I saw him at the Barbican. I was walking through its gloomy passage ways as though walking through the memories in my own mind, I was quite absorbed in myself.
He had already seen me. He was leaning against a wall, his face blushing, looking unhappy. It’s funny how your unconscious always knows it’s being watched and causes you to immediately look at the looker. And its funny how it’s always on occasions like these.
Anyway he was leaning, I wished that he wouldn’t, I always enjoyed how he interacted with the environment around him, leaning against walls, sitting on the floors whenever possible. I liked that in him, it made him seem sensual, more sensitive.
I remember once comparing my hands to his. I’d never liked a man with podgy fingers and his were just right. The first time I met him I was fixated on those hands. Mine were ugly, dumpy- I took it as a good sign about his.
We only ever made it once. It was true it was not how I would have liked but it was a long night at the back of the auditorium after everyone had gone home. During, I’d had the idea we were being watched from the gallery and all they could see was a mass of heaving arms and legs sticking out from behind the seats. I never got over the sense of being watched that night, after all the place was supposed to have a ghost.
I said it wasn’t how I wanted, it wasn’t. I had imagined being in a relationship with him, spending time together, buying things (I never bought anything), easing into a life of simple luxury. I imagined we would always be together- for me, a relationship could only happen with one person. I thought, there’s so much to learn, explore about another person, an endless bottomless pit to disappear into and he was the one I wanted to do it with. I decided he was enough for my life. But he only said, at the end of that long night, that I was sweet. At the time I inwardly balked, I thought the term of endearment patronising and I did not see him as patronising.
In case you think me completely self obsessed, I was coming to the Barbican to visit the library, I had to confess that I had lost my card. I was in such a state about it, I was convinced it was the highest of crimes, so you can tell my mindset. I almost daren’t approach the librarian although they were normally so nice. This time though I struck unlucky. It was my unlucky day in fact. The nice assistant was too inexperienced to use his initiative and believe that I was who I said I was with no other proof, even though I was returning books previously loaned to me on the lost card. He refused to issue me another one and called over his superior who demanded I show a passport and my proof of address. Of course, thinking that re issuing a card would be no big deal, I had not brought these with me and, quite possibly because of seeing him and re experiencing intense feelings I was trying to forget (at the expense of making me a zombie) I was fuming. Too cap it all he had followed me in too and was watching the whole little episode quietly whilst pretending to be absorbed in a painting exhibition. That was what he was, quiet. It made me furious he should witness me being so- so uncitzenly. It made me furious he should witness my public humiliation over a library card. The librarian was staring crossly at me through her glasses, I was sure I recognised her, she was normally so nice, I decided she must have a sister.
‘But of course I am who I say I am’, I pleaded, making myself look even more stupid- I mean it was only a library card, although I wanted to take out some books that day and felt I could not wait.
‘Or how could I have got the books otherwise?’
‘You could have found them on the street’, the woman was smiling at me in such a way as if to suggest I hadn’t thought of that.
‘But’, I persisted, though my inner voice was warning me not to, ‘ Why would I bring them back then, if that was the case? Surely I would just keep them?’
‘You might want to pretend to be her so you can get her library ticket’.
I was angry now at the total illogic of the whole thing.
‘Whatever for, surely I would just set up my own account?’
‘Not if you want to steal books’, the woman continued to smile and swayed gently at the hips.
‘This is the most ridiculous piece of logic I’ve ever heard in my entire life!’ I burst out, foaming at the mouth. ‘If a library won’t trust you, then who will? I think it is preposterous.’
I want to say here that I did want to be a better person than this- all through out the argument my eyes had fastened on a young woman with her infant in tow.
‘Mummy has a lot of books’, she was saying. ‘Mummy’s house is positively weighed down with books darling, I have too many to read.’
The child mumbled something and she cried ‘What, what?’ as they swung along, happy as Larry.
I wanted to be like this woman, I decided. I wanted to change into someone who would never lose her library ticket and would always bring her books back on time and never give the librarians any hassle ( I was banned from Westminster libraries for not returning their books and accruing fines). I let the argument with the librarian drop, I decided she had probably had a long hard day. Instead my attention returned to him, who was just standing there and looking aghast at my outburst. There was a look of pity across his face, at the same time I got the feeling if it had gone any further he would have been ready to jump in and save me. He was that kind of guy. I had to admit to myself that I liked that about him too. I liked a man who readily expressed emotions through his face, it made up for the fact I couldn’t.
‘Well’, he said, not daring to approach me and pointing his head in my direction and throwing me a quick glance though not maintaining eye contact, ‘They shouldn’t have spoken to you like that.’
Oh dear. My longings for him returned ten fold. I was thinking to myself, you mustn’t look like that, feel like that. But I looked up and saw him smiling at a woman with long hair who was perusing the shelves nearby. She returned the smile eagerly and his face cracked with relief. I was insanely jealous, I realised he had not been following me into the library but had been coming in to find her.
‘Don’t be bitter’, he turned and said to me.
‘About what?’, I wanted to ask. ‘The librarian or you?’
But he was quickly gone, one hand flung around the waist of the woman as they ambled slowly out of the library doors and up the corridor- probably off to do some shopping. I marvelled again at a man’s capacity to feel so much and yet compartmentalise so well. I wondered when all those separate little boxes would dissolve into themselves and make a mess or whether they would stay like that, different intense emotions for different women, stored neatly and appropriately away. Everything had to be appropriate.
I turned back to the librarian. I decided to be polite and make the long bus journey back home and return with the necessary documents that same day. And I would tackle those fines at Westminster too. I would show them what I was made of, I would show him what I was made of. I wasn’t going to be bitter.