Monday, 10 November 2008

Three is a crowd

(Inspired (or rather reminded) by the Flight of the Conchords ep. 4, where Bret finds a girlfriend but Jermaine keeps hanging out with them, expecting to be a part of the relationship)

February 1996

It was a cold evening, as cold as it can get in Cyprus in February. Things had been a bit slow in general. My course at Uni was going well, I was pretty settled with my friends, living in a flat with two of my best mates, Mike and Chris. Life involved turning up for classes (most times), but most crucially staying up late, playing backgammon and watching a trashy Turkish music Channel called Kral TV. We didn't know it was trashy at the time of course, we thought it was high-brow and that Muazzez Ersoy a serious artist. Next to the backgammon set lay the Redhouse dictionary, which helped with words we didn't understand in the songs. It didn't help with being deaf to the phonology, unfortunately, so we ended up hearing 'one more time, my car' (bir daha arabam) instead of '
I will never call again' (bir daha aramam). It all added to the excitement. The flat was really cold, 'heated' by a woefully inadequate electric heater we'd pinched from somewhere,one of those old ones with the two bars that turn red when hot.

At the time I was really after the affections of a certain girl we'll now call Stella for anonymity's sake. Not that the real 'Stella' will ever read this blog, but anyway. Stella had lovely long curly hair and green eyes, much like a Days of Thunder-era Nicole Kidman. She looked like her too. Beautiful pale skin, freckly and nice, very nice. So you can imagine my excitement when this beautiful creature wanted to hang out with me. We spent most breaks together, just hanging out, going from acting silly to acting a bit sillier. My mate Mike was particularly adamant that I take the next step and ask her out, good and proper. As usual, anyone else but me could see that the girl liked me and there was potential. I was never good with these things. Advice to other people I can give by the bucketload, but when it comes to actually observing and judging my situation I am as blind as a mole after an 18-hour drinking session with Keith Moon.

As it happens, Cinema Paradