All in Less than Two Days
by Jordan Halliday and Tim Knight
I was ready to go to bed then it hit me. Jesus, I am leaving home tomorrow.
My grandmother stayed the night to spend quality time watching films with my mum and I, and she’d gone off to bed, so now it was only my mum and I left up. She’d packed our bags for the plane the following day. That was the only time we discussed that I was leaving when we talked about what I needed to take and what I was leaving behind – it was an unspoken agreement not to go into anything else about it. I walked into my kitchen to say I was off to sleep and we looked at each other for a moment both realising that this would be our last quiet moment together before the rush of travelling, the hopefulness of finding me a place to stay, the setting me into the place I’d stay (if I got one) and the rush again for her to leave and go back home.
‘So, how are you feeling, Jett?’
I didn’t reply. I just looked down at my feet on the strained and old wooden floor. I tried fighting the tears – believe me I did. But by lord they were giving me one hell of a fight back. One wandering tear beat through the barrier and made its way out of my left eye. It fell on my left foot; its tiny river down flowing in the same shape as my veins.
I have no idea how I had done it. I had been accepted into the University for over a month now, so I knew full well I was going. Somehow I had managed to make myself ignore it completely. When people spoke of me leaving I spoke of it quite freely, but with no thought, no emotion. It just came out like words from a wind up doll – words with no conscious meaning.
I think my mum must have been doing it too. I heard as she talked and told people that came into the shop about her only son getting into University in England and I watched their mouths turn to perfect circles feigning their intrigue in it all. I didn’t mind; I didn’t want them to care anyway. Caring made it seem more real. But we didn’t actually talk about how she felt about it – or how I felt about it. So when she asked me I had no idea how I felt. But the tears told me I must have been pretty sad.
She came and hugged me. I refused to look at her. She’d see the tears and then I’d see hers and in the end we’d all end up swimming in the salt-water-tear-filled pool in my kitchen. After we hugged I said goodnight and quickly turned and headed to bed. I closed my door and collapsed onto my bed and then it all just came out and I couldn’t hold this entire ocean that had built up inside me anymore. My mum came back in and cradled me. I refused to turn around and let her see my face. So I cried and was being held for the first time since I was in nappies. But really, it’s what I’ve always been, just my mum’s baby. Only difference now is I’m nineteen years old, 5’11, broad shouldered, breaded and leaving Northern Ireland for England tomorrow.
– – –
Boxes became the walls for a good week before all the leaving and grieving and hugging began.
Written in terrific, winding, road-like hieroglyphics was the inventory of the box below: pans, ladles, socks and soup spoons. They all contorted together inside, taped up with parcel tape that cried when stretched over the wasteland topside of the vessel. I wrestled in personal effects. Small trinkets collected from long journeys, long relationships, long travels to the shop down the road, a myriad of items that would somehow make a bedroom a home for a good, honest, brand new, out-of-the-box year. Rings from ex fingers I had once held between mine. Coke bottle tops, the old kind, all scratched and muddy, slightly rusting on the outer rim, an eclipse of tin that once had a rim to fit on. A ticket to a show that had me sat hard at a bar for forty minutes, a beer in hand rather than a cock. Drawings. Pictures. Old memory flickers. Jarred herbs. Fine learning curves housed in paperback and hardback. Each of them would soon have a shelf to call home, as would I.
There was a certain fear floating around the house the night before, though it was just a rehearsal for the big show tomorrow. Like all good productions, fear dressed up as four characters sat around a table for six:
Father Fear: Proud and meticulous, sad and innocent.
Mother Fear: Proud and exacting, the radio’s on- distracting.
Sister Fear: Proud. I think.
My Fear: Stay quiet and think. Fuck.
I held hands with fear for a good few hours that evening, thinking it through, thinking what had I gotten myself into? This was University, the steps up to a higher cause. No stair lifts here. Nothing granted or given, just certain uncertainty. Though I was ready, warmed up and stretched out
Both Mother and Father Fear went to bed early, each with a hug and wise words of wondrous wisdom that I said I would remember, but so far have yet to utilise in the real world. Mother Fear seemed nervous, more so than usual. I have deduced that it may be down to four factors:
1. Her last child (the younger of the two) was leaving the nest.
2. Her last child (quiet and independent) was not ready to leave the nest.
3. Her last child (still looking for a suitable bank account) had not set up a suitable bank account.
4. Her last child (nervous) had still got a wardrobe to fold, roll and pack.
Father Fear felt this, yet kept stone faced, still grieving and saddened by the recent passing of his mother. He smiled though, spectacles off, ready on the kitchen table for tomorrow.
