The Best Man
The alarm goes off at 07.30am and after snoozing it too many times, I’m now late.
I turn over for a cuddle and spoon the pillow, realising it’s not her, she’s gone, long gone for years and sharing a bed with someone will never be the same again. I lie, then sit up pondering, why, how, who and where is she and most of all is she happy? Oscar, my cat, tickles my foot and that, in itself, gives me the encouragement to get up and face another day without her.
Shit, shave and shower, and of course I’ve managed to cut myself on the chin due to me rushing the job with a cheap razor I got for Christmas from Auntie Agnes, who’s not really my aunt. I rip a piece of tissue and stick on my bloody chin. I should have let my beard grow, but there’s something about the winter air hitting my freshly shaved cheeks. It’s such a sensory feeling.
I spray myself with deodorant and throw on a crisp white shirt, a three-piece black suit and my skinny mustard-coloured tie, avoiding the bloody tissue on my cut chin. Pour some OJ, down it as fast as I can, run out of the flat closing the scarlet red wooden door and onto the Circular Road. Traffic on the road is heavy as usual, but the deep crisp snow and sharp ice has grounded most of the country to a halt. Feeling the chill in my bones, I realise I’ve forgotten my camel wool overcoat. I rush back home, put key in door, grab coat, hat and scarf, squirt aftershave, the sting of scent makes me wince. I’m like an onion now, layered, without such a piercing aroma but no ring.
I dash out the door again, slamming it shut, causing the weathered Christmas wreath to fall on to the floor, it saves taking it down anyway. The brakes of the bus can be heard in the distance, doors rattle open. I run, jump, hop and skip to avoid writing myself off on the cities sugared cobbled footpath.
“City, docks”, said with relief to the bearded driver.
Tap, pay, grab ticket and breathe.
I scan the bus nervously, trying to locate a seat, while also pretending to be looking for someone.
“Sit here”, I hear from someone with a mixed European/Irish accent.
I did and I nodded like the dogs or Popes you see in the back of cars. I remembered about my chin and awkwardly took off the tissue.
We sat next to each other every Monday to Thursday, exchanging daily chit chat about the weather, traffic, the latest Netflix show and things like that. We kept it professional as if we had a working relationship and earned enough respect for one another and didn’t pry. One thing about out breadcrumb conversations were we both knew each other’s names after a fortnight, our occupations were kept to a sector and not a company, where we lived was nearby or not too far away, a vague emphasis on intrigue kept me wondering and imagining who was this guy? For me Fridays was ‘working from home day’ even though most of the office would have been out in the local the night before, it was a time to go shopping, to take the empties to be recycled and plan for an uneventful weekend, until Monday morning beckoned once more.
This one particular Sunday night I couldn’t sleep. It probably was the newness of the fresh Indian cotton bedsheets I treated myself to, I should have washed them first really. I was up and dressed so early on Monday morning, I could have taken the earlier bus to work, but why would I do that? I must have used most, if not all, of the aftershave, the sting on my skin gave me such a shiver. I looked myself in the mirror, smiled with confidence and took a deep breath before venturing outside for the bus. The walk to the bus seemed shorter than usual that morning, it was like my walking turned to running. When the it arrived a few minutes late, I stepped on the bus and there he wasn’t, he wasn’t in the seat he’d sat for the last ten weeks, I thought he could be upstairs, but I didn’t look, I was too afraid in case he was there, but he wasn’t. He, being Pavel from Poland, was similar to me but quite different all the same. He always used to get off at Central Line and then after Paddy’s Day, there was no sign of him, an empty seat from then on, not seen again.
Well, that is until one night while out at a work do in Brown’s Cow, who waves over, only Pavel. He came over. I stood up awkwardly not knowing if I should, but I shook his hand, a strong firm handshake. I patted him on the back, then was slightly jellified, when he introduced his girlfriend, Camilla. She was totally his equal in every way; beautiful from the inside out, even Renaissance artists could not have done her justice. Pavel told me that he and Camilla were engaged and had just bought an apartment closer to the city, which is why we’ve not been sitting next to each other. We exchanged some more trivial conversation and then he gave me his number, ‘Call me,’ he said. Was this the sign that I wanted him to give me? Who knows? Maybe it was?
The days turned into weeks, the journey into work was never really the same. I wanted to text him, but I wondered what I would talk to him about? So, I left it, and then one day, noticing that he was online, I thought, as he hasn’t got my number, I might say hello! So, I did. We might as well have had a phone-call, as the phone didn’t stop pinging all night long, until I said it was bedtime. I went to bed with my face all aglow, my heart pounding like the Angelus bell. Something felt right, but was it wrong?
The next morning, when I woke, he had messaged me to invite me to his housewarming at the weekend. I was secretly delighted but dying at the thought of him and Camilla being the perfect couple and having made the commitment of buying a place together and here’s me wondering, why? Why have I invested so much, on such a little foundation, of a bus seat.
