Plain Sailing

It’s getting away from it all, while at the same time, being in the centre of everything.

The tide is low. The black and snot-green walls of the riverbanks slide by. Above the riverbanks, the hotels, apartments and businesses of Portugalete and Getxo look down upon us from either side. You would think that all those buildings would generate more noise, but no, they just observe us with a thousand eyes. The only sound is the chug of the boat’s engine.

We are on board the Happy Thought. Aritz, el capitán, is on the roof removing the covers from the sail. Liam is nervously manning the tiller. I’m sipping a beer. It tastes good. Aritz finishes with the sail and ducks into the cabin to fix the toilet.

I smile and wave at the other boats.

‘It’s a bit like I’m the owner and you two are my lackeys,’ I say to Liam.

Liam fails to smile.

‘Here do you wanna, take the… the reins?’

‘Na. You are doing a fine job. And it’s a tiller.’

‘Well you do it then, fucking Brendan the Navigator. I wanna roll a ciggy.’

‘Smoking’s bad for ya.’

This is bad for me…for us. I haven’t a clue what I’m doing.’

‘Aritz would tell you if anything was wrong.’

Liam makes a face.

Once we get closer to the mouth of the Nervion, Aritz cuts the engine. The wind picks up and we pull extra jumpers out of our backpacks. There’s an eerie silence. The engine was like the constant murmur of a reassuring mother, but now it’s gone.

Aritz positions himself next to a crank and starts winding. The sail rises up the pole. The sheet flaps about at first but once he’s done winding it puffs its chest out proudly. The wind pulls the boat to one side. I feel my stomach lift. I clutch onto the rail. The boat is nearly on its side. If I let go I’ll be tipped out. Eventually, the wind subsides and the boat settles.

‘I don’t want to steer this anymore,’ Liam says, ashen faced.

He leaves the tiller go. I look to Aritz. He shrugs. I drain my can and take the tiller. The vessel and the lives within are now in my hands.

Aritz goes back to the toilet. Liam attempts to roll a cigarette with trembling fingers.

‘I have no idea what I’m doing here,’ I say once Aritz resurfaces.

‘You are doing Grrrreat!’

‘I dunno man. I don’t feel safe in a boat that has me in charge.’

‘To go right, push it left. To go left push it right. When wind is straight: 25 degrees either side,’ Aritz instructs and then he ducks into the cabin again.

He makes it sound easy but it’s not like I have the river to myself. There are canoes, trawlers, big sail boats and tiny sail-boats. There’s also the wind and its whims.

Liam stands up, lights his cigarette and takes a long, slow pull. I’m straining on the tiller. Suddenly, the arm of the main sail swings violently. Liam bends backwards to avoid getting his head taken off.

‘Jesus!’ he says, crouching towards the bench.

‘I did say smoking is bad for ya.’

‘Well…’ is all Liam can say. He sits there shaking his head.

‘Some reflexes on ya though. That was like something outta the Matrix.’

It all seems a bit dangerous but every time Aritz resurfaces from the cabin he smiles an ‘Aint life grand’ smile. I decide not to panic unless I see him panicking. I pick a red building on the docks as a yardstick. After twenty minutes, we still haven’t moved passed it. I hope no one else has noticed.

‘This trip is like my relationship; A lot of effort but essentially going nowhere,’ Liam says.

‘This wind is like a girlfriend; one minute she’s your friend, then suddenly, and for no apparent reason, she turns on you,’ I offer.

Liam emits a mirthless chuckle.

Finally Aritz emerges and takes the tiller. I sit down next to Liam.

‘How are things with Emma?’

‘Ah we are fighting a lot. To be honest I-’

Suddenly, Aritz is roaring. I look ahead and see a forty foot sail boat heading our direction. It’s going to hit us. The captain of the forty-footer is moving frantically on deck. But surely it’s too late. I brace myself for the cold water. As the huge sail looms over us I close my eyes.

It hits us on the port side. Miraculously we remain afloat. With both captains pulling the tillers the boats veer away from each other.

We stand. We are staring at the captain of the forty footer. He’s staring right back. A combination of language barrier and shock renders us dumb.