For the remainder of the night I was left alone in thought, a cat curled up in comfort and another patrolling the room’s floor plan, wandering lost in the intricacies of adult life. For the past 24 months of track had wound up here, a buffer stop in the heart of Yorkshire. A fire, a television set and an upright piano, here. Right. I’m eighteen years old, a little under 5’11, tense shouldered and leaving the county for a city.
– – –
So I woke up the next day. My personal D-day. When I say I woke that suggests I slept easily the previous night, which isn’t the case. I spent those long hours from 1am until 8am, from dark to dawn, thinking of my guilt about leaving my mother to live all alone in this house passing her days by long hours at work followed by coming back to a pitch black lifeless cave to go to bed and then do it all over again the next day. I’m a horrible, selfish, ungrateful son.
We got to the airport extra early, that was my personal request. Once when I was eighteen and on holiday in Barcelona, I missed my plane home by not being at the airport early enough to work out how to find my way around it. Since then I have made a constant choice to be there at least two hours before my plane. Just in case.
The plane journey was mundane. I slept most of it. I brought a book with me as if I had any intention that I would read it. When I arrived at the airport and hopped on the train to Cambridge it dawned on me I had no idea about where I was going – or what my university looked like. Was the city going to be big and crammed and full of people and cars and pollution? I come from a small town where everyone knows one another and you’re probably all related and so when you’re out trying to get girls you’ll end up bringing your cousin home.
Once the train pulled into the station we boarded a cab being driven by a man from the Middle East. My mum asked him about the city as I was too shaken up with nerves that my tongue was crippled and wouldn’t work like it should. He tried to tell us some stuff, but between his English being poor and his accent strong in the end we didn’t learn very much. I had imagined that this part of the country was going to be pretty posh and higher classed, so when the first road we pulled onto was full of out-of-date and run down supermarkets ran by Indian owners and Indian restaurants that looked like somewhere you’d only take someone to if you wanted them to catch food poisoning, I was starting to wonder if I’d come to the right place.
Where was England?
But at the end of the road I saw it, my first glance at the true side of city that would become my new abode. Right in front of us was a large square shape of lush green grass being illuminated by the sun giving it a tinge of yellow as the light bounced off the blades. It was filled with happy couples lying on top of each other reading either Jane Austin or quantum physics textbooks. Children kicking balls into the air and occasionally and unfortunately onto the heads of the happy couples. Groups of teens having picnics with their friends and acquaintances – friends – they are something I’d have to make sooner or later. I pushed that thought to the back of my mind as I watched them people on the grass just lying there without a second thought. I’d have given a lot to be on that grass right then.
– – –
We were packed and the thermos filled. Tea bags in another bag for safety, then that bag packed inside the picnic bag for extra portability and then that bag was shoved in-between a clothes horse and a basil plant- Matilda. Mother and Father Fear enjoyed long journeys together, with or without their children and accompanying basil plants. Radio 4 would be switched on and thumbed up to an unreasonable volume for the morning. Dawn had not woken yet, but the sound of the news through the slightly opened windows was sure to change that.
In the back I lazed a while, not reading or listening to anything. The tarmac and its tattoos flew past, as did other cars going to other places somewhere other than Cambridge. What I was thinking I cannot recall, but I can remember the feeling. A swollen head balancing atop an anxious body.
I woke on the road into the town or the city or the national heritage site or the whatever it is and was and still is now. Mother Fear turned and emerged from behind the passenger head rest, her mouth moving forming questions, asking questions, questioning me; I had no clue, no guess, nothing to come back at her with.
Corners were turned, lights stopped at and the whole car’s heartbeat was raised. This was a big step remember. Not only am I moving away from home for the first time, but I have to start from scratch in every aspect of everything: friends, accommodation, transport, a city, shops, teachers, more friends, pubs, libraries, weather, workouts, Winter, Spring, Summer and Autumn; and we were on the last corner before this all began.
We handed papers over and penetrated the gates. Nothing from now on would be normal; everything would be a cellophane wrapped, newly packed, sent, signed and opened box of new experiences.