Saturday came. I spent most of the day getting ready ensuring that I didn’t rush and cut myself shaving. I lost count of the times I ironed my buttoned-down casual oxford cotton shirt, it’s the white one. The pure white always gives me the feeling of confidence; it makes feel fresh and clean. I had a little calming drink to settle my nervousness, and then after that my palate hungered for more, so I poured a bigger measure, that wasn’t measured.
I rang the doorbell with my elbow, ensuring I had my gifts in order, flowers, champagne and a little luxurious hamper for the happy couple. While pondering my generosity, the door flies open, hugs and kisses were followed by introductions to all their friends and some family. Pavel came from the kitchen to welcome me, with a drink and some nibbles. Then he did it, it was just one look, a look that we gave each other, it was like he knew, it was like, oh I don’t know! I mean, I’m no good at signals, but at that moment I was colour blinded by love, a love that makes embarrassed as red, cautious as amber but yet green with envy as he lip kisses her with a mouthful of red wine that dribbles on to open necked dress. All the party witness their antics and laugh with pure enjoyment, I smile through gritted teeth and make a nasal sound, out of sheer embarrassment I shout out, ‘To the happy couple’. Everyone raises their glasses.
If only Camilla knew the way I held Pavel, in such high regard. With that very thought I felt sick, got a sour taste in my mouth and sweat was building on my brow. I thought, why am I here and what am I doing? The thought soon left me as the buffet was announced. More drink followed and the end of the night came. I was off home after a somewhat great night, spoiled by my own desires and thoughts of what might be.
On the customary jog around Phoenix Hall Park on an overcast Bank Holiday Monday, I realised it was a few weeks since I’d heard from them, well not them really, more him, him being Pavel.
“Hey Matt”, shouted Camilla.
It was them. They were out walking Camilla’s baby – a dog named Luce, an ugly thing! I think I felt like that because it was hers. We had the usual chats about life, work and work and life and then we almost headed off in different directions, when Camilla came running to me in tears to say their place got flooded last weekend and they are staying in a crummy B&B.
Before I had time to think of what I was saying, I had invited them to stay with me, they were so thankful as they walked away, I didn’t know what to feel, happy, sad, glad or mad, I felt no feeling. I starting running and my heart felt like it was skipping a beat the faster I ran, the sun shone down on me, I dodged prams, traffic and ran through green lights, horns beeps, bells rang and people gave out, but finally I was home. Home in my comfort zone, exhausted physically and mentally.
The normal custom was a bank holiday fry-up with the girls from university, but I cried off, literally, I cried my blue eyes out. Why did I feel like this? I’ve never felt like this before about anyone. All he did was offer me a seat next to him! It was then that I worked it out. It’s been over 2 years since Kelly and I split and 3 years since she immigrated to Canada. Since then, there’s been no-one, well a few one-nighters here and there, but nothing substantial. Like why look for something to replace perfection.
Yet why am I feeling this way about a Polish man whom I barely know? Who I’ve now invited with his woman to come and stay with me! What is this going to prove? Like what the fuck is wrong with me? I mean I’ve never even kissed a guy, what does that make me? I sat on my bed and looked through old pictures of Kelly and I, here, there and everywhere. She has moved on, but had I? I saw her last week, once in the petrol station and then a few days later in the supermarket, I did several double takes, followed her around, but nonchalantly, to my bitter disappointment it wasn’t her, of course it wasn’t her, it was just a girl who resembled her. Both times I sat in the car, contemplating life and questioning myself – am I trying to replace the irreplaceable? The strange thing was I didn’t have an answer.
After the second sighting I knew that night it was time to get rid of Kelly from my life, there wasn’t too much memorabilia – cards, letters and anything else that she had given to me over our time together.
Pavel and Camilla moved in that Bank Holiday Tuesday, they didn’t have much with them and said they should only be here a couple of weeks. I gave them my room, with the ensuite, I thought it be more private for them. I slept in the office, luckily the couch turned into a bed, so it was fine for me. I started planning my days and nights better, I went to the gym more, twice daily in fact, I didn’t want to impose, even though it was my house, but it felt right. Then, the Thursday before they moved out, I came back from the gym and was met by topless Pavel exiting the bathroom, with drops of water dripping from his jet black hair, his bronzed tanned skin barley dry. He would have stood there all day chatting to me like the Greek God Adonis.
‘Camilla has broken the shower,’ he said.
I gave a nervous laugh, told him not to worry as its always breaking, it really wasn’t though, I just couldn’t look at him, but I felt him look at me.
They cooked a Bigos Stew – Irish style for me for that night, it was tasty but wouldn’t be something I would eat again. They gave me the gift of a travel voucher for my hospitality, for five hundred Euro. We enjoyed a few glasses of wine, before trying to teach each other some words of Irish and Polish respectively. It was time for bed, Camilla kissed me and said she can’t thank me enough, she squeezed me with so much love and affection, my beaming smile soon turned to a frown. I couldn’t go to bed, I knew if I did, I wouldn’t sleep, so I tidied up the glasses and opened some whiskey and drank two generous shots neat. If I didn’t get sick that would help me sleep.
