This afternoon, at around four pm, I and Watson were in the sofa in the lounge. The television was stuck on something boring. I had just turned it on, but then Watson had demanded attention, so I hadn’t had the time to find anything interesting to watch. The sound was off. Watson wanted to be petted, and had lain down on his back next to me with his side sticking to my thigh, and with his feet sticking in all directions. His tongue hung out of the side of his mouth and his eyes tried to see through his own skull, the swivel-eyed little loon. He looked quite mad.
I had my phone next to me on the sofa, and as I was giving Watson his attentions, it buzzed. It was a text from Mark. “Are you about at home?” it said. “Can you come down to the town?” I looked out through the window, and suppressed a wince because I didn’t want to go out. I had just come home an hour ago, and the weather looked dodgy enough that I wanted to stay indoors. I sent back a non-committal, “what’s it about?”. “Just come”, came the immediate reply.
Minutes later I was on my bike speeding down the hill our street is on, heading for the town centre. Even as I reached the street crossing below the hill, my phone buzzed again. Fumbling bumbling it out of my pocket, nearly dropping it to the asphalt, I saw that it was another message from Mark. “Take the bus, not the bike”. I had to go all the way up the hill again and lean the bike against the garage wall again, and lock it. But the bus wouldn’t come for another ten minutes, and that gave me time to send an annoyed text, repeating that “what’s this about?”. This time I didn’t get a reply.
My skull feels naked when I’m outside. I go around putting my hand to my head as if I’m suddenly going to find my lost hair. It is a consequence of the near shaving that happened earlier. I still haven’t grown used to my short hair. I’m going to touch myself forever if I don’t put something more on. So, I run inside and switch to the hoodie and pull the hood over my head. I’m back by the bus stop minutes later, looking like some teen spiv. I almost feel as if I should waggle my eyebrows at the woman who share the bus stop with me and offer her something dodgy.
The woman skips and hops up on the bus, and sits herself as far away as possible from me. Maybe she saw the glint of sales opportunities in my eyes. In the bus, the rain comes again, and the water streams down the dirty dusty window in stripes as I look out of it at the houses that roll slowly past. It’s me, the woman, and two more on the bus. This isn’t a good time to go on the bus if you want company. People are at home, cooking dinner. Thinking that, my stomach tells me that it wants food. Now. I stiffen my upper lip and soldier on until it’s my turn to get off the bus down near the train station, where I’m meeting Mark.
We don’t have to say it any more. If we’re meeting in town and haven’t decided on a specific spot, we meet at the train station. He’ll stand outside the front entrance, or I will if I’m the one waiting for him. But when I run across the street and see the station, he’s not there. When I’m spinning around, annoyed, trying to see him my phone buzzes in my pocket again. “I’m in the car park”, it says. But the car park is right at the station, and there are dozens, if not a hundred, cars in the way. There are no bright red little Toyotas there. If I have to look for him, I’m fortunate enough to have a dry-cleaner right next to me, though. Or I can throw my hands up and get a cuppa at Costa. There’s one of those here too.
When I feel at most exasperated with these games, a car honks beside me. A door opens on my side, and Mark tells me. “Get in.” But this is not our car. This is an Audi A4. A dusty one at that. It needs a cleaning; the black metal has a sheen of blotchy grey dust on it. Inside the car I look around, and don’t say anything. “Isn’t it nice?” He says. “I love it.”
“You bought it?” Mark has talked about getting a new car, this car, when I get my license. He has talked about his mate who owns this Audi A4 and who wants to change wheels. When I get my licence, Mark says, I can take the Toyota. We can use the Toyota to go shop in, because it’s more fuel-efficient. He hasn’t answered my question. “Did you buy it?”
“Not yet, but I think I’m going to,” he says. “I wanted to try it out.” With a mocking gesture he puts on the least suitable apparel imaginable for this time of year and this weather; a pair of black sunglasses. “These were in the glove compartment. They are cool. I am cool”. And I’m pressed into the back seat by the sudden burst into life.
“Help,” I think.
He has the money, partly, he says. He can afford the insurance, which is high since he’s nineteen. It uses more petrol than the Toyota, but he can afford that too, if he’s careful. We speed out of our town, twist and turn, and wait for stop signs and red lights. Before long, we’re out on the country road. Mark is so focused, so intent, so raptured by the car. If he could, he’d reach out and stroke the car, but his hands are attached to the wheel.
We drive for an hour, and then go home, and I’m left thinking. He really wants the car. He says he can afford it. But it would be a toy, a joy, an indulgence. We’re students. We go to the same school. We don’t need two cars in the household. Is this a good idea? It is my practical, utilitarian nature to look for function before form. And I can see it in Mark’s eyes that in this case, he’s my exact opposite.
My immediate thought is to sell the Toyota Yaris we have, but he won’t hear of it. “It will be useful. I just want to have this one. It will be an achievement, don’t you think? My first car.” What about the Toyota, I think. But it’s never been his. It came to us after a mighty struggle because dad paid for it, and Mark won’t have anyone just give him stuff. He wants to earn it, wants to work for it.
And he has, hasn’t he? What he docks from his salary from the brick-laying job does pile up, and it’s not like we’re skint. He bought me a piano once, this man of mine. The way he’s looking around the car says that he’s half in love with the car. My man wants a bling car, and he’s paying for it himself. Who am I to refuse?