He’s in a rush. And a mood. Annoyed with himself, and with all these people clogging up the escalators at Leicester Square. You know, the idiots and the tourists standing on the wrong side, just all the people.
And thinking, ‘I can’t believe this. First date, and I’m late.’
Out in the evening air, and only his agitation prevents a full-on attack of the grumps. There’s the usual confusion about which way to head because both sides of the Charing Cross Road look the same to him. Always have. A late–twenties Londoner and he’s still not got to grips with this west end thing.
Everything just blends: a blending heave of sidestreets and shoppers and euros and Americans and lagered provincials down for their capital city crack; leisurely hordes, most all non-Londoners, all impeding his way. He looks both ways, then remembers that the side with the downward slope takes you to Trafalgar. He turns and, grumpier still, starts uphill.
Force marching a foot or so in the road, the better to avoid human traffic, he’s greeted by some new sights amongst the old. First, a black guy, seriously worse for wear, who reels into him off the kerb. ‘Sorry, mate!’ says the brother, before stumbling back to his white boys, and he’s surprised to hear a London accent rather than country tones. Surprised too by the apology, which found him with a scowl in place.
Wow! he smiles to himself. That’s the first time, maybe in his life, he’s seen one of his kind properly pissed in public. Not holding it down. For shame! And Londoner too. He’ll know the blacks to know better. No excuses.
Further on, and there are more instances of unorthodox black behaviour: a black-and-white-couple, the black lady’s arm elegantly, continentally, linked around his, on a stroll, stopping by the odd venue or store window, promenading. A pack of young women on a night out, a mixed bunch, all grouped around a bar table, a few clothes bags at their side. Happy with themselves; glugging bacardi breezers and enjoying the booming economy. Not posh-black or those slightly freaky soho types, just regular, neighbourhood-looking girls, being mainstream. Sort-of…post-black.
He wonders why he’s not so happy for them; not smiling encouragingly at these Post-blacks. He wanted that too, he couldn’t deny… To…to break free from the restrictive codes of black-brit dom. Hunh. Wasn’t that what he’d been doing, student bar-crawling in the first place? Trying to find a black girl at a good, old, university: some quality, new-breed black girl who was spending her socially formative years in the company of natives and might therefore have a looser, ‘whiter’, vibe…
What had brought him here, on a Saturday to Leicester Square.
A writer by profession and bohemian by heart, he’d been finding the black circles he mixed in more and more stifling, Like this houseparty the other day. There were various guys there he knew from various other dos and, as usual, they nodded to each other and said, ‘Alright. how’s it going?’ then nodded once more then stood by one another a little while, each with a bottle of Becks, and that was pretty much it. Everyone stands and looks quite good, and holds it down and sway coolly to the odd tune, but no-one actually talks. No incidents, no deep chats, no real flirting; no-one gets embarassingly-happy, gets anything big or different out of it. No…secrets to be found there. True, he didn’t want people banging into you , and vomiting by your feet or something, as happened at many white dos, but he could do with a little more looseness. Huh. The big lie about us, he thinks, is that we’re wild.
At SOAS bar I met him. My college is Birkbeck, down the road, but I used to go to the SOAS one ‘cos they’ve got a pool table and he saw me playing pool, beating these guys. I think he liked that! Anyway, after, I was sat down, headphones on – I didn’t hang out with the pool posse or anything, just played – and I was reading when this guy wanders over and stops by me. I didn’t take him in too closely. He looked a bit trendy – you know, zip-up top, one of those beanie hats – and trendies don’t normally do me. I’m just a maths chick from the country.
He all but snatches this book from me, and starts flipping through it, firing me these questions: Simultaneous, quadratic equations, “what are they for?” It was nice, you know, his little science queries. Most arty types think they’re so superior, that their stuff is so much more interesting, it gets on my tits.
He mentioned quite a bit of black stuff as well. It didn’t surprise me – up here, I’d noticed, blacks talk about black stuff a lot. Normally… well normally it’s dreary but he was quite funny with it. Like this rant about how most black students weren’t studying anything serious. If anything it was all these mickey-mouse mixy-mixy modular courses: ‘media an’ this,’ and ‘crap an’ communication studies’, and everyone wanted to be some silly TV presenter and it was so nice to meet someone doing a proper subject.