‘All that water and you two are hitting into one another!’ bellows a fisherman on land.

Once we sit back down Liam and I feel the need to recount the story from our own perspectives. We are agreed that the other boat was at fault. A calm descends. Aritz is in charge. Liam and I are just sipping cans and looking about. The boat slowly progresses towards the bay.

‘I guess it’s plain sailing from here on in,’ I say.

‘Yeah,’ Liam agrees, ‘Boring, isn’t it?’

nocktoebenaughto

Something Similar? Bilbao Metro 4am

Something Different? Cans on the Bench

 

 

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A Breakdown in Communication

The next morning the questions are still following me around like persistent bees. My girlfriend finally responded to my text, acknowledged that things aren’t okay, but failed to signify why they aren’t okay. I guess I should know. I wanna cut the bullshit so I suggest we meet over coffee. Fine, she says.

So after Spanish class I walk across town to Santurtzi. The rain and the tall buildings lend the place the feel of a dark, damp cave. It’s the type of weather that makes you grimace.

I’m standing outside the café when I see her coming towards me with an umbrella in hand. Now, J looks serious at the best of times, but as she nears I see her eyes are burning with an extra intensity; I mean, she looks like she wants to fucking kill someone. I’m pretty sure that I might be that someone but I have no idea why.

We kiss on the lips.

‘What’s wrong J?’

‘Nothing.’

Well, you should tell your face that.

It’s a terrific quip that I keep to myself. Instead I say, in Spanish, that it’s clearly more than nothing. She makes a dismissive sound, letting me know that I have failed to execute the phrase correctly.

I feel like my stomach is being held hostage by her face. The atmosphere is heavy and I wanna change it.

‘I’ve been worried,’ I say.

She shrugs.

We step inside the café. It’s just another café: pintxos wrapped with cellophane on the counter, elderly clientele, uncomfortable chairs and the owner looks like he hasn’t had a day off in years. He’s in no rush. As he prepares the coffees I think: Am I gonna get dumped here? No, she wouldn’t have kissed me on the lips if she was going to do that. I mean no-one has ever been betrayed by a kiss, have they? We sit down at a table.

‘So. How was Saturday night?’ she asks.

She said Saturday night as if there were quotation marks around it, as if it were some silly made up time in a made up game I play with my friends. She’s looking at me really closely.

‘Fine. Nothing special,’ I shrug. ‘We had some beers in Casco Viejo: Noel, Dave and I. We went around to a few bars and finished up early: got the metro around 130. Sin mas.’

The casual manner which I deploy does nothing to disarm her. She unleashes her second question.

‘When did you make the plan to go to Bilbao? I’m just curious.’

Curious? Furious more like. Another great quip that I keep to myself. Still, I know now what’s up.

‘That morning. Remember when I texted you and you said that you weren’t feeling any better?’

She nods. She’s listening intently and I feel like I’m one wrong word away from a massive argument.

‘So I assumed I wasn’t going to see you and made plans with the boys,’ I continue gingerly. ‘Then you said we could meet for a coffee and I thought Great, but I assumed it would be just that – a coffee.’

‘Things went differently than I had expected,’ she says.

‘You thought that we were going to spend the night together?’ I say, touched.

‘Yes. And over coffee we have this big conversation about spending the future together. Then, I go to the toilet and when I come back it seems suddenly we aren’t even going to spend the evening together.  And I was like ‘Que?’’

‘Okay, alright. I’m sorry.  But, you understand as well, that I thought it was just going to be a coffee?’

She nods.

Something occurs to me.

‘But how come, when we said goodbye on Saturday evening, everything was alright?’ I ask.

‘Sometimes you only think of these things afterwards,’ she says.

‘So, yesterday, I was trying to figure out what was wrong. I figured it was something to do with the conversation we had had, that you had changed your mind about the future and all.’

‘No, no.’

‘And when you didn’t text me back last night I was so worried. I was so worried,’ I say.

‘Yes. I’m sorry.’

Her hand reaches across the table and caresses mine. The tension dissipates and a warmth comes over her features. My stomach begins to settle.