Keys were exchanged and various papers signed and dated. The room was vast, larger than expected, two great windowsills extended out over chimneypots and sunsets, open air and spires. A wardrobe. A sink. Sets of drawers. White washed walls and a book shelf. This is home, my piece of Cambridge over my head, soon to be locked up by my set of keys; soon be crawled into on hands and knees; soon to be slammed by an angry hand; soon to be abused by school boy pranks; soon to christened in the holy name of hormones and headaches and after thought kisses; soon to be hoovered up by a taped together vacuum; soon to be eaten in; soon to be drank in and soon to be cried in over long phone calls from back home. All this and I hadn’t even placed my bag down.
Mother and Father Fear looked over the room, screwdriver extended fixing a cupboard all ready, Mother Fear commenting on the view. Me? I was limbless, it felt, lifeless to myself, numb of all words and speech and conscious thought. I did not feel ready to call this home, guilty almost, as I was leaving a perfect house, a perfect roof and a perfect family and they would carry on up north without me.
– – –
When we got out of the cab I saw the University for the first time. It didn’t look impressive, I’ll admit. There weren’t gates waiting for you to say your name and reason for being there before letting you in to drive up a long spiralling driveway that will take you up to a marvellous old, Victorian building behind a massive fountain gushing water where all the students would be chatting in their sophisticated uniforms about all things intellectual.
No. It was nothing like that. Instead it was just a building on the side of footpath that you entered by walking down a few steps – where the new and returning students sat chatting merrily as if they all knew each other already – and simply stepping inside the door. No questions asked.
The entrance hall was packed wall to wall with students. All from different races and speaking in different tongues. This was daunting for me. Where I came from the only time you’d see someone of a different race is if you wanted a Chinese takeaway – and even then they all had been settled there long enough that their accents blended in with the natives of the town. I felt like the minority for the first time.
I noticed my mum looking round to me.
‘It seems pretty busy here, doesn’t it?’
If I were feeling like my normal self I would have retorted with a cagey remark about how it obviously is going to be busy as it’s the first week. Instead I just nodded and walked on through the entrance hall.
We asked where to go for accommodation services, as that was the first and foremost issue. During the month that had passed since I decided last minute to come to this University I had been frantically trying to find somewhere to live when I came. Since I applied late all the rooms in halls had been taken up and the rooms in houses were too expensive. We spoke to some helpful guy before I came over that had sorted me out with an emergency accommodation room for two weeks and put on a waiting list for halls if enough people dropped out. That was well and good, but the problem was my mum was only here for a night and if we didn’t find me somewhere to stay in these following days then I was left here in a room for the remainder of the two weeks and after that the future was frighteningly foggy.
We were told where the accommodation services were and we headed over. When we got there the queue was massive. None of the rest of the students seemed to be with parents – or had two massive suitcases. None of them even looked stressed. They were just in showing their ID’s and letters, picking up their keys and leaving with a smile. A few of their smiles contorted into confusion when they happened to make eye contact with me and see the fear bloodshot into my eyes.
When it was our turn we told the guy we were looking for a Max.
‘That’s me. You are the ones coming over from Northern Ireland, yeah?’
‘Yeah, this is my son Jett.’
‘Well, if you’d follow me I’ll take you to the room you’ll have in our emergency accommodation.’
We followed him out of the building and into the building directly beside it. Max seemed like a nice guy as he made some small talk. He was tall and lanky so he had to lean over when he spoke to you, which made him look like he was really interested in what you were saying.
‘So, what course are you studying?’
‘Writing and Film.’
‘Oh – nice. I have a friend that did film and they really liked it.’
Thankfully my mum replied and saved me having to pretend like I cared.
He led us into to the door of my room in ‘Christina House’. It was room number four, the first room on the right of the first floor. He opened the door and let us walk in first. First impression: it’s tiny. All that was inside it was a single bed, a desk and wardrobe. When I pulled my two suitcases into the room it meant that the three of us couldn’t fit into the room together – and that was with me sat on the bed. The second thing that hit me after taking in its size were the walls. They were coated in a pale green paint that mixed with the white bed sheets and white desk gave it the overall feel of a children’s hospital ward. I looked to Max who had to stand outside the room, as he couldn’t fit in it with because of my bags. He looked back apologetically. He knew it wasn’t much either. The water in my eyes started boiling up again.
