Monday, 6 October 2008
Drinking with people after work. A potential nightmare. I made sure I found my way into the bar about 20 minutes later than we’d all agreed to meet. It wasn’t in order to make a grand entrance, rather to avoid those early awkwardnesses in a night out with people who aren’t friends.
Still, who to sit by? There wasn’t much choice. I knew Liza a little, and Casper too. Jane looked very sexy, but completely out of my league.
There was a space next to Casper on the corner of the table. It seemed a safe option so I said a group hello (giving an exaggerated wave), threw my coat in the space and offered to buy drinks – thinking everyone would already have one and so not take up my offer. It’s easy to get shot down by fast drinkers, though; both Steve and Todd were just draining their first pints. They were Americans and surprisingly adept at drinking for men more used to the likes of Budweiser than European ales.
I ordered up a couple of Heinekens for them and opted for a smoother pilsner called SD Haagens which I’d tried on my first visit to this bar, back during my first week in Milan.
Skilfully carrying the three full pints to the table I was further annoyed to find a shifting of personnel and that Casper had moved along to allow a fellow latecomer, Mandy, to sit down.
Everyone now was facing away from me. There seemed no chance of entry to any of these small whirls of conversation. Instead, I surveyed the group.
What a strange mob they were: a ragged and tousled group of dissidents, drawn from across Europe and America to work for a faceless multi-national, in the beating heart of Northern Italy. I’d been here three months now, and I’d seen little of the place except the inside of bars, the sunlit vistas from our plush office windows and the sickly pixel glow from my eternal monitor screen.
Something Mandy said had caught my attention. A word, or a name – something that interested my mind. I turned my face towards hers. Almost inexplicably for a member of this group, Mandy wasn’t drinking. She was a plain, boring woman who must have been close to retirement age. She was talking across the table to Jane. Her voice resounded with monotony but I listened in. There was really nothing else to do.
She was talking about music and I was surprised to hear her say that she had been a bit of a hanger-on during the burgeoning pop scene of swinging London, back in the 1960s. She mentioned meeting a few individuals whose names I half-recognised. Jane nodded blankly as she reeled them off.
With a smirk, I cheekily interjected and asked if she’d once been a groupie. She turned towards me, her face quite placid, and explained that she had enjoyed a rather torrid, short-lived affair, with the folk-pop star, Donovan.
I tried to hide my sudden interest in her, but, this woman had just changed in an instant. My perception of her was completely altered and I felt for a second that I could look through the lines by her eyes and the folds of her chin and see the brown headed temptress in a mini-skirt she once was.
Maybe she wasn’t even as old as I’d first thought? When I looked at her from then on, my eyes took ten years off her face, her figure appeared more svelte, and her voice, once monotonous, now chimed with the soft stroke of an acoustic guitar.
I’m an idiot, I know. How can something so distant, so removed from myself, as the person somebody used to be, forty years ago, make me find them interesting and, perhaps, even attractive?
A few hours later (as the Milanese were just themselves getting ready to go out) the group began to say its goodbyes and I walked Mandy and Jane to the nearby tram stop.
I kissed each goodbye, and tried to ascertain which woman's touch made my pulse race the quickest.
Walking away, I allowed myself the slightest of turns to glance back at the two women who had entranced me most in these few short months since I’d arrived in Italy.
It was strange where my life had led me, and where my lusts had flown. As I trudged home I tried to work out why I was doing this. Of all the women I’d met in this city of dreams I’d become transfixed with touching the two women who would surely remain forever out of reach.
I seemed to get a strange sense of satisfaction at that moment. To think I was doing this to myself, once again.
There existed then, a tangible sense of excitement in the city and in me. Excitement about the mundane, about going to work the next day, even.
Surely, I mused, this is what life's all about?