‘I feel better now. Now that we talked about it.’

We finish our coffees. Such is the change in mood I expect that, once we step outside, the atmosphere will have shifted accordingly; the sun will shine, birds will chirp and a barber shop quartet will be on the road singing songs of love. If anything though, the weather is worse. We huddle under her umbrella and set off together.

nocktoebenaughto

Something Similar?An Anti -Valentine’s Story

Something Different? Happy Birthday: Life is Long!

An Anti -Valentine’s Story

It’s Sunday morning and I’m feeling unusually positive. I exude an assuredness, like a boxer before a title fight who knows that things are going to work in his favor.

I send my girlfriend a text suggesting that she calls over at around 6:30 this evening. Yup, my girlfriend. Not a girl I’m seeing or that girl I’m dating: proper girlfriend. The plan is simple -dinner, wine and a movie.

In 2016 Sunday’s were often bleak, lonesome affairs; just me and a dreary monologue in my head. But count down from 10, turn the page, add a lady and Voila! Everything is better in the New Year!

First though: things need to get done. I tidy my room. Stray coins go back in the jar, opened books are shut and slotted back onto the bookcase, small mounds of clothes are placed in the laundry basket, the floor is swept, the shelves are wiped . When I’m done the room appears to be waiting.

Then I begin working on my next blog post. I read what I’ve written so far and it does nothing for me.  Maybe I’m just groggy after last night’s beers. I try to force something but I can’t stop looking at my phone as if it has the answers. Eventually, I turn my phone off and toss it on the bed behind me. I press on for about forty-five minutes or so and then I stop.

I get up and turn my phone back on and wait for a reply to come chiming through. It doesn’t arrive.

No matter. Keep moving.

I go for a walk. I cross the bridge to Getxo and turn right. After about thirty minutes I feel last night’s cigarettes taxing my lungs and last night’s beers swilling in my stomach.  I pass some car showrooms and come to an urban no-man’s land of huge dormant industrial complexes and slate grey sky. I try to avoid looking at my phone but it’s like a loose tooth I can’t help tonguing. There’s still no reply. I let out a sigh and turn back. The clouds begin to unburden themselves.

I feel the grimness trying to slip inside me. I pick up the pace in an attempt to keep ahead of the negative thoughts.

I’m tired by the time I get back to the apartment. I sit down and count the positives: I’ve tidied my room, I’ve done a bit of writing,I’ve taken a healthy walk and there is no reason to believe my girlfriend isn’t coming over. It’s still going to be a good day.

I get back up. I put my phone on the table and set about preparing a lasagna. I heat the pans and chop onions, mushrooms and garlic. I stop every now and then to check my phone. It’s nearly five o’clock and still no word. I carry on. The mince is nicely browned.

Ding, Ding. I wipe my hands, take a breath and pick up my phone. Three messages.

I’m feeling worse than yesterday.

I’m not going to come to your apartment today

I hope you had A PERFECT WEEKEND

It’s like a punch in the stomach. I remain calm and respond quickly.

No problem. Is everything alright? Anyway You’re doing the right thing by staying in and getting some rest.

It’s a nice, measured text. I’m a nice guy; That’s what all the girls tell me when they’re dumping me.

I get back to cooking, but all attention to detail is gone: I just want a plate of something. I go through the motions while my mind paces. What did she mean by A PERFECT WEEKEND? Am I just being paranoid or does her message carry an undercurrent of bitterness? Have I done something wrong? Why hasn’t she responded yet? These questions chip away at me over the coming hours.

I eat a lopsided lasagna. I wash my clothes.

Eventually, as I get ready for bed, I get a message. But it’s only Dee.

Researchers reckon that tomorrow is the most depressing day of the year.

Ha! I turn off the light and lay down on the bed, feeling defeated.

nocktoebenaughto

Something Similar? A Bit of Romance

Something Different? What is she like?

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

 

Goodbye

I’m sitting at the computer in my brother’s house when Nini wanders in.

‘Hey!!!There you are,’ she says, as if I’ve been hiding from her.

‘Hellooooo.’

‘I got you a present!’ She says beaming. She thrusts forth a bottle of lemon cordial.