‘The kitchen is just a bit further down on the right – so is the bathroom – if you want to come with me I’ll let you see.’
My mum was about to agree, but I intervened.
‘No, we’ll have a look once we get my bags unpacked and all.’
Max looked taken aback by my abruptness while my mum eyed me and narrowed her brows questioningly.
‘Cool, then. Well, if you need me for anything else I’m just in next-door in the office building. Oh, here’s the keys.’
He reached over the suitcases and handed them over to my mum, waved awkwardly and left us.
‘I can’t stay here for two weeks, ma. It’s a fucking hole.’
‘I know, I know. Look, we’ll just hope that this waiting list goes down and you’ll only need this for a night or two.’
‘I’m not staying here tonight.’
She looked at her watch and checked the time.
‘Right, we’ll get booked into a B&B for tonight then we’ll go get some dinner and come back in the morning and see what’s happening.’
I nodded and started to cry again.
– – –
Before they left me on the Monday, we walked through the University looking to consolidate my application; this would be done by finding a table in amidst a sea of bobbling, nervous, red faced, stressed faces. Father Fear led the way, adamant on finding the said table and revelling in his orientation skills. Mother Fear and I walked in his wake. The three of us pushed through streams of conversation spoken in Scottish voices, Northern Irish dialects, Southern drawls and wisps of West Country odes, all in this great street of wide eyed windows and collapsible tables.
He revelled in his orientation skills, ‘Well, what did I tell you?’ he said in a thick mist of proud Wakefieldian masculine energy, ‘I said it would be here.’
I queued whilst Mother and Father Fear held back. Like a sullen prisoner waiting for the camp, waiting to be stripped of everything in order to start again, I queued. A uniformed volunteer asked me my name.
‘It’s Neal Cassidy.’
‘Is that Neal Cassidy from Yorkshire or Neal Cassidy from Surrey?’
‘The Yorkshire one,’ I replied.
All ready I had a label, The Yorkshire One. Stupid Christopher in his unflattering orange polo shirt, obviously two sizes too small for him as well as a shitty Dickensian hairstyle suited more to the name of Scrooge, instead of Christopher. Shame on you, Chris.
But that was it, officially enrolled into a University. What lay ahead of me was real work, real important, don’t-fuck-this-up-now-Neal work. Mother and Father looked across at me smiling, their fear gone. They were happy. I was too. I was happy to see them happy which in turn made me happy which made them happier than they already were.
Before they left they each planted words of wisdom in my pockets and some hugs were exchanged like monopoly money in heated property-tycoon battles, a pinch of sadness mixed with ecstasy and excitement.
So there I was, making my way back to my bedroom to finish the unpacking process and to start a life in much higher education on my own. I reached my kitchen to find it filled with five bodies. I shook hands with the door handle and walked in.
‘Hi there!’ I remember saying ‘Everyone alright?’ The three other boys, Ray, Ken and Charles all nodded and the smaller of the two females nodded too. The taller female, Joanne, piped up in a brisk Birmingham accent,
‘Yes thank you, it’s quite nice actually. My name’s Joanne, and yours?’
‘Neal, nice to meet you, Joanne.’ We shook hands, though that small act opened up the formality of shaking everyone’s hand followed by stating our name. So the scene played out like this:
‘Nice to meet you, Ken, it’s Neal.’
Handshake. ‘It’s Charles, mate, nice to meet you.’
‘You too, Charles, it’s Neal.’
‘Nice to meet you, Rachel, it’s Neal.’
Handshake. ‘Neal, nice to meet you.’
‘You too, man, the name’s Ray. I live downstairs, just thought I’d come up and find people!’
So that was it, ticked it off the list and made some friends. A green lino’d floor hallway knitted us all together, with only six feet of floor space separating us. My room, along with Joanne’s and Rachel’s, was situated on the west side of the hallway, whilst Ken’s and Charles’ were on the east side. Our shared bathroom and kitchen was also on that east side, hidden behind large, looming, green envious doors. Ray’s room was downstairs on the second floor, tucked away in the corner of the accommodation.
