She stood at a bus stop near Angel Station vexed and alone. It was the middle of the night, she was on her way home after a long shift at work, had just missed her connecting night bus (the next one wasn’t for another half an hour) and all she could think about was the man she was in love with. He had carelessly hurt her again, so she was killing the time by repeatedly mulling over what had happened in her neurotic mind. She was desperate to let go of the idea of him, but it was easier said than done.
While she was off in her own world someone had silently slipped forward from the shadows next to her, interrupting her bubble by politely clearing his throat to ask her the time. When she was jolted back to reality and looked over her left shoulder to reply, she unexpectedly saw an attractive man of similar age to her. Thanks to the dimly lit lamp post next to them she was able to decipher he had short auburn hair with a cow lick, a matching short boxed beard, hazel eyes and freckles. He was only slightly taller than her, was wearing office attire and had a soft Dublin accent. She suddenly forgot what she had been thinking about.
She pulled out her IPhone from the pocket of her beige, faux fur hooded coat, looked at the time and answered his question. He then asked how her night had been, and because she couldn’t tell him the truth, she instead told him an anecdote about how a man had accidentally spilled wine on his date at the restaurant where she worked. He voluntarily divulged he was an I.T engineer who had gone out for post work drinks, which went for five hours too long. Classic London. Surprisingly, he didn’t show any signs of intoxication. Before she knew it, she was deep in conversation with the handsome stranger, conversing about everything from his thoughts on Sir Alex Ferguson retiring as Manchester United’s manager to unemployment rates in Ireland to Edward Snowden.
Time melted away and the red double decker she had been waiting for appeared from around the corner. The Irish gentleman flagged it down and gestured for her to board before him, as it turned out to be the same one he had to catch as well. The bus was packed because only a few ran at that time of night, forcing them to both hug the pole on the lower floor, near the back door along with four others. She felt awkward flirting with him in front of an audience, but he didn’t seem to notice them; she had his full attention. Two stops before he was due to get off he asked for her number and if she would like to go for a coffee. So told him absolutely. He disembarked with her digits and she was left feeling lighter, her mood lifted.
The following day, less than twenty four hours after they had met, she received a text message from him. He suggested to meet at a café opposite Newington Green in two days’ time, at a place just a stone’s throw from his flat and only fifteen minutes’ walk from hers. She found his assertive, no bullshit approach a foreign, but refreshing change from what she was accustomed to and promised him she would be there.
However, for the next forty eight hours she fought an internal battle of skepticism, trying to decide whether or not she should go ahead with the date. While she was technically single, she was emotionally attached to someone else, which meant one of two things: she would either immediately shut herself off to the possibility of dating someone else and would remain celibate and committed to person number one, regardless of how that person felt about her. Or, if for some reason she did try and attempt to date someone new, forcing herself to move on, instead of letting it naturally fade, she would end up, more often than not, feeling overwhelmingly guilty. She was also notorious for her self-sabotaging; a subconscious defence mechanism to stop people from getting too close, and therefore allowing her to be hurt only briefly. Her heart had been severely broken once before and it took a good four to five years to heal, so she had vowed she would never allow herself to feel like that again. She was emotionally damaged, but she was slowly working on it day by day.
Finally, with a little reassurance and wine from her flatmate she came to her senses, concluded he did in fact seem decent, and it was a real opportunity to finally move on, and away from what could only be a dead end with the other man.
It was officially the start of summer, but in typical English fashion, the sun was still playing hide and seek amongst the clouds. She wore her favourite green floral dress with opaque tights and a red cardigan. As she made her way to meet the bus stop boy she caught herself smiling as she hopped, skipped and jumped over the uneven, cracked, east London sidewalk that had been ruined by tree roots.
The café was near capacity when she arrived, but luckily he had beaten her there and managed to steal a small table against the poster bombed wall in the corner. He greeted her with a kiss on the cheek and handed her a menu as they sat down in slow unison. He was exceedingly more attractive than she remembered and was wearing a tight fighting navy sweater over a white collared shirt with dark denim jeans. His hair looked almost aflame in the day light.
One coffee turned into two, followed by a walk through the park across the road. She learnt he had lived in London for five years, but all his family were still back in Ireland. He missed them, and visited them regularly, but didn’t consider it home anymore. As their conversation continued her intuition perceived him to be kind and incredibly intelligent. He told her he had never been to Australia, but admitted it was on his bucket list, and he made it clear right then and there that he would be open to the idea of moving there for a relationship.
While most people would have considered running to the hills after such an upfront confession from a stranger, she was happy to know where he stood on the issue and what her future options might be. She had six months left on her visa and was living in the most multi-cultural city in the world; the chances of meeting someone not from her country were high, and of course, because life was cruel, the chances of meeting someone perfect, right before she was due to leave were even more inconveniently greater.
