Date: 9 July 2015
Location: Willesden Junction overground station.
I am fuming. It’s half past ten on a steamy Thursday night and I’m miles from home on a terrifyingly overcrowded dark platform. The next train isn’t due for ages. The tube strike has broken London’s transport system and everyone is miserable. At least I’m not alone in that.
How did we get here?
The Journalist has been in Wales for a few days, screaming his lungs out at the cricket with Chandler and generally living up to the stereotype of Aussies abroad. He got back today. We’d arranged to do dinner on the east side but, upon finding out that his shift tomorrow stated at 7am, he asked that we switch to west side a d stay at his place. On any other day this would have been nothing, happily agreed to. On Tube Strike Day — the first time in 13 years that all tube lines have been shut down and barricaded off — it’s not nothing. Most people have spent the day working from home rather than braving buses full to bursting or navigating the perverse labyrinthine Overground network. I generally walk to work but, never one to miss a chance to keep close to the couch, I’ve taken the opportunity to work from Sunday Cafe in the shaded courtyard with a flat white never more than a smile and a beckon away. I suggest that tonight might be just too hard. He insists and, against my better judgement, I agree to dinner in the west and we meet at the Overground station at Shepherd’s Bush.
All I knew about Shepherd’s Bush before today was that (A) there was a Westfield shopping centre there and (B) lots of Australians live there. A and B are not unrelated I imagine. As I stepped out of the gleaming new station I’m hot with a hot wave of learning: SheBu is a hole. On one side of the tracks is the towering glass palace of promise that is the beautiful shopping mall, seductive signs promising gigantic M&S, Boots, Hobbs and Reiss. On the other are scuzzy Afghani corner stores, piles of refuse (which, to be fair, are as ubiquitous in London as rabid pigeons) and tatty twentysomethings in too-tight denim cut offs and wife-beater Bintang singlets. There’s a crush of people at least ten deep pushing to get through the gates into the packed station and police are buzzing around. It’s not very nice.
And my date is hungover as hell.
“Hey. So. What do you wanna do?”
The temperature of my blood rises by a degree.
I’m not high maintenance. I swear I’m not. But I’ve worked all day and I’ve just braved the hottest, most horridly crowded hour and a half train journey and he’s had the week off, napped and just loped across the river from home. I expected something of a game plan. I’m starving so we get food. I order a beer with immense relief but he waves the idea away — no beer for him, he’s done drinking for the week. At this stage I could probably drink for both of us.
Overdinner he gives me a lacklustre summary of the boys trip to Wales and I get little above a grunt in response to my questions (‘Thank goodness it’s almost the weekend — are you coming to Monica and Chandlerp’s 1985 party?’ ‘Dunno. Work.’) I try to be cheery (‘The Care Bear movie was released in ’85 so Paris and I are going in giant Care Bear onesies!’) but silences fill the gaps between my efforts. He asks nothing about my week. As I type this I know I’m being unfair: when I’m hungover I’m certainly a subhuman with the coversational skills of a newt. But I would have had the good sense to stay under my duvet and inflict myself only on my cat, not drag someone I’m trying to date across London. My blood heats up.
Once the sun is down we take an aimless little wander about Shepherd’s Bush so he can point out all of the local landmarks: the grimy O2 theatre, the notorious green, the garish boarded up old Walkabout pub. Then we’re at the corner, his flat just down the road. I stop.
“So, what do you wanna do?”
My heart breaks a little. It’s so unfair upon him, but I felt cheap and used. I’m hurt by the lack of enjoyment he seems to get from my company and upset that he didn’t feel the need to make any effort to ensure mine. Suddenly I know I can’t do this any more and my expression hardens — I can feel my lips draw into a little line and my brow smooths into impassivity. My blood cools right down.
“I… think you want to be in bed.”
“So I’m going.” I’m not proud of this but in the spirit of honest accounting feel bound to admit it: I turn on my heel to go back to the station. I’ve always had a flair for the dramatic. I get pretty far, too.
“Hey. Hey! Alex.”
I turn to look up at him. I’ve already pulled my hair up into non-nonsense bun and that cold-blooded expression is here to stay.
“Are you going back to the station?”
A pause. “K. I’ll walk with you.”
We walk in silence.
Outside Shepherd Bush station (it’s always the best places, isn’t it?) I have the sense to stop. I try to explain why I’m so upset but, as you may have collected from this scrambled, confused entry, I did not excel.
“This–” I gesture around: the London trash, that row of scuzzy Afghani corner stores, the looming Westfield — him. “This really didn’t make me happy tonight.”
He looks down at me blankly, but guardedly. “Yeah. Sorry. I am sorry. I’m really hungover.”
“Then why not cancel?”
“I wanted to see you.”
“That’s sweet. Honestly, that’s really sweet. And I — obviously — wanted to see you so I came all the way over and you… “
“Yeah. I know. I’m really hungover.”
Silence. Then, “What do you want?”
“See I don’t know.” I shrug. “I know I don’t want to feel like this.”
We talk a little longer but don’t really say anything. I leave and he doesn’t stop me.
So here I am. On a train platform in the dark. Feeling pretty sad. My phone just died but that doesn’t really matter: I know he won’t reach out to me. And there’s my answer to everything I guess.