The Bus Stop Boy

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.

Endings and Beginnings

She had always tried to fix the broken ones but in the end they’d always broken her a little instead.

They met at a mutual friend’s boat party. All the girls had noticed him except for the laughing, carefree girl who had jumped off the bow of the boat with a beer in hand. Her lack of attention had fascinated him and he was drawn to her like a moth to a flame. He went straight for her as she grabbed another drink from the esky and introduced himself with a cocky pick-up line. Once he was on her radar she saw he had a bad boy vibe and a hint of sadness to him, which she quickly discovered she couldn’t resist.

He was the stereotypical Aussie footballer type; athletic, light brown hair, blue eyes and tattoos. He was private school educated, raised with money and had that slight sense of entitlement one sees in a person when everything is handed to them on a silver platter. He worked in the family business with his father who cheated on his mother most of his life. To him it was natural behaviour and he emerged emotionally stunted.

She was raised with laughter and two loving parents but not a lot of money. She moved out of home at seventeen and worked two jobs to put herself through university. She refused to get any Government assistance. If she wanted something she worked for it. Nothing in her life came for free. When it came to men she was an optimist, always wore her heart on her sleeve and always thought things would work out in the end.

They started sleeping together the night of the boat party with neither of them interested in a ‘relationship’. She had an indefinite trip organised long before they met so there was always an expiration date on whatever they were from day one. It was the first time in a while she wasn’t looking for something serious so her emotional walls were up. Despite their different personalities, social backgrounds and the warnings from various people, the arrangement suited them both.

Within weeks she was acquainted with his friends and family and when they were out he insisted on paying for everything. To everyone who knew of their arrangement they were carefree friends. At night however, behind closed doors, he slowly revealed to her his soul. She was surprised by his words and trust as it made her question the casualness of the situation. At the same time she was unsure of their status, she felt like she was a positive influence on him.

One night he picked her up from her bar job and took her back to his house. She hadn’t been feeling well all day so he offered her some pain relief. Whatever he gave her was strong, prompting her to ask what it was. He revealed he had spent some time in hospital for a bone eating tumour in his skull and the medicine was from that time. It had affected his blossoming football career and she could tell he didn’t divulge that information to many people. She was touched he had opened up to her about something so significant to him.

Later that night, unable to sleep from the humidity and feeling ill from the strong medicine, she lay awake next to him thinking he was sound asleep. She moved and he nervously asked if she was awake.

“Yes” she replied

“I love you” he whispered. Was she hallucinating? She wasn’t sure. An awkward amount of time passed before she spoke.

“Can you say what you said again to me?” He was silent. She rolled over, placed her chin on his bare chest and looked at him. “I’m not sure if I heard what you said correctly, you need to say it again”.

He spoke again repeating the same words which left her speechless. Because she had kept her guard up she hadn’t allowed herself to have feelings for him.

She didn’t know what to say so she kissed him and he kissed her back. After a while he realised it was a distraction and stopped to go use the bathroom. For twenty solid minutes there was silence. No flush of a toilet. No running of a tap. Nothing. He had gone in there to escape. When he finally returned he ignored her, got into bed, rolled on his side so his back was facing her and went to sleep.

The next morning he was brushing his teeth and walked out of the ensuite to find her sitting on the edge of the bed. She looked at him still confused and unsure if it had all been a dream.

“You said something to me last night and I don’t know if it was real or not” she said.

“Was it something good?” he responded

“I think so”

“Then it probably wasn’t a dream” he said before walking back into the bathroom. That was the last time it was mentioned. From that point on he pretended like it had never happened and she was too embarrassed to raise it again.

It took her a long time to pin point the very moment he went cold on her. Later she realised that the night he said those few words, the night she said nothing back, that was it. That was the moment. He had opened up to her and without realising it she had hurt him. When she had hurt him, he began to withdraw like a tortoise in its shell.  To make things worse, the moment he began to build his walls, she saw it as the moment to finally let hers down.

For the next few months she battled with him to show his emotions again. She felt he ignored her unless he was drunk or it was late at night; usually both. He also liked to flaunt other women in front of her. After all they weren’t exclusive.

Every time she was on the verge of giving up he would somehow reel her back in with words or an act of kindness. Sometimes it was a display of jealousy or a drunken deep-and-meaningful conversation. He’d show the old him and her hope would go on. She would always ask him how he felt and about their situation to which he would always respond with “this is what you wanted”. She was a fool.