And I remember priming myself then not to say ‘half-caste’ or ‘coloured’, words that have got me into moments up here. So I must have quite liked him already.
I gave him my number. I didn’t think he’d call.
Something …spirited and particular about her. Walkman on in a bar! Maths and classical music. Indifferent too. The way she was beating those stoners at pool. They were nattering, trying to banter, and she was acknowledging just enough, unconcealed unconcern on her face, the same wider unconcern that she carried with her in her busy movements around the table, a similar indifference in the eyes that looked through the boy who was looking at her.
He had been beguiled by this indifference. He had seen Africa, the Africa of his family, and his yearnings, in the style of this light-skinned girl: like the plainly-dressed waitresses at Madame Suya’s in Dalston as they stood by the tables; or the looks on young women in London or Lagos sashaying down the street with a languid, stately, posterior-pouting sway of the hips, knowing, seeing but not seeing you.
You weren’t sure she liked you. He liked that. Didn’t say much, after he’d approached. Just stared most of the time, then burst in with something odd.
Her look too. An unstyled wildness to the hair, big Ibo cheeks, hint of chinie about the eyes. ‘Where are you from?’ he’d asked her. “It’s a long story,”she’d replied, ‘Another time.’ And when he’d pressed, she’d smiled shyly?? and laughed, ‘the future.’
He sees the little left he is looking for, Hunt Court, and turns into it, passing another mixed couple. The black girl gives him the merest glance; unimpressed, indifferent. He knows that look – you got it often from black folk in groups or couples like that in arty Shoreditch, his sometime stomping ground. The look said that they did not associate, could not imagine having such a modern, free, time with people like you. Maybe that’s the problem, he decides, as he runs the last few yards: sometimes, it seems, he fears, that in this post-black future, black on black won’t be happening.
He’d said to meet in the World Music section in Virgin Records near Leicester Square, which was nice and quiet, but by the time he came, 20 minutes late, I’d wandered up to the Classical Floor , so it was a little smart of him to find me.
He was more elegantly dressed this time – pleated black trousers, suede green jacket, only he looked as if he’d looked better a bit before. His forehead was beading with sweat. From running, I imagined. He kept on dabbing it with this manky tissue, leaving little white flecks behind. Maybe if I’d looked away he would have done it properly.
It was rush-rush to Rupert Street round the corner for the cinema. The film – that was mad! ‘Spanking the Monkey’, this offbeat, non-Hollywood production. Canadian, I think. It was about this teenage guy with issues who spent most of his time either wanking or having sex with his mum, maybe it was his stepmother. He glanced round the odd time to ask if it was alright, if I was enjoying it. I nodded.
He glanced other times as well, I noticed.
He seemed quite embarassed after:’Ah, Lordy! They said in the ‘paper it was a – not a “black comedy”, I know what that means – but, you know, a black indie drama or something. I thought it was gonna have Afros!’
He wanted to take me next to this bar he was a member of on Charing Cross Road. The bar had a late licence which was why he was a member. It was nothing much, he said, just a pub really, but the vibe was nice; actors an’ comedians an’ such frequented it.
Only we, he, couldn’t find it. Rupert Street to Charing Cross Road is about 600 yards if you do it right. Do it wrong, and fifteen minutes are gone and you’re still walking. I did make a suggestion at one point but he didn’t take it. He kept apologising, saying we’d be there in a minute. He was sweating again.
I was fine. I thought it quite funny, him being a Londoner.
I think it was then I first thought, tissue flecks back on his forehead, eyes screwing at street signs, ‘You’re quite dizzy, aren’t you?’. Maybe not those words exactly, but that was my thought.
We ended up somehow on Maiden Lane by Covent Garden. He stood strong again. He knew this top bar here, ‘The Spot’; said we should try that instead.
It had this big glass frontage, and this black bouncer, then another one we passed to reach a second bar inside. I was happy there from the off, not for the stylish decor or stylish people, but for the cocktails.they were drinking. I’m a cocktail fiend, only you don’t get much chance to indulge on a student’s debts and I knew he would ask and get me one – I hadn’t dipped in my pocket since we’d met.