‘Oh. Thank you. I love it!’ I say admiring the bottle.

‘I’m glad you like it.What are you doing?’

‘I’m printing out tickets for my flight. Tomorrow I’m flying back to Spain.’

‘Oh,’ she says with downcast eyes. ‘I was hoping the present would make you stay, but I guess it didn’t work.’

‘ I’ll be back in the summer!’

 ‘What’s this?’ she asks, picking up my passport.

‘I need that for travelling.’

‘Is that you?’

‘Yeah. Some head on me isn’t there?’

‘You don’t look very good in photos,’ she says giggling. ‘But I think you have a nice face,’ she reassures.

‘Awh thanks.’

My brother appears and tells Nini its time for bed. She protests. He tells her that her uncle will read her a story if she goes to the toilet and washes her teeth. There’s silence as she contemplates this. Then she gives in and goes to the toilet.

‘You don’t mind do you?’

‘No man. It’s a pleasure,’ I say as the printer releases my ticket. I take it from the tray, examine it and then fold it away in my jacket pocket.

Nini climbs into bed.

‘You have a very big bed!’ I say sitting down next to her while she scooches over.

‘It used to be my sister’s bed but now it’s mine.’

‘Your bed is bigger than my bed!’

She says nothing but her eyes widen to absorb the fact. I open the book my brother has given me. It’s a book about Irish history.

‘Oh look at her! She’s a woman pirate!’ I say. ‘Would you like to be a pirate?’

‘I don’t really know. I don’t really know what a pirate does really.’

‘Well they go around on boats and sometimes they steal from other boats.’

‘Are pirates bad?’

‘Well..some are.’

‘Is she a bad pirate?’ Nini says pointing at the book.

‘Well..that’s Grainnemhaol. She was an Irish pirate.’

‘And she was a girl.’

‘Yes. Will I read about her?’

‘’Kay.’

I lay back. Nini rests her head on my shoulder so she can see the book.

Grainne mhaol is Irish for bald Grainne. When she was a little girl she asked her father, who was a merchant, if she could join him on the boat. Her father said no, that her long hair would only be getting in the way. So what did Grainne do? She only grabbed a scissors and cut all her hair off. And that’s how she became known as Grainnemhaol.

‘So she was bald?’

‘Yeah like me.’

‘But you’re not all bald: you have some hair here and and around here.’

‘Well, yeah.’

‘But how come she’s not bald in the picture?’

‘Well her hair is very short. I guess it grew back a little. Will I read on?’

‘’Kay.’

I read on but Nini’s mind is elsewhere.

‘When are you going to Spain?’ she interrupts.

‘Tomorrow morning.’

‘Early? Will I see you tomorrow?’

‘No. You’ll be asleep -all snoring and farting.’

‘I don’t snore!’

‘But you fart.’

‘No I don’t. Not like my Daddy does.’

‘Yeah. Well thank goodness for that.’

‘I wish you weren’t going.’

‘I’ll be back in the summer.’

‘But that’s so long.’

‘No it isn’t. You’ll be so busy in school and having a great time that it’ll be really quick.’

Nini lets out a sigh. I don’t know what to say.

‘Will I read more about Grainne this mad , bald woman pirate?’

‘‘Kay.’

I read about Grainne’s swash buckling adventures. Nini’s comments begin to taper off and pretty soon I realise I’m reading to myself. I set the book down and gently remove her head from my chest. Her face has a soft sleepy look.

‘Bye bye gorgeous.’

I turn the light off on my way out.

nocktoebenaughto

Something Similar? Hanging with the Kids (Now 33% Better)

Something Different? Bilbao Metro 4am

What is she like?

I wait outside the café, watching people emerge from the metro. I’m looking for Jessica. The problem is: I’m not sure what Jessica looks like. When I met her she was wearing a thick moustache and bowler hat. She seemed sound. Mind you, she looks very serious in the photograph taken that night. Not in a ‘Haha I’m dressed as a detective and I’m gonna look pensive’ kind of way, just genuinely ill at ease. Maybe it’s because I have my arm around her and we had only just met.

