and it’s humid. I picture what will happen if I don’t get to San Mames on time; frantic messaging, my friends annoyed faces, hasty rearrangements. I run faster. I feel sweat teasing through my skin. My bag bounces on my back.

The taxi gets me to San Mames bus station on time. My mistake costs €22.

I’m relieved to find that Paul and Bren are also hungover. Their faces are shiny with sweat and there’s a wiff of stale beer.

I throw my bag into the luggage compartment. We board the bus.

Then it gets worse…

Paul spends the journey with his head in his hands, saying very little, except ‘I wanna die.’ Then he announces that he needs a plastic bag. Bren says he has one. Perhaps Bren has forgotten that the moments before puking, with the cold sweats and the stomach’s rising bitter soup, are awful. He seems in no rush at all.

‘Now, which bag do you want? I have a BM bag and an Eroski back. Mind you the Eroski bag has my runners inside. They’re a little smelly so maybe we’ll go for the…oh wait, I have another bag here…’

Paul drops his bottle of water to the floor and pokes his hand through the gap in the seats. Bren gets the hint and provides the asking hand with a bag.

I try to ignore it. I stare straight ahead. I hear the retching and the plopping as the bag fills with the contents of Paul’s troubled stomach. I feel a new film of sweat forming on my skin. I feel my chest tighten. I take deep breaths and hoover in the sickly aroma from the plastic bag. I feel like I’m gonna have a panic attack or something. When we arrive in San Sebastian I hurry off the bus.

I stand against a cool wall and calm myself.  The bus to Biarritz is in thirty minutes.  I’m coming round. I pat down my pockets; passport, wallet, phone, raincoat. Bag?

‘Fuck. My bag!’

I run out to the bus bays but the bus has gone.  On the way to Biarritz, I feel jolts of regret every time I think of something in my bag.

‘No! My new shorts.’

‘Nooo! My swimming togs.’

‘Noooo! My glasses.’

Then it gets a little better…

We stalk the streets of Biarritz like vampires, seeking out shade and wincing in the sun.

‘This is France for God sakes, there must be a good place to eat.’

‘Well, you say that, but I haven’t seen one McDonald’s yet.’

Eventually we settle for a burger bar near the beach.

‘Fuck me,’ Bren says with a mouth full of burger.

‘What?’

‘There are so many hot women.’

Our eyes follow another arse down the street.

‘Yeah. Fuck.’

Fed, we go for beers. Bren is extremely positive.

‘It’s great to get away’

‘I can’t wait for this festival in Bayonne.’

‘These beers are going down nicely.’

The beer and Bren’s positivity steer us out of the hangover towards good times.

Then it gets better again…

Bayonne. The streets are full. Machine gun carrying soldiers walk by in twos and threes. There are snipers silhouetted on the rooftop of the town hall.

We are appropriately attired with white t-shirts and red handkerchiefs. We swagger up to a stall and order a pitcher of beer. The bar man explains that they are about to close so we can have two pitchers of cider for the price of the plastic pitchers; €2. He becomes our new favourite person in the world. We tell him he’s wonderful, Bayonne is wonderful, France is wonderful, the French language is wonderful. He reacts by crinkling his forehead, pouting his lips, shrugging slightly and rocking his head, slightly. He is nonplussed.

Next, a firework display. Its awesomeness shoots energy to our bones. As soon as it finishes the DJ takes the party by the reins. Everyone dances. Everyone sings. The sniper watches over us.

We hold our red handkerchiefs aloft like defiant football fans.

 

Bayonne 2.jpg
Bayonne festival (Fetes de Bayonne)

 

And then it gets a bit mental…

The party veers away from the town hall towards the back streets. Bren hooks his arm around a passing girl, swings her in close and plants a kiss on her lips. She pulls back in shock, appraises him, then tilts her head in for more.

There’s a guy dancing on top of a barrel. He’s topless and his trousers are down around his ankles. A girl stands under him, arms aloft in praise of the fucks he is not giving. Suddenly, she jumps up, grabs his jocks and tugs. The jocks get stuck around his thighs so he works them down. The crowd respond with a mixture of bemused cheers, laughter and shock at the sight of his penis that hangs there like the trunk of a shy animal. The French girl next to me indicates with a thumb and index finger that she is not impressed with the size of his penis.