Back in my room I paced around and pinned up various posters. Jim Morrison sat lost on the notice board. Dylan was subjected to the corner of the room. Various film posters filled in the blanks and photographs of my Mother and Father, along with a few literary idols, filled in the smaller blanks. I looked in the mirror and studied myself. I knew that in eight months I wouldn’t be the same person staring back at me now. Maybe I’ll have a woman holding my hand in eight months, a beard maybe, possibly a tattoo or two, a pipe, elbow patches, ironic glasses, a few black eyes, tears, tears, tears.
I nodded and started to cry.
– – –
I woke up the next morning smothered in duvets and pillows and confusion with my body sprawled full breadth across this luxury double bed. There was a patch of drool to the left of my cheek. In my dream the night before I’d been skipping nakedly up and down a set of steps beside a footpath that was full of my peers. They were all fully clothed, but they didn’t notice me. They just let me skip with my penis and ass cheeks bouncing around. I kept doing this until two policemen that looked liked Simon and Garfunkel came and tripped me over. I fell and banged my head and left cheek on the one of the steps. That’s when I woke up.
My mum wasn’t in her bed in the B&B but I heard the taps in the bathroom running so she must have been in there getting ready, I checked the time on my phone and it was 9.17. I just wanted to go back to sleep, but I knew the day ahead was going to be a busy and emotional one.
My mum came out of the bathroom dressed and ready for the day.
‘Good sleep, son?’
‘Are you hungry? The breakfast ends down stairs at ten o’clock.’
‘You have to eat. We have a busy day ahead.’
I got up and pulled on the same clothes as I had from the day before. I refused to take a shower also. I didn’t care how I looked and smelled right now; I could try to impress later on.
We headed downstairs and Tracy who owned the B&B with her husband came and asked us what we wanted. My mum ordered bacon and eggs and a coffee. I ordered Weetabix.
‘Don’t you want something proper, Jett?’
‘No, I’m fine, mum.’
Tracy held up for a moment and I seen her eyes dive into my own and make their way unwillingly up into my head, sliding through the cracks into my skull and into my brain, eating up my thoughts. I quickly shifted mine to the ceiling, the walls and to the floor. Anywhere but her eyes. The questions and longing and pity in them terrified me.
A few minutes later she reappeared with the food. I glanced up at her as she set down my cereal and those big eyes were fixed on me again asking me a thousand questions that I didn’t want to address. I couldn’t eat my food. I didn’t want it at all. After a few bites I looked around to the kitchen and she was there looking at me again. Piercing right through my brain and my thoughts with those eyes. I couldn’t stand it any longer. I got up.
‘Where are you going, Jett?’
‘I’m not hungry.’
‘Wait for me, I’m nearly finished.’
I darted out of that room so fast. Even without looking back I could still feel Tracy’s eyes on me, burning the back of my brain and working out too much about me.
When I got back to the room I slammed the door and locked it, moved into the bathroom and splashed my face with cold water. The mirror showed me everything Tracy had been looking at. My eyes were red from tears and eternal fear and circled with black from lack of sleep and mental weakness. No wonder Tracy eyed me up like some kind of sickly child.
It was a while before my mum returned. To pass time I started playing games on my phone to try and take my mind off things, but if anything it just made me tired, so I tried to sleep again and just as I was about to fall into a sleep the door banged. Typical. I waited a moment before getting up and it banged again. I walked over to it.
‘Who is it?’
‘It’s me – your mum, why?’
I let her in.
‘What was that about?’
‘Nothing. Where have you been?’
‘Talking to Tracy.’
Shit, I thought. She has told my mum about the thoughts of mine she was reading. I knew she was telepathic.
‘What did she say?’
‘She was just asking me why we were here and stuff, so I told her and told her the situation and she said that if we can’t get you somewhere to stay then you can stay here. It’s expensive, but they worked it out and cut it down a lot for us. Her and her husband are lovely people.’
No, no, no. I was not staying here. Lovely gesture and all, but I’m not staying anywhere near those X-ray eyes of hers. No way. I didn’t tell my mum my theories about Tracy’s telepathy, but I kept them in mind.
We set off not long after and headed in to go to the accommodation services to see what was happening. When we got there the first person we seen was Max, he was bending over talking to someone and probably being really interested in what they were saying. When he turned and saw us he smiled overly brightly for that time of morning and came straight over to us.
‘Good new, folks. Enough people have dropped out so now we are pleased to offer you a room in Twintrowel Halls. If you’d like to follow me over there I’ll show you the room.’