I check the time. Nearly 830. I scan more faces.

At exactly 830 I see her. She is quite striking. Her hair, which is split down the middle, drapes over each side of her face. She’s tall, slim and straight in jeans, jacket and shirt. She sees me and raises a hand in acknowledgment. She looks like she doesn’t wanna be here.

We move towards one another. She looks at me guardedly. We greet in a flurry of awkwardness. It’s a mild night so we agree to take the table outside the café. She sits down and puts her tobacco pouch on the table. I go in to get the beers. Okay, alright.

 I set the glasses down and take a seat. Suddenly, all the things I was going to say scamper away faster than the memories of dreams upon waking.

‘So, Jessica, you study Engineering?’ I manage.

‘Architecture,’ she says loosening a paper from its packet.

‘In Santander?’

‘San Sebastian,’ she says dumping a small heap of tobacco on the paper.

‘But you live in Sestao, right?’

‘Santurtzi,’ she smiles, arranging the tobacco with her fingers.

I shake my head in embarrassment.

‘Don’t worry,’ she says, slotting the filter into position. ‘Nearly right.’

She rolls the paper, licks it and lights it.

‘Your name is Jessica though, right?’

‘Yes,’ she smiles, a plume of smoke chasing her affirmation.

We cover the basics. She’s 33 like me. And she’s the youngest in her family too. Her siblings are architects and engineers. They bent to their father’s will in terms of career path, except for her sister Andrea, who is a penniless artist.

She drains her glass. The sound of the glass hitting the table asks, What now?

‘Maybe we could move on, find a nice bar somewhere,’ I say.

‘Well, yes, or maybe just the next bar,’ she shrugs.

We take a table outside the next bar. She insists on paying. We get to talking about music. I mention U2.

‘U2? Wah! When I was younger I was obsessed with U2. Obsessed! I had all their albums, on record. October, Boy, War…’ she says counting them on her fingers.

There’s a brief silence. She’s eager to fill it.

‘I liked them. Yes.’ And then a confirming nod. And then a ‘Hm.’

 I gesture towards her tobacco pouch. It’s a brand I’ve never seen before.  She nods assent. Diligently, I roll one up. After one drag I have to sit back in my chair. I look again at the packet – Manitou. This isn’t a brand for social smokers posturing outside bars. I imagine the average Manitou smoker is a hard-nosed 40 something man who drinks, gambles and calls everyone ‘chief’; not the  svelte, Basque lady with clear pale skin and big brown eyes that sits before me.  

 ‘You’re very attractive,’ I say.

‘Thanks. That’s very kind of you.’

‘Another?’ I say, dashing out the cigarette.

‘Yes please.’

Every time she agrees to another beer I feel a slight increase to some internal heap of hope that glows with giddy promise…

 The next day  I’m sitting outside a café watching people going about their Saturday. It’s bright and cool and I’m hungover, but happily so. I return to my book. Sheep, it says, have a pecking order. If you had a flock of fifty sheep, each one of them would know their rank from one to fifty. How interesting I think, setting the book down again. I can tell Jessica next time we meet. Hopefully there will be a next time. Should be. She said that there would be. And Last night went well:  nice kiss and all. Still, you never can tell.

She’s no sheep -that’s for sure. There is something that sets her apart. Her appearance for a start, but also the way she tells a story: She’s wildly animated – big eyes, hand gestures and voices. It’s spellbinding.

Big into her music too. Suddenly, I remember that she had sent me a song last night while we were in the bar. I take out my phone and find the song. The Triplett Twins. Real seventies look about it. Beneath the band name are six black dudes, paired up and standing back to back. They are wearing white jackets and flared white trousers. They have afros and moustaches. It’s a cheesy cover. Where did she find this? I plug in my headphones and press play.

A keyboard slides between drum rolls. Then the boys start singing, all smooth;

‘Pretty please with sugar on top

Baby give me that love you got

Keep it coming girl good and hot

I don’t want you to ever stop’

I sit up in my chair. It’s hopeful and joyous and captures my mood.

Nocktoebenaughto

Something Different? The Karaoke Delusion

Something Similar? Hello, what’s this?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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