I’m back in London. I’ve completed my first working week. It’s Friday afternoon, 5:15pm. I exit the building and wait for the pedestrian lights. Peak hour traffic is everywhere; bicycles, cars, taxis, buses, vans, motorbikes. The city noise attacks me. Never mind – I’ll soon be in the sanctuary of my flat. My tired eyes scan the other nine-to-fivers and slowly lock on one cyclist. I cannot believe who I’m seeing. Gabriel Lopez … my Spanish boyfriend from 13 years ago. My first boyfriend in London. I impulsively add to the volume of the metropolis.
“GABRIEL!! GABE!!!!” I scream, with my hands cupped around my mouth. The people standing on either side of me jump. I want to speak to him. I HAVE to speak to him. I run into the bustling traffic and make it to the middle island. He’s metres from me, but I can’t get to him. He stares straight ahead and I see he has earphones in. His light turns green and he cycles onward. Damn it.
I pull my phone out of my bag. He’s not in my “contacts” but he sent me a text last year. Which one of the unnamed numbers is he?! I drop my phone. Shit!! I pick it up and find a number that ends in 748. That’s it!
He won’t answer, but I’ll leave a message for him.
Gabe (hesitant): Hello?
Me (frantic): Hello! It’s Simone! Are you wearing a blue shirt and beige trousers?
Gabe (still hesitant): Yes ….
Me (still frantic): I just saw you cycle right by me!
Gabe (laughing loudly): And where are you, Sorceress Simone?
I explain my location and he cycles back to meet me for a drink. I run up and forcefully hug him. We both say nothing and laugh. We hug again.
Back in the nineties Gabriel and I had a very brief relationship (for want of a better word). We were colleagues and, a year after our fling stopped, all employees were made redundant. Seven years went by without contact until I ran into him walking in a local park. Since then we bump into each other about every two years, in random places. For me, he’s become an emblem of good luck: I only ever see him when I’m happy.
We first met three weeks after I initially arrived in London, full of youthful optimism and buoyancy. Now, it’s exactly three weeks since I returned to London and I’m full of mid-thirties confidence; refreshed and ready for Round Two in the Fight of Life.
Aside from our chance encounters I receive one email or text from Gabe a year, but our spontaneous catch-ups are always warm and, due to the longevity of our friendship, comfortably familiar.
Friday is no different. And, after more than one drink, we become nostalgic.
Me: So who are you in contact with from our old work besides Paul?
Gabe: No one, really. I’ve not seen Charles since our work leaving do (he pauses). Octopus Charles. Remember him molesting you at the work leaving do?
Gabe smiles and looks at me. My brow furrows and I look upwards; my thinking expression. Something’s registering in the far corner of my mind.
Me (finally speaking): Yes. Yes I do. He sat next to me on the bus and kept touching me … or groped me or something … it’s vague … I remember that when we arrived at the venue he pushed me against a wall, but someone pulled him off me.
Gabe: That was me. You were drunk and he was being a prick. I’d seen him on the bus and you clearly didn’t want his … um affections, so he had to fuck off. You know he hasn’t spoken to me since?
Me (pausing before quietly speaking): I’m really sorry that I don’t remember. Thank you.
Gabe just shrugs and smiles. I’m touched and feel retrospectively guilty; not remembering this incident symbolises how I took him for granted. Gabe’s the reason I owned numerous Vespas; after freezing to death on the back of his motorbike to Cardiff I was addicted (but realistic enough to know that I wouldn’t be able to master a big bike!). He’s also the reason I learnt Latin American dance; I couldn’t bear the constant humiliation at the Spanish and Brazilian clubs we frequented. And Gabe’s now my emblem of good luck … or good times … good something anyway!
The evening ends. We part and don’t say we’ll contact each other or catch up again soon. At some point in the next two years we’ll see each other … and I’ll be happy.
This beautiful piece of writing has captured the core elements of life – love, fidelity and hope (the old Faith, Hope and Charity!) It lifted up my spirit and urged me to contact people I’ve not seen in a while. Genuine friends stand the test of time.