I text my cousin to say the date’s going well and I’ll be late. One hour. No probs, he says.
We are not going anywhere, Maria and I. I’m returning to Spain mid-September and she’s returning to Mexico in April. Still, here we are, snogging on our second date. It’s a long, slow one. We part and smile at each other. Our dancing eyes seem to ask the question; where can we go?
‘We should get a hotel together,’ I say.
‘Uh, next weekend; Saturday.’
‘Okay.I would like to see more Ireland.’
‘The following weekend I am returning to Spain.’
‘I know. It is sad. Can I visit you?’
‘Uh, yeah. I mean it is expensive and there are no direct flights after October, but yeah.’
We kiss on the lips, drain our drinks and stand. Tonight we are going separate ways. I’m sleeping on my cousin’s couch. She shares a bedroom with a Brazilian housemate.
We walk down Dame Lane. It’s Friday night and the place is buzzing. She links my arm. I consider crooking my elbow but don’t want to look like Lord of the Shire, so I hold her hand, loosely. Ahead I notice another couple holding hands. The man looks at ease but I feel like an inadequate actor playing a role. I’m also anxious we will bump into someone I know. I mean here we are on a second date acting like an engaged couple in Paris in Spring time. Kissing and staying in hotels is one thing but holding hands? It feels like we’ve jumped a few levels here.
None of us take the reins and we end up squaring up to the couple. After awkward laughter Maria and I walk around them. I tell her how, in many African countries, a man and woman holding hands is frowned upon, as it is seen as an inappropriate display of affection. I use both hands to tell her this piece of trivia.
We arrive at the bike stand. She points out her bike. It’s a crock with tiny wheels. I tell her off for cycling with no lights or helmet on the topsy-turvy streets of Dublin city. She laughs off my concern and reassures me everything will be alright. Again, it feels like I’m playing a role alongside a more convincing co-star. We say our goodbyes.
In the taxi I send a message to my cousin telling him I’m on my way. Then I begin to wonder if a hotel is such a good idea. Sure, the plush, cosiness would help take things to the next level, but is it financially viable? On the two dates I had paid for everything and not once did she present me with an opportunity to brush aside an offer to pay. It’s a Mexican thing, apparently. Finance aside, I feel that, once I go to Spain that will be the end of our courting. She might have the impression that a weekend away is the beginning of something. It would be unfair to indulge this notion.
I’m not sure.The fact that she’s nice doesn’t help. I’ll let it sit in my gut for a couple of days and see how I feel.
I pay the taxi man. I ring my cousin to let him know I’m outside. There’s no answer. He hasn’t read my last message. I ring again. Nothing. I find the apartment buzzer and give it a little push. I listen for the clunk of a key from the bowels of the building but all I hear is a TV with the volume up. I give the buzzer a longer, angrier push. Then I try the phone several times. Ring, voice, beep. Ring, voice, beep. My battery is dying. Time for a new plan.
I walk out onto the street and hail a taxi. The taxi man puts a bit of juice in my phone. He takes me to Smithfield.
‘Any beds available?’ I ask the man on the door.
‘It’s 1 o’clock in the morning on a Friday night in Dublin,’ he deadpans.
On the quay we stop at another hostel. The taxi waits while I run in. Full.
‘Jaysus, course. It’s fuckin’ All Ireland weekend an’ all,’ says the taxi driver.
Next we go to Gardiner street.
‘If ya don’t get one here ya may as well through yourself in the Liffey. There’s loads of hostels. Start at the bottom, work your way up.’
I give him a tip and he turns the taxi back towards the heart of the city. The first hostel is full. My phone burps a message. It’s Maria! She’s still up. My phone then gives another squeak to remind me of the battery situation. Better do this before it’s too late.
A sleepy hello.
‘Maria! Hi! Okay, this is very unusual but my cousin did not answer the door. He is asleep. I am looking for a place to stay. I’ve tried three hostels but they are all full. I am going to try more hostels but if they are also full, is it possible for me to stay in your place? Just on the couch for a couple of hours?’
‘I am asking now because my battery is dying. If the other hostels are full I am stuck.’
‘But it is not possible.’
I wait for an explanation; something regarding her complicated living arrangements and housemates.
‘You cannot because I am falling asleep.’
‘Okay. I’ll let you go. Thanks anyway Maria. Goodnight.’