“Why don’t we meet on the Bridge as 6.30?” It was a odd request; why did she want to meet there? Why not meet at the theatre? “Then I’ll be able to find you easily – tell me where you’ll be standing.” Brendan didn’t even know where she lived or whether she even lived in London; in fact, he realised he knew very little about this girl he was going to be meet; he didn’t even know how she looked.
“OK – I’ll text you when I get there?”
“Great – see you next Thursday,” there was a pause, “Brendan.” Had she forgotten his name? He wasn’t sure he really want to see her. Her voice was softly spoken though, which was nice.
It was cold on the bridge and as he’d been there a full twenty minutes before the agreed time on account that he wanted to find somewhere where he would be seen easily; so the middle then. He had guessed by now that she must be coming from the north on account that the National Theatre was on the South Bank and she wouldn’t want to walk back the way she had just come just so that she could meet him. He’d decided that standing bang in the middle on the west side of Waterloo Bridge facing towards Westminster would be best – how could she miss him? He even wore his broad brimmed felt hat which, with his dark rimmed glasses and messy goatee made him think he looked particularly arty. Looked relaxed and casual he told himself as he leant upon the surprisingly low railing and gazed across the dark silent Thames towards the evening rush hour bustle of the embankment. Look interesting.
Brendan loved the City as much he loved the Theatre; he could draw warmth from the volume of people and activity but, at the same time, he could be completely alone from it all. The bridges connected the city; Brendan liked to feel connected.
It was two minutes past half six; he glanced slightly furtively to the north as if not really looking at anything in particular. The pavement was surprisingly empty for the time of night. ‘She’ was nowhere to be seen. He’d sent the text at 6.05 as he’d left Waterloo Station – her reply didn’t suggest she was running late. He looked again at her reply again. ‘OK’. That was it – very short; perhaps she was on a tube or rushing from her office or still having a drink with a friend – or could she be just having him on – was she really coming at all? He suddenly didn’t feel cool anymore.
Angela had become an angel eleven years ago when Brendan was seventeen. He’d seen his girlfriend’s illness from the start and had watched her already frail body disintegrate quickly under the cruel onslaught of cancer. He’d been there when she’d died; he’d held her hand to the end. He was still holding her hand now; he still thought of her every day. Despite her parents, John and Eva, pleading with him to let her go he didn’t; he couldn’t; he wouldn’t. But it wasn’t as if the loss of Angela meant that he was permanently downcast or down – Brendan lived a fun life with his two friends in their shared flat in Balham; they drunk together, holidayed together and even smoked the occasional joint together; they were friends from University and, well, old habits die hard. But he had never looked at another girl. He knew that if he did he would forever compare them to Angela. Despite his belief that his life was good and that no one knew of his pain, he was sometimes outwardly melancholy and distant – people did know but, like Brendan, no one ever spoke about it.
So why was he concerned that this girl who he hadn’t even met, Susannah was her name, wasn’t going to meet with him that dank miserable evening on the bridge? They were only going to watch a play together – nothing more, just a play. Brendan regularly went to the theatre but usually went alone so that he could quietly immerse himself in the escape from real life that only a live performance can give. But this girl had almost begged him to take her; she was a Facebook friend of a friend who he didn’t know and from what he could gather from FB, didn’t have much to say about herself; although saying nothing about herself on FB wasn’t really a criticism, because neither did he – you either play the FB game or you sit and silently despise those that do – those people whose lives are permanently recorded for everyone to admire, pity, hate or a combination of the three; no one actually ‘enjoyed’ other peoples lives. No, Susannah kept herself to herself. There weren’t even many pictures to look at; her profile picture was nice enough but didn’t really show her face as her shoulder length hair fell across half of it. She seemed to be smiling and the one eye that could actually be seen looked bright enough. So why had she asked him to take her? Was it his apparently clever response to Mike’s rather lengthy FB essay about his losing patience with Arsene Wenger as Arsenal football clubs’ manager?
‘Tis better, sir, to be brief than tedious’, was all that Brendan had replied from his mobile. Did she know that Brendan’s FB quotes were legendary amongst his friends? He always thought that someone elses words were always more powerful tna his own.
Another quick glance at his phone showed it was 6.35. He sighed and looked out across the river again – he knew it was a woman’s prerogative to be late, but five minutes? Was she actually coming? Why had he even agreed to meet her? He knew it would hurt him in some way; he knew it would bring back thoughts about things he thought he just might have managed to bury. He looked again to the north. No sign.
Her initial FB chat comments had intrigued him. Susannah hadn’t bothered to join Mike’s lament at his team’s manager – girls rarely entered football discussions – she simply sent him a message.
‘Did a little birdie tell me that you like the theatre?’
‘I don’t know, did they?’
‘It must be true then’
‘Yes, it must’
‘I love the theatre too.’
‘Would u take me?’
‘Why me? – you don’t even know me.’
‘Jessica told me – she’s your friend?’
‘So will u take me?’
‘What u going 2 c next?’
‘Thinking of Habit of Art – Bennet – The National’
‘cool – if u take me I’ll get tickets – march 10th good?’
It wasn’t as if he could even go to Theatre now – Susannah was holding the tickets, apparently. His gaze moved down to the dark water below the parapet of the bridge. Perhaps he should just go home and go to the pub – Mike had said he and Desmond were going to watch the game against Manchester United at the Barley Mow that evening. Perhaps this was the moment in his life when he was to realise that the pretence that everything was alright would shatter. Ten years of heartache wasn’t about to end; he would endure the pain for the rest of his life – it was his life sentence for falling in love and letting his love die in his hands? Had he not loved Angela enough for the greater being to decide that her life was worth saving? He felt his eyes starting to well up; for the first time in nearly two years he was starting to cry again. He stood up abruptly, pulled the brim of his hat down against the harsh easterly wind and turned to walk back to the station.
She was stood so close that he almost knocked into her. His hands came up and immediately they clasped her shoulders as he so nearly fell on her. Tiny Susannah had been standing silently beside him watching him deep in thought for the few seconds before he’d suddenly turned.
“I’m sorry..” he blurted out coldly – not for a moment thinking it might be her.
“Brendan!” The hat had been unmistakable and there was no one else on the bridge. Looking down he saw the wide-eyed face of Susannah – looking surprisingly pale; her mouth open and her clasped hands drawn up. “I’m so sorry….I didn’t mean to…”
“No, please, it was me.” The two of them stood for what seemed like a an age. They just stared unblinkingly into each other’s eyes with Brendan’s hands still gently clasping Susannah’s tiny shoulders. She was much smaller and prettier than he had imagined she would be – she seemed so frail.
Jessica had told Susannah about Angela a few months previously at a night out. It had just been a passing comment about ‘Mike’s arty flatmate’ who was deemed to be good looking but somewhat aloof. Susannah had been intrigued and seeing his dry FB comments has acted on impulse.
“Are we going to the Theatre then?” Brendan felt that everything had changed that very moment. He’d been wrong about everything; Susannah liked the river for many of the same reasons that he did; Susannah lived to the South, it transpired – not far from Balham; she had simply wanted to look at the water before they went to the Theatre. His hands moved down and enveloped hers before they turned and walked in silence to the Theatre. He felt another tear in the corner of his eye, but this one was different.
Copyright © 2017 by Simon Bever. All Rights Reserved