I waved both off like a mother waves the eldest son off to American, but with different thoughts, feelings and anxieties about the next time I see them. I wonder would it be easier if I felt the way I did about Camilla, instead of Pavel.
If Pavel texted to meet up, I tried to be polite and made excuses or declined the invite. It did work for a while although we did meet at the gym. I tried to cancel my membership, but I’d only just re-joined and didn’t really want to waste the money, so I stuck with it. I made sure I knew the time he was going, so I could avoid him.
The promotion I wanted came my way in July, I was thrilled. It meant so much to be finally recognised as a valued member of the team and the company after so long. That’s it, I thought, I’ve rid of myself of Kelly and now Pavel too, so I can concentrate on what I want to become a better person, to reach the hopes and dreams I’ve wanted for so long in this company. Then came the text, it was Pavel, he wanted to meet to ask me something important. I tried to cancel twice. In the end I agreed to meet him for a coffee one Saturday afternoon. I drink tea, going for coffee sounds more continental though. He wondered why we hadn’t seen each other for a while and he was as ever still so thankful to me for giving up my home for him and Camilla , but then came the important question.
“Will you be my Best Man”? he asked.
In a daze I smiled, I nodded and said:
“Yes, I’d love to”.
We said our ‘goodbyes’, he left, I ran straight into the toilet, and threw up. I cried and cried and cried.
As I wandered home through crowded streets, I people watched, the happy, the sad, the single, the couples, the families, the rich and the poor. All I wanted was to find someone to make me happy, like how Pavel found Camilla. When I got home, Oscar kept me company, along with two bottles of red. I wrote out the text many times, that I was going to send Pavel, but didn’t as I feel asleep on the couch. The next day the need to tell him why I couldn’t be his best man ate away at me. I called in sick and drank some more wine and listen to ‘Jason Mraz’ and it made me feel worse.
Since that afternoon in August I couldn’t sleep, my concentration levels dropped at work, I lost weight and I had zero motivation for anything else. Each day I wanted to text or phone him, but I never did, because he would want to know why, and while I did know why, I didn’t know exactly what to say or how to say it.
Then it was Saturday, not just any Saturday, it was stag do Saturday. We went horse racing, had food in some Thai restaurant, then it was into the city for the night. Pavel was an only child. His parents were both dead since he was teenager. His work colleagues and friends came and went all evening. When it was just him and me, I suggested we head on to a club. He agreed, it was a drunken test, but he was none the wiser.
I’d never been to this type of club before, the guys had more makeup on than the girls, I didn’t really like that. Pavel didn’t pass any comment, and no one tried to steal him from me. We drank, we danced, drank some more and then danced more. I needed the toilet; Pavel went for a smoke, so I met him in the smoking area. We just smiled at each other, drunkenly hugged. Me more than him and then he thanked me for being so kind. Yet again.
It was cosy out in the smoking area, so I went to the bar and got us shots, even though we both had enough, but when you’re drunk how do you know you’ve had enough? We drank some more, spilled out what we didn’t drink and left to get a cab. I tell Pavel he’s more than welcome to the office couch bed if he wants to stay at mine and he agrees in a semi-unconscious state.
I paid the taxi and we got safely home back to mine. I got us both water and we sat on the couch. I took the deepest breath and blurted out:
“Pavel, I think I love you”.
He woke up laughing and said,
“I love you too man”.
I shook him and told him again and explained how I missed him when he moved closer to town, why I was distant after his house party, how I didn’t think twice to invite the two of them to stay with me, how so many times just wanted to be alone with him to talk to him, then avoided him when he joined the gym, and everything I felt. He sobered up and looked me in the eye with tears strolling from his and said, “Bye, Matt”.
I begged him not to leave, for us to talk about it, but he shook his head and opened the door. He left it open, so I fell against it slamming it shut and breaking down. I heard him shout for a taxi, then the distant beep of a car horn, the screeching of brakes and a thud. I stood up, opened the door, and ran onto the road, seeing Pavel lying on the road, his body broken and disfigured. Some passers-by were screaming and crying in disbelief. I was static, my feet seemed like they were glued to the pavement, unable to take in what had happened. In the minutes that passed, sirens rang out in the distance.
I ran towards him on the road, not knowing if he was dead or alive. I held him and cradled him and told him to hang on, that he’s getting married and I’m his best man. I kissed his forehead, placing his head on my chest, with oceans of tears streaming down my face. I tell him he’s made of strong stuff and that the ambulance is only minutes away.
The ambulance arrives.
I ring Camilla to tell her there has been an accident and to meet us at the hospital.
Michael has always had a passion for the arts, but it was the move in 2000 from his birthplace in Manchester to the West of Ireland, that sparked his passion for writing. For the last 20 years Michael combines his writing with his work in Social Care, along with work in the Radio industry and as a TV extra.