He headed out of the door and we followed behind. The halls were situated adjacent to the University. When we arrived it was a lot more impressive looking even from the outside than Christina House was. It was about double the size and even had its own entrance hall with a laundrette and a vending machine. We jumped into the elevator and headed up to the second floor. The room they were offering me was room number 244 at the very right hand side of the hallway. Just across from the room was the kitchen. It was moderately sized and had a nice view of the courtyard out the back where I could see a few students smoking. Beside that was the bathroom with a shower, a bath and two toilets.
Max unlocked the door into the bedroom and I walked in first. First impression: it’s big. It must have been at least two times the size of the room in Christina House and about a million times as bright, being lit up by the sun blasting into the two Velux windows at either end of the outward wall. There was a single bed, a desk, a wardrobe and a sink with a mirror (I had a feeling this sink could become multi-purpose eventually). It was like a brand new show room for a house that had never been inhabited before.
‘So, I’ll let you both have a look around and make your decision and if you want it just come –’
‘I want it.’
Max stalled for a moment.
‘Well, that’s cool then. Ehhh, here’s the papers you just need to sign them and bring them back over to the office and it’s yours.’
I snatched them off him and scribbled my named where it was needed and handed them back to him straight away.
‘Oh – eh – thanks. Well, here’s the keys. We’ll give you a call if we need any more bank details or anything.’
Max left and my mum and I were alone in my new room. She walked around it inspecting it like a mother does.
‘It sure is big, isn’t it?’
‘Yeah, it is.’
We looked at each other for a moment and that water in my eyes started to boil up again – and hers as well. Then the door knocked.
I opened it and found a guy that looked my age. He was slightly taller than me and his ginger hair was poking out of his backwards hat and spoke with thick South London diction.
‘Alright, mate. I thought I heard someone moving in so I thought I’d come see. I’m Ray, by the way.’
We shook hands.
‘I’m Jett. Nice to meet you.’
I looked around to my mum and I don’t think in all my life I had ever seen her look so happy and sad at the same time.
– – –
Once I had stretched the fitted sheet over the mattress and dressed the duvet cover and pillow case in their clothes for the week, I napped. My afternoon turned to evening as did the sky and the clocks and the general buzz of the accommodation. A knock woke me. It was sharp and direct, yet echoed back into the hallway making it sound far grander than it actually was. It was Ken and Charles.
‘Alright mate, we’re off to get some beer for tonight.’
‘Just from the shop down the road’ Ken added.
I questioned the pair, ‘What’s happening tonight?’
‘Well, we thought we’d pre-drink then head on out to a club.’
Charles sweetened the deal, ‘Olive, my girlfriend is bringing some people she’s already met.’
‘Excellent, well let me grab my coat and I’ll meet you downstairs.’
So that’s what we did. The three of us, walking and talking as if we’d gone through school together, went to buy more beer than we could manage. All of us hauled the large boxes of clinking and cheering bottles back with us through the spaghetti of unknown streets we had yet to meet. Ken spouted off lengthy tales of drinking back at home with his friends, a collection of rag-tag musketeers it seemed. Charles stayed quiet, gently laughing at funny moments in the tale. I smiled along, keeping whatever thoughts I was thinking to myself.
By the time we got back to Twintrowel, our halls of residence right beside the University, it was a little past 8 and the hallway was filled with different genres of music, slipping and escaping from under the doors and dancing in the corridor. Ken, Charles and I dumped the beer in the kitchen and agreed on rendezvousing back at 9 to start the drinking and inaugurate our time as friends.
That hour was filled with my music slipping under the door and dancing in the corridor, a shower (long and glorious, hot to the skin yet oddly cooling) and getting dressed in my uniform of choice, black jeans and a blue crew neck jumper. A simple spray of expensive mist later and 9 o’clock was upon us all. I joined the party in the kitchen.
Joanne, Rachel and Ken were all singing, their tonsils rattling in their throaty cages. I shouted over to them,
‘He’s gone to get Olive,’ Ken shouted back, his voice lost amongst a blinding guitar solo coming from the speakers.
I settled into the atmosphere, a beer bottle spitting at me and Ken telling me more stories. The four of us sat around the table, more suited to an American diner as the seats were all fixed around a central point, and we exchanged our details. Phone numbers, email addresses, names of our fathers, names of our mothers, any siblings, any pets, past girlfriends, present girlfriends, knowing Ken- future girlfriends. We all bopped along to our own merry conversation.