Afternoon transitioned into early evening. The arctic wind had picked up and it suddenly felt like the start of winter again. She was shivering. It was time for the date to conclude. They were seated on a wooden park bench when he asked to see her again the following week. As she was mid-sentence in agreement, he grabbed her gently by the face, leaned in and kissed her. She could feel her cheeks promptly blush. He was a competent kisser. He stood up and offered his hand to help her up. She didn’t need it, but took it anyway and he held it until he had walked her to the edge of the park, to where the bus stop was. He waited with her until it came and gave her a final kiss goodbye.
For the next couple of days they played a flirtatious game of text message tennis. With his office hours and her hospitality hours, meeting up again was proving problematic to organise. In the end, they agreed on seeing each other the coming Saturday. She met him at The Brownswood on Green Lanes for a quick pint before he had to rush off and play football at Finsbury Park. He certainly didn’t play in a serious division if he was drinking beforehand. It was late in the morning and the only other patrons at the time all seemed to be over the age of sixty and really into their sports betting. They sat on metal stools at the bar with their legs intertwined. She was in another of her floral dress numbers and he was wearing his football tracksuit. The conversation was animated as they each discussed the weeks they had both had. He was in line for a promotion and had a possible business trip back to Dublin, while she had just booked flights to Copenhagen to visit her friend Jakob. She noted and relished the lack of awkward silences during their conversation. He profusely apologised he couldn’t spend more time with her and quizzed her on her availability for the coming week, promising her a more lengthy and thoughtful date. They both had the following Sunday free, so he made her promise to keep it open for him. Once again he walked her to the bus stop and they parted after a quick make out session.
For date number three he organised a picnic in Clissold Park. He brought white wine and an assortment of cheeses and berries along with him. Summer had finally kicked in and the city was alive and buzzing. The park was packed with like-minded people as them, all trying to consume as much vitamin D as possible before it disappeared for another year. Their entire afternoon was spent on a rug amongst the tall, thick green grass, people watching and listening to music. At one point, as they laid on their backs and were interpreting pictures in the few clouds that passed over them she encountered her first bumblebee. She was completely memorised by it as it hovered lazily over her face. Life, dating, everything felt relaxing and uncomplicated. All of her previous doubts had vanished, like an apparition that appears for only a split second, and she found herself acting like a dizzy teenager. He was doubtlessly a good man and for the briefest of moments she had successfully forgotten about the other one.
A couple of days later she was discussing the bus stop boy with friends at a bar in Soho. They were border line interrogating her for details on his kissing technique, whether they had slept together yet and if they were now “exclusive”. As she responded to the final question she noticed her friends had fallen quiet, and she saw at the corner of her eye someone had been listening to their conversation. When her brain registered who it was she immediately felt sick in the stomach and her heart began to race. It was the man she had been trying to fall out of love with, and she could tell by the look on his face he had heard everything. It was a contorted blend of anguish and bewilderment. He went to say something, but he couldn’t find the words. There was an awkward silence. Her friends sheepishly kept their eyes to the floor. She then did something she had never had the strength to do before; she walked away.
She needed to drink the memory of what had just happened away, so she contacted some friends she knew were out drinking in Camden and jumped on the tube. Three hours later, blind drunk, she thought it would be a great idea to text the bus stop boy and suggest visiting him in his flat. It wasn’t. She was about to work her subconscious sabotaging magic again. All she could recall the next day was that a projector had been playing old rock videos onto his bedroom wall and it was her worst ever performance. God knows what else was said and done that she couldn’t remember. She had woken to her head thumping, the room spinning and the distinct, strong smell of curry. It turned out he lived above an Indian Restaurant. It made her want to throw up, but miraculously she held it down. He had already left for work, which was explained on a ripped piece of paper next to the bed.
Five days passed before she heard from him again. It would be the last time. He said he had gone to Dublin for a few days, but she had a gut feeling it was a lie and he had been ghosting her. She was secretly relieved. He was everything a sane woman would want in a partner, but he had never induced stomach flips and caused her heart rate to increase. They were important to her. She didn’t want perfect on paper, she wanted perfect for her, and that meant complicated, irritating, immeasurable love with all its shades of grey. She loved the other man. It wasn’t right, but it was real.
She never knew what became of the bus stop boy as she never learnt his surname and therefore was unable to ever look him up. She always envisioned him living outside of London, commuting on the train to the city for work, married to a perfect wife, with two perfect kids and a white picket fence.
As for the man she was in love with, they resumed what they had, but when she moved back to Australia a few months later he chose to remain in London. It was too much of a gamble for him.
It was the second time in her life her heart genuinely broke.
And it probably wouldn’t be the last.