Any sane woman would have walked away but she felt too invested. She saw moments of greatness in him and held on tight to them when he was cruel to her. She thought he was punishing her and eventually it would end. It wouldn’t, because she couldn’t fix something that was unfixable.

The one great thing that came of it all was that it made it easier for her to leave when the time came. One night as they were walking through a car park with friends the subject of her trip came up. He said something about when she was back and when she told him she didn’t know if she’d even be coming back the look he gave her was forever burned into her memory. She saw then and there the realisation that crossed his face. He finally understood she wasn’t going on a holiday, she was moving countries.

On her last night in Australia she spent it with him. He even offered to take her to the airport. Towards the end he became kinder but at times was still distant, like he was phasing her out. Despite all that had happened she completely understood why. When she left she thought things had ended on good terms and they would at the very least remain friends. As she boarded her flight she sent one final text to him. It was her goodbye.

– SIX MONTHS LATER –

She was curled in a ball on the bed in her dank London basement flat. Her eyes were swollen and red from crying and the bed sheets were soaked in patches from where her tears had fallen. She had received an email earlier that morning which had devastated her. Though thousands of kilometres away, part of her was still in love with him. When he had reached out to him he had told her to move on and to forget they had ever happened. Despite being on a different continent on the other side of the world he had managed to once again hurt her.

He was in a relationship with a ‘friend’ of hers. She had found out thanks to photos of the two being posted on social media and not from the friends who knew of its beginning merely weeks after her leaving. She felt betrayed by many people despite them telling her it was withheld to spare her feelings. He had stated time and again he didn’t want a relationship but it turned out it he just didn’t want one with her. She felt like damaged goods.

When she found out she emailed them both to ask what was going on. He couldn’t have been nastier and her so-called friend declared “I have no loyalty to you”. Well that was that then she thought.

It was already going to be a long day before she had received the news. She worked as a bartender in Broadgate near Liverpool Street Station. There was an exhibition of expensive cars outside her bar that day which she knew would draw people in for lunch. Her clientele were mainly bankers and half of them were truly wankers; funny how they rhymed. She wasn’t in the mood for their shit.

In the middle of a busy lunch service she dropped an unopened bottle of red wine which shattered at her feet. A cut in her hand began to bleed from where the bottle sliced her and matched the shade of her now soaked socks. Her day was going from bad to worse and she was on a double shift. She still had to work the night shift which turned out to be equally as busy as the day.

Three guys had come in early in the evening and tried to lift her mood throughout the night. The first was obviously keen on her, the second was too good looking to be real and last seemed a little crazy. The one keen on her was a music executive for an international label. He was nice and attentive but she just wasn’t interested or attracted. The good looking guy was a personal trainer and the slightly crazy one worked high up for an airlines company. They were all English and friends from school, and all determined for her to have a good night.

When she finally knocked off the trio asked her to join them for a drink. It had been a long day and she needed one, so she agreed. They invited her to get a taxi with them to Shoreditch, the hipster, happening suburb of east London. Usually she didn’t accept or share rides with strangers, let alone three men, but this time she didn’t care; she needed the distraction. They ended up at a seedy nightclub which was open until 3am. All of her drinks were bought for her but she kept a close eye on them to make sure they weren’t being ‘roofied’.

The music executive kept making unwanted moves on her on the dance floor so she ran away to the bar. She was in line when the personal trainer popped up next to her. They began chatting and she discovered the slab of muscle was also heartbroken. The next thing she knew he was kissing her and she was allowing him to. When they came up for air she saw the music executive was watching them before storming off. She grabbed the personal trainer’s hand and led him out of the club.

In the cab on the way to her flat they established it was just sex. It was what they both needed despite being emotionally attached to other people. She went into stealth ‘Seth Cohen’ mode to sneak him in. Unfortunately for her, not only were her two Scottish housemates wide awake at that hour ever for the first time ever, they also had all their male friends over. The personal trainer received an absolute grilling.

When she got him to her bedroom he was so drunk he couldn’t get it up. They tried countless things before he pretended to fall asleep. No way in hell are you staying here mate. She knew he was faking sleeping because he lived on the other side of London. After ‘waking him’ she eventually convinced him to leave, booked him a taxi and walked him outside. It was eerily quiet.

I don’t know where I am” he said. A three legged albino fox ran past.

“You’ll be ok” she said turning away to go back inside. “We all will be”.

The next morning she pulled out her laptop searching for a much needed holiday and to get away from everything. She couldn’t go immediately, but at least by booking something then and there she could have something to look forward to. She clicked confirm and it was official.

She was going to Berlin.