“So, what do you do then?” he asked me as he leaned into his jacket, liquorice-papered roll-up in hand and flame of a match wavering in the wind of a particularly chilly night. He lit mine, and then his own.
“I write,” I replied.
“Writing? Difficult market,” he said. “Competitive,” he said.
“I’m still young enough to be a romantic,” I said.
Beautiful as he was, Mr. Cigarette was obviously old. World-weathered. Sad-seeming. Forty-seven isn’t ancient if you still believe, but he carried his cynicism around like an old friend, and it added decades.
It took me less than the time it takes to get down to the butt of a smoke to figure out that this guy had died at 30 and has been waiting to be buried ever since. Disenchanted doesn’t come into it – he was miserable. Life lesson from the womb? Miserable people are determined to make everyone else feel exactly the same way too.
What could have been an entertaining musical interlude on a girly night out quickly fizzled into a fast getaway. Thanks for the smoke and fuelling my fire to prove the doubting world wrong, mister.
(P.S. you really were amazing to look at. Credit where credit is due and all.)
His comments bothered me as I walked grumpily back into the crowded, fairy-lighted pub. I hate that negativity is so prevalent in a certain demographic. Who the hell is this guy, anyway? HUMPH. Hope isn’t a privilege of the uninitiated. I intend to have it forever.
And then my friend Jack the Dancer arrived.
Jack the Dancer is a beautiful man – wide-smiling and bright-eyed and youthful. Of course, he’s an idealist star-gazer as well, just like Nicki The Costume Maker, who I was gossiping with that night too.
Jack flashed open his tweed winter coat to reveal exactly what we didn’t realise we’d been waiting for: two bottles of champagne hidden in his inside pockets, sweaty with condensation and begging to be opened rightnowthisverysecond lest we all got kicked out of the pub for not having wet glasses.
“Drinks are on me, ladies!” Jack howled, and Nicki and I squealed in delight. The miserable man was forgotten, because I’m fickle and easily distracted, and intense discussion on the logistics of imbibing illegally imported beverages commenced. Three friends united by poverty, and unfulfilled ambition, and stolen champagne, crammed on an old leather sofa, swapping tales about underpaid day jobs and boys and all of the world that simply must be to be conquered needed champers, and needed it STAT.
I nodded my head across from where we were sat, to where a group were crowded around an iced wine bucket and surrounded by flutes. “How convenient,” we noted. “It’s like they knew we were coming…”
There was a flourish of tapping on shoulders and much sorry to interrupt, but could we use those empty glasses? And, if that bottle you’re drinking is finished, would you like some of ours…? And, do you mind if we pop our bottle in there to keep it cold? Before we all knew it both bottles were down our throats and Jack the Dancer was explaining to the people who thirty minutes ago were strangers that he had “borrowed” the champagne from a waitering gig he had been doing all day.
Dreams are great, but sometimes you gotta do the dirty work to pay your bills, you know?
Jack The Dancer (who is also a model and an actor and a trained hairdresser and makes cakes… just. Don’t even…) had spent the day serving at an event for a high street fashion chain. Thing is, the universe has one hell of a sense of humour because the advert they were celebrating the launch of? Jack had filmed with them only the week before: he’s an extra in the very ad they were celebrating.
Oh, universe. One week you can be on set doing the job of your fantasies, and the next serving drinks in uniform at the launch party for it. If that doesn’t keep your sense of entitlement in check then I don’t know what will.
We were all exchanging stories with these people-who-were-strangers-but-now-we’re-kind-of-like-new-friends and they were telling us about the engagement they were celebrating, and Jack the Dancer was being proud of me and my writing, giving out the name of my blog, and Nicki talked about her costume designing and sewing prowess because she’s more talented than any Project Runway, and we all voiced dreams and goals and acknowledged that money we didn’t have could’ve bought the champagne we were currently drinking for free, but, we all unanimously agreed, it wouldn’t make it taste any sweeter.
The time is now, Internet. To be young! And full of hope!
I extracted myself from the dynamic and went to pee. And as I washed my hands I looked up into the mirror and out loud actually expressed shock at what I saw by saying “Oh!”
A woman stared back at me. Her cheeks were flushed and her new fringe skimmed her eyebrows. Her mouth smiled, laughing with life, and the collar of her shirt jutted up just so: part attitude and part accident. She looked so sure of herself, so ready for it all, so comfortable with who she was. Is. That woman was me.
I continued to stare at myself and on loop in my imagination kept saying look. Look at you! You’re a woman on the edge of everything you’ve ever wanted. You’re beautiful. You’re a woman who can take it all. You’re a woman who already has it all. You’re a woman and this is your life and you are lucky, and worthy, and happy!
When I went back to the table I just listened to everyone else for a bit, my private revelation ringing loud in my ears. Nicki the Costume Maker and Jack the Dancer and Laura the Writer, united in dreaming in a backstreet pub, drinking stolen champagne with strangers who seemed like old friends, being young and broke and living moments that in the show reel of our lives, on our deathbeds, we’d recall as being the best of them all because anything seemed possible, right then, together.
That’s how it’s done. That’s how to be broke and twenty-something in London. With illicit booze, and wonderful friends, and strangers with open hearts, and chips on the night bus home.