Hours later Olive and Charles came in, joined by a merrier troupe of girls: Clarissa, Isabelle and Debbie; each of them bringing more alcohol to our fixed Central Park table hanging lifelessly in the middle of the kitchen, cramped and confused. We all chatted in long sentences, excited by each other’s tales of places we had only ever heard on the news. Birmingham! Tenerife! Wales! Kent! Wondrous cities and towns where these people existed and had families.
Thoughts turned to leaving Twintrowel for the clubs. But our final glasses of whatever we were drinking were interrupted by the arrival of Ray and a friend. We all cheered and poured ourselves another drink.
– – –
Ray seemed like a cool bloke. We went off into the town together so I could buy myself a new TV and he’d help me come back with it while my mum would do some work in my new room. On our journey we made talk about University; he was studying Sport Coaching. He’d been off to a summer camp in the USA just before he had got to University; he moved in the week before me. We discussed football, so I was glad I had a football buddy to watch the matches with for the coming season. Yeah, he was a cool bloke.
With a dual struggle to carry my TV back to Twintrowel and into my room by the time we both arrived back we were sweating, out of breath and suffering from lower back pains. Once we got back I opened my door into my bedroom to see it was a whole new place: my bed had been made with my New York skyline bed-sheets; my books and DVDs were now standing in formation upon the shelves; and Brando and Dean looked down upon me from the walls. What would they think of me in my situation? The two Hollywood heroes of the fifties; I certainly doubt they’d be as tearful as I’d been, that’s for sure.
Ray and I fixed up my TV and set it up upon the windowsill. We realised the time and that my mum would have to be going anytime soon. She ordered a taxi and I helped her with her bags to the front of the University to wait. We didn’t say much. I suppose we didn’t know what to say. We knew what was happening. She was going home and leaving her baby in another country to fend for himself for the first time. He couldn’t even cook.
We stood at the front silently waiting on the taxi; it was taking its time. I just wanted it to hurry up so she could go. Not because I wanted rid of her, but because I just wanted the ordeal of saying good-bye to be over and done with. I didn’t even feel sad or like crying anymore for the first time since I’d been here.
‘Well, I just want to say thanks for all you have done, ma.’
‘Don’t be silly, son. As long as you’re happy now.’
I looked around towards the University and at the people sitting on the steps talking to each other and laughing and joking.
‘Yeah, I’ll be okay.’
Eventually the taxi arrived and we hugged.
‘Give me a ring later, okay?’
‘Yeah, okay. Thanks again for everything.’
I could see the tears filling her eyes, but they weren’t filling mine. I felt good. I was ready. I’d made one friend and I knew only more friends were to come. After that everything else would just fit into place. I’d fit into place.
I watched as the taxi pulled away and left. I was on my own now. There was no going back. I’d be lying if I said I my lip didn’t curl into a smile.
When I got back Ray informed me we were heading out tonight with the people he had met upstairs.
‘Yeah, they’re decent, mate. I was out with some of them last night and up stairs hanging with them today.’
He agreed to give me some of his beers to save us from having to go and walk somewhere to buy some new beer for me.
I got showered and dressed into my blue chinos, James Dean t-shirt and denim jacket that my mother hated. I liked it because it was tight and made my shoulders look broad and my biceps look big, so that’s all that mattered. Ray came into my room when he was dressed and handed me eight cans of beer. Generous. I promised to repay him. I still haven’t.
We headed upstairs. I was a little nervous. Ray had told me some of these guys had been moved in for a few days, so they must all be adequately acquainted. I didn’t want to come in and bend some line of equilibrium that they had found.
Blaring choruses of British Indie music welcomed us into the brim filled kitchen. Ray rolled into his new playground first and his voice boomed like a megaphone over the speakers and putting the music to shame.
‘Alright, guys. This is Jett, he moved in today.’
Everyone broke free from their conversations and turned around to inspect and grant me permission to enter. The girls eyed me up and said hello simultaneously observing the new piece of meat to fall into the plate. I watched as some of them seemingly got their knives and forks out; guess I’d get to know them later. Ray drifted off and mingled in with everyone else. He definitely didn’t have any issues when speaking to people, as his cockney accent bounced off the walls and into everyone’s ears.