There are loads of hands supporting me. They take my weight. My feet leave the ground. I am hoisted up. My feet feel the top of a barrel. The hands leave me. I stand shakily, not quite trusting the barrel. It’s secure. Naked guy is on my left. I give him the thumbs up because I admire his balls. Bren is on my right. I give him the thumbs up because he is making it okay to be here with your trousers still on. Jackson 5 I want you back chimes out of the speakers. I howl approval. The street howls back.

Finally…

Three buses and a metro join the dots between Bayonne and Portugalete. When I get to my room I close the door, drop my bag on the floor and sigh. How else was it going to end?

Something similar? The Karaoke Delusion Something different? Glimpses into Classrooms

A Black Star on the last Day of School

The 3332 bus pulls up. I board, swipe my card and walk down the aisle. Same glum faces. Dee smiles. I sit next to her.

‘Yaaay! Last day!’ she says.

‘Yup.’

‘You don’t sound too excited.’

‘Well, I don’t really like the last day of school.’

‘Of course you don’t.’

‘I like the holidays, don’t get me wrong, it’s just the last day. The kids are wired, there are always loose ends to tie up and the kids are wired.’

‘You said the same thing twice.’

‘It’s a salient point.’

‘So what? Entertain them for an hour and then ‘Be Gone Bitches.’

‘Yeah, I suppose.’

We stop at traffic lights. Dee sighs.

‘Only you could be depressed on the last day of school.’

‘It’s just experience. I used to expect to feel this huge rush of relief once the kids walked out the door but I just ended up feeling empty.’

‘It’ll be easy.  We haven’t seen most of the teenagers for weeks. They’re not even gonna show up today.’

‘That’s the other thing. We’ve been teaching them all year, gone beyond the call of duty for some, and then one day they just stop showing up.’

‘Well what did you expect ‘Oh Captain my Captain?’

‘No but a goodbye or thanks would have been nice.’

 ‘I suppose.’

‘I mean not even a shrug or a pout. They just don’t bother showing up.’

‘It’s just teenagers being teenagers. Don’t read too much into it.’

The bus curves a roundabout.

‘I remember when I was teaching in Ireland. It was the last day of sixth class. The kid’s last day in the school ever. And as one of ‘em was leaving he came up to me to say that he didn’t think it was fair because he didn’t get as many sweets as Colm did. I looked at him like ‘Really? Those are your parting words? Eight years in the school. Two with me and that’s all you gotta say.’

‘Well there are lots of jobs where people don’t get any thanks.’ 

‘But –  they all left and I was there on my own. Next thing, two of the girls came back into the class and hugged me.’

‘What did you do?’

‘I said thanks. They said thanks. It was a goodbye. It was lovely.’

‘That’s sweet.’

‘Yeah. ’

We get off at our stop and go to work. Later, we meet for beers.

‘Did you have many?’

‘I had all the kids.’

‘How were they?’

‘Grand. I didn’t expect much, so grand. You?’

 ‘Had the kids. None of the teens. You had Asier and Endika, right?’

‘Yup. They showed up every class this year. Nice lads. Asier is going to study film next September. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s a famous director one day. He’s so passionate about film and music. It’s mad that they’re such good friends. I mean Endika isn’t really into music or film. He’s sporty. And he’s tall and thin whereas Asier is- Holy shit!’

I notice Asier and Endika walking up the road. I smile and wave. They wave back and walk towards us.

‘Hi guys. How are you? We were just talking about you two.’

They smile.

‘Brian, we went to the cinema and afterwards we went to the music shop and got you this,’ Endika says and gestures towards Asier.

Asier dips his hand into a plastic bag and produces a CD. David Bowie – Black Star.

I stand up.

‘We had a very good year with you,’ Endika says. Asier nods in agreement.

‘ Jesus. Thank you so much! This is the album we talked about in class – remember – when he died?’