He was reaching down to his when the barman set down our chemical colours, turned and walked away. A puzzled brow at me, then at the crowd thickening around us, then a beam:
“It’s a do! Some Celebo do! You know who that is?’
He looked a teeny bit familiar; a boxer or footballer. But the main guy, whose do it was, I definitely recognised. He was upstairs, in the dancing-room we drifted up to. He played for Arsenal or Man United, one of those. Scored their goals. He had a smoking jacket on, his hair in cornrows, and a busty blondie beside him. There were a lot of blondes, a lot of light-skinned girls. In thigh-split dresses and clingy things and glossy hair – it was serious high- maintenance in there. But most of them didn’t properly look classy. They looked a bit like the girls you could see back home when they put their Friday night faces on. So even though it was this upscale place, and this famous guy’s birthday party, I didn’t feel intimidated.
We clinked glasses and I felt clever and naughty, part of a little Zombie conspiracy. Zombies – rum and liqueurs, that’s my favourite. He tried one too, one among all these other glasses on the go. Mad! – he had, like, three or four at any one time, a Zombie, a brandy, a Baileys, and some tea, and he’d go from one to the other, cold then hot then cold again, sip, slurp. And none of them ever finished.
I was glad for these little things, the drinks and the dizzy things. I think otherwise he might have been too …you know, trendy for me. But these made him better, softer. Soft-toned, baby’s dimples. Soft, I was thinking. Quite a sweetboy.
A guest walks past them who looks like Denzel Washington. He asks her if she thinks Denzel Aashington is sexy. ‘No’, she shakes her head. ‘ He’s like a stone. ‘A stone!’ ‘Yeah. Not…alive to me. Like a nice picture. A stone.’.
He smiles quizzically at her: this…funny girl who’s brought him luck tonight; who was cool as he faffed about on the street before. Who says things like Denzel Washington is a stone.
We made most of our important discoveries that night.; how I was adopted; how we both liked chess Oh, he told me why he’d laughed when I’d said we could meet Saturday. He said he couldn’t believe I’d allowed Saturday, that he hadn’t been given a first date Saturday since his Stone Age. Most of the girls he knew, even if they checked for you, they’d allow a first date midweek lunch, or else a drink after work.
Maybe third or fourth you’d get a weekend rendezvous.
‘You don’t play games. It’s good,’ he grinned.
And other stuff, for sure, but I don’t recall so much of it ‘cos I was pretty giddy by the time we left, with the drink and the hormones of it all.. I felt fine when we were sat inside but then outside – whoosh! Little Miss Mashed, that was me.
We nearly got a cab back – there were those illegal ones outside. But I feared another change in atmosphere – the staleness and motion of a car, and it might be all off. So we walked. It wasn’t so far, and I’m pretty brisk, even at the pissed of times.
He says he asked, ’So what kind of guys d’you
like?’ and I exclaimed, “Headfucks!” or “Guys who can headfuck. Like
chess, like maths is a headfuck!” And he started something concerned
about how it must have been tough, growing up mixed in the sticks, ‘til I
burst in, “I like ‘coloured’ Why not ‘coloured? Like a palette. We’re
the colours, they’re not!’
And I threw my arms, he said at the lights from a store window. I
probably had the cocktails in mind too.
I don’t recall, only the sight of him, stopped, some paces behind, by a shop, looking at me this way he does when he exclaims my name sometimes, this intrigued, indulgent look, and me, peacefully tingly, deep feeling he doesn’t mind how I’m different.
For one moment, as she bounds in front of him, he has an echo of the drunkard before, but this time he doesn’t mind. Her boyish, busy walk reminds him of someone from ‘Buffy’, one of those kick-ass slayers, and he christens her Miss P; Miss P for pool and her kind-of punky, undomesticated vibe. A bit backward, bit rustic maybe, on certain issues, but that would be sorted, down the line.
It feels right that they dated first in Leicester Square, in this in-between land that neither of them owned, this anything-goes square mile that was neither country nor neighbourhood, this irritating turf that has finally come through for him… Oh Miss P, Miss P, he beams at her, I’m gonna have a sweet post-black time with you.
© Diran Adebayo 2005