Despite feeling pretty fragile after my little fracas with mixed meds this weekend (FYI, the medication won) I decided that I would not let my friend A down for a second time, so slapped some foundation and bronzer onto my ghastly green gills, smeared on some bright lippy to show willing, donned my big Prada sunnies to protect my tender pink peepers and tottered unsteadily out of the door, down the stairs, and off to the bus stop.
On arrival, some bloke suddenly looked up and seemed to take interest in me.
Really haven’t got the energy for this.
The raw inside of my skull throbbed in agreement. ‘No small talk’, it warned rather threateningly, ‘agreed?’
Totally. I dipped my eyes to the ground.
The man, however, maintained his stare and smiled.
I smiled back politely and busied myself by scrabbling inside my handbag, pretending to look for my bus pass.
It’s the red lipstick, you see.
Girls, if you ever want to up the ante re male attention, put on your reddest lippy and see the difference. You’ll get more wolf whistles; buses stop right in front of you instead of half way up the street; men will open doors for you. You don’t even have to pout or gloss or anything. I swear I could put red lippy on next doors bulldog and some bloke would hand it a tissue and open the gate for it after it had taken a dump on his lawn.
Anyway, I digress….
Bus stop man wasn’t deterred.
‘’Ere!’ he said.
Both me and the man in the skull t-shirt stood behind me looked up inquiringly.
‘’Ere,’ he said again, looking directly at me, ‘you any idea when this bus is coming?’
Quite why I’d be any the wiser than Skull guy is anyone’s guess, but I dutifully got out my phone and check the London Transport app.
‘Two minutes’ I offer, smile sweetly, then return to my paperback.
‘‘Ere!’ says he again laughingly, ‘how did you know that? You work for the bus company?’
I try hard not to smile. Bless.
‘It’s the London Travel app, it can tell you the arrival times at whatever bus stop you’re waiting at.’
‘Oh, I don’t understand all that technology crap, you’re a clever girl aren’t you!’
‘Not really!’ I laugh, and turn with some relief to board the approaching bus, heading swiftly upstairs for some solitude.
No such luck.
I look up and quickly snatch my bag off the seat next to me before bloody Chatty Man’s arse lands on it.
‘I’m gonna sit next to ‘er, she knows all about when them buses come’ says he, winking at Skull man who is sitting on the adjacent seat to us, ‘I’m gonna call ‘er ‘Sat Nav’!’
What? Didn’t know my Sat Nav did that, perhaps I bought the wrong model. When this guy says he’s doesn’t understand technology he sure ain’t kidding….
Anyway, clearly he can’t (or won’t) read my ‘I feel shite, please leave me alone’ signals, so I sigh inwardly and resolve to be as polite and friendly as I can.
He proffers a hand.
‘Sista and Seb. The two S’s! Made for one another! So, where you off to tonight?’
‘I’m going to meet a friend for a drink.’
‘Erm, Covent Garden.’
Actually we’re meeting in Waterloo.
‘I’m off to meet my daughter, then over to the bookies. I’m a compulsive gambler doncha know?’, he laughs heartily, ‘I’ve got six kids and five grandkids. You got any?’
Now seems just about the right time to subtly slip ‘The Man Who Wasn’t There’ into the conversation.
‘I don’t, but my partner has a couple, teenagers now.’
Slight, almost imperceptible shift in the atmosphere (Bingo!), the smile slips then swiftly recovers.
‘You got a boyfriend, and you’re off out on the razz?! What you’re going let ‘im put the dinner on?’
‘Oh I’ve already eaten; he can fend for himself, he’s a big boy now!’
Seb looks around to see if anyone is listening then leans in conspiratorially.
‘I know, y’see,’ he hisses.
Huh? You know what?
He smiles with satisfaction and just a teensy bit of smugness, then leans over again and hisses ‘You’re the same age as me! Innit?’
Oh Lord. Not another one of these. You would think that I was (a) a government spy (b) from Secret Millionaire, or (c) wearing a badge saying ‘I’m only 35 years old, honest!’
‘I have no idea, given that I don’t know how old you are.’
Did that come out quite pithily? Oh dear…not that my gleeful little pal even noticed.
‘I’m 50 too.’
He’s ever so pleased about that.
‘See! I knew, y’see, I knew!’
I’m never entirely sure what advantage men think they gain by not only guessing a woman’s age correctly, but telling her? In a ‘I can see that you’re trying hard to look your best, but you’re not fooling me, you’re ancient’ kinda way?