The first to address me on his own was a slightly older looking member of the freshman fad.
‘Alright, mate, I’m Charles.’
‘How are you doing? I’m Jett.’
Next was a tall, tan and slender dude whose facial hair wrapped his face in a perfect chin strap.
‘I’m Ken. How’s it going?’
‘Good, thanks. I’m Jett.’
One girl did address me personally after all. She had long black hair, sported a pair of red horn-rimmed glasses and had a Birmingham accent.
‘Alright there. I’m Joanne.’
‘Hi, I’m Jett.’
‘What course do you do, Jett?’
‘I’m doing Writing and Film.’
Another girl turned around, she was a lot shorter and had wayward, unruly auburn hair.
‘Neal, is doing that course as well, aren’t you, Neal?’
Neal was talking to one of the other girls and had said something to make her bend over in fits. When Neal turned around he too was laughing.
‘What was that, Rachel?’
I could hear the Yorkshire tones in his accents. This guy was from further away than the rest, just like me. Rachel pointed to me.
‘This guy is on the same course as you.’
Neal raised his brows in surprise and shook my hand with a youthful smile that relished in the excitement for the moment and for the year to come.
‘I’m Neal. Nice to meet you.’
‘You too, I’m Jett.’
He noticed the picture of James Dean covering my torso and pointed towards it.
‘Jimmy Dean fan?’
‘Yeah, he’s my favourite actor.’
He left the girl and walked over towards me. Disappointment bended her mouth from a smile into a frown. She must have liked him.
We began talking about films and books and actors and writers and with every phrase a new can of beer and a new can of thoughts were opened – and they would continue to open until now. We certainly looked different. At the time I time I think I was taller and I must have been twice as broad, but we had the same ideas. Back home I had a lot of friends, but none with the same vision as I. But I’d come across the water and within no time I’d found someone who did. And that refreshed me more than any of these beers ever could.
Yes, mum. I’d found friends. I’d found someone like me. I had fitted in. All in less than two days. She called me that night but I didn’t answer. She only called the once, though, so she must have known I was all right.
– – –
‘Alright, guys. This is Jett, he moved in today.’ Ray thundered. His dulcet South East London tone blending in with the music and making for a sweeter sounding kitchen.
Jett was a large chunk of meat hung by his shoulders. A butcher had obviously wrestled him to the ground in a forest somewhere and continued to sculpt him into a fine body of work. A tight white James Dean t-shirt was dragged across his torso and the women all turned their heads when he entered the kitchen; they were intrigued when he spoke to Charles. I don’t remember exactly what words he spat out, but the fact they were delivered in a Northern Irish accent obviously wooed and tickled all the vaginas dotted around the kitchen. As for me, the t-shirt was enough- it was someone I recognized.
Ray left Jett at the door like a pint of milk and continued on his rounds, chatting up the men and women and the drawers and the shelves and cupboards and the sink and the windows. He had no problem talking to inanimate objects as well as women and men. Champion of the male race.
Joanne distracted Jett longer enough for me to talk more to Clarissa. Her wide blue eyes were the summer’s sky lacking from the skylight above us, open just ajar allowing the conversation to escape. We talked and we talked and she laughed and I made jokes and at one point she bent over in utter elation at a joke I made about making small-talk when putting on a fiddly condom. Her cheeks creased and they were a beauty in themselves.
Whilst Clarissa was bent over, in a more than flattering position I’d later find myself in and over, Rachel pointed over to me. I traced her arm to the source. It was Jett. What had I said now?
‘He’s on the same course as you, Neal.’
‘What? Making girls laugh until they can’t stand straight, that course?
‘No, Film and Writing!’
‘Well it’s a pleasure to meet you, you a fan of Jimmy Dean?’
He looked a little uncomfortable, but a great tidal wave grin whipped across his face.
‘Yeah, he’s my favourite actor.’
And so it went on. We discussed all manners of topics: music, film, books, and great anomalies of literature that nobody had heard of us but us. Kerouac slid into the conversation, as did Bukowski, Huxley, Ginsberg, Baudelaire and other great writers we both admired.
The next morning I had missed a call from my Mother. Yes, mum. I’d found friends. I’d found someone like me. I had fitted in. All in less than two days.