‘Yes. We remember.’

I don’t say much on the bus home. I just keep staring at the CD. I think about them discussing the whole idea, counting their money after the cinema, picking up different CDs in the music shop and the light bulb moment when they saw David Bowie. I think of them going to the academy first to find me. I think of the embarrassed way they approached me. I replay the sentence ‘we had a very good year with you.’ I think about them pushing themselves through all those stages. I’m so glad they did.

blackstar[1]
David Bowie -Black Star
Something similar? Glimpses into Classrooms Something different? The Karaoke Delusion

Cold Comfort

We were in Paula’s kitchen. She had a beer in her hand. She was more interested in the ring pull than its contents. My beer was drained. I wanted to grab another but she was about to say something. Her eyes, a mixture of confusion and sadness, were searching the crumbs on her plate as if they might gather to show her a way outta this situation.

Her throat admitted a trembling sound. Her lip wobbled. Tears rolled down her face.

‘I’ve been working so hard…but for what? What am I doing with my life?’

I had never seen her like this.

It had seemed to me that she never entertained negative thoughts.

Like me, she was relatively new to Bilbao. She moved into a large apartment in Casco Viejo in January and began a new life. She started working in a clinic and secured a side gig in a university.  She created a social life through couch surfing events, dance lessons and Tinder. She made new friends who showed her around the city.

 Then, into the stream of things that seemed to be flowing in the right direction, I jumped.

I liked her instantly. She was beautiful, smart and kind. On the first date my loves and hates of Bilbao made her laugh out loud. On the second she introduced me to two of her new friends. On the third, finally, she kissed me. It was a surprise how uninhibited she was; kissing me passionately in front of the people on the metro platform. I was dazed the whole ride home.

She brought me around Bilbao; to the old town with its labyrinth of narrow streets, to polished bars famed for delicious pintxos, to hidden restaurants stripped of any pretension, to hipster cafes along the riverside and to San Francisco Street, a place that pulsed with an energy more frenetic than anywhere else in the city.

But, in the kitchen that night, she was just bringing me down. She was upset because her career wasn’t progressing as she had hoped.  I tried to take the fact that she was dropping her usual assured optimism and showing a vulnerable side as a positive step forward, but something wouldn’t let me. 

She fiddled with the ring pull on her can. I moved to the chair next to her and put my arm around her. She pulled the ring pull off, dropped it on her plate and sighed. She fingered the busted mouth of the can. I was worried she might cut her finger so I took her hand in mine. She pulled it away and returned to the jagged edges. I felt sorry for her but my sympathy was overridden by a selfish fear – it wasn’t just work that was upsetting her – her feelings towards me had changed.

She wiped the tears from her face, took a deep breath and said;

‘In three weeks things are gonna change- for better or for worse.’

That night I couldn’t sleep. I lay next to her, burdened with an unspoken awareness that she would rather I wasn’t there. She couldn’t sleep either. I could feel her eyes searching the darkness.

 I replayed a conversation we had weeks ago.  We were talking about the dating scene. I was pessimistic.

 ‘I dunno – with all these dating apps, it’s like everybody’s looking over their shoulder – looking out for someone new, instead of giving their current relationship a proper shot. So we end up having lots of relationships and each one leaves us a little more scarred, a little more confused.’

She was more positive.

‘I think it’s a good thing because you meet lots of different people and you know better what you want.’

She threw the covers back and got outta bed. She stopped in the doorway for a moment and her naked body was silhouetted in the light. She looked so beautiful I ached with sadness and yearning. She went to the bathroom. When she got back into bed she sighed. I was losing her. I needed to do something.

‘Are you okay?’

‘Fine.’

‘Are you sure?’

‘Yes. Well, can you move over a bit please?’

‘Of course.’

I moved.

‘Okay?’

‘Yes thanks.’

I needed her to tell me that it wasn’t me, that she was just upset about work.

‘You know the way you said in three weeks time things would change?

‘Yeah.’

‘I hope that in three weeks time – you and I are still together .’

She smiled, kissed me on the lips and said nothing.

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