I once had one guy who did the same thing on our first date, then asked ‘Wanna know how I know?’ And before I even had chance to respond, he poked me in my evidently rapidly crisping décolletage and smirked maliciously. ‘This! It’s always this with older women! Never fools me for a second!’ He then seemed genuinely perplexed when I fucked him off at the end of the night with a coldly formal air kiss, and didn’t ever return his calls, the knob head.
I’m not the kind of woman who fishes for compliments, but fellas, take a bit of advice from an old bird, this kind of shit does not win you brownie points, especially if you are trying to pull!
Anyway, back to last night.
There is a brief silence where he (at least) waits for me to ask how, but I silently refuse to play this bizarre, perverse game.
Sensing his faux pas, he changes tack.
‘What, this geezer isn’t worried, an attractive woman like you off out on your own on a lovely night like this?’
‘Nah, he’s chilled,’ I smile contentedly ‘he’s his own man and not the jealous type.’
‘You been together long?’
‘Yeah, he runs a deli.’
‘What, round ‘ere?’
‘No, in Surrey.’
Another pregnant pause, then he reaches across my body and strokes my arm with a big, sausagey finger.
I stiffen indignantly at the unexpected intrusion.
‘Easy! There was fur on your sleeve! You got a dog?’
‘No, cats. Two.’
‘That one old?’
‘No, he’s got a white tummy. He’s my partners cat.’
How strange. I’ve just allocated the ownership of Charlie Cat to ‘The Man Who Wasn’t There’. Then again, I seem to have wheeled him out quite a bit of late (TMWWT, not Charlie) and he’s starting to get a life of his own and morph from an anonymous ‘Milk Tray’ man to someone that may or may not be my ideal life partner.
‘Bet you get fed up of that white hair everywhere!’
‘Oh, I don’t know, he’s worth it.’
‘What your man or the cat?’
We laugh together politely.
Only two more stops, I tell myself, two more stops and this bloody interrogation will stop.
Then, inevitably, Seb makes his move.
‘Marriage on the cards?’
‘Dunno. I’m quite happy with how things are.’
And I would be actually. You don’t need a ceremony or certificate if a relationship just works anyway.
He pauses me, then nudges me conspiratorially.
‘Well, looks like I’d better take you back to mine tonight!’
I bristle. ‘What?’
He’s not deterred by this at all.
‘Looks like I’d better snap you up while I can and take you back to mine.’
Oh God, he’s serious.
I smile and laugh nervously.
One more stop, one more stop….
‘No I’m afraid not, I would never do that to my partner and…’
His smile does that dip/recover thing again. ‘I know, I know, I’m joking! And I respect that. You’re a lovely woman y’know? Quality!’
He finally reaches up and rings the bell for the bus to stop (thank you God) and stands up.
‘Well I’m sure I’ll see you again, we’re neighbours innit? And you tell that man of yours that he’s lucky to have a lady like you at home! Qual-it-tee!’ He pinches his thumb and forefinger together for emphasis.
I smile, nod and wave as he moves towards the staircase.
‘And you know what? I’m still gonna call ya ‘Sat Nav’!’
My post migraine face hurts from smiling. I laugh for the final time, and wave.
Bye! Bye, bye, bye…..
And I’m relieved and deflated all at the same time. Because the moment he is gone, for some reason I wanted him, someone, anyone to keep asking me more about TMWWT.
So for the rest of the journey I fantasise about this mystery man who’s lying on my couch, feet bare, glass of wine in hand, with my mogs sprawled across his belly watching ‘The Apprentice’ as I head to Waterloo.
What’s he wearing?
Tatty almost falling apart jeans, and a clean white tee.
No but dark stubble already coming through after this mornings shave.
Dirty blonde, not long but needs a cut.
(Hello, this is news to me, I rarely go for blondes)
Muscular, but not too beefy.
(Again, unusual as I quite like chunky blokes)
This is where I have to stop as I’m suffused with such longing that I almost swoon with despair and loneliness. Then again, I tell myself, maybe that was just a wave of nausea from my mixed meds episode.
I inwardly give myself a shake, a bit of a talking to, sit up straight, pull out my paperback and lose myself in someone else’s made up relationship until the bus pulls into Waterloo, where I jump off and rush to meet my buddy who I’m sure will help me distract me so I can tamp down this dumb, pointless fantasy.
But on the bus home, this little rhyme kept popping into my head.
‘When I was leaving down the stair
I left a man who wasn’t there
When I got home he’d gone away
I wish, I wish that he would stay…. ‘
So I’m gonna say it.
Come and find me cat lover. There’s a nice cosy spot on the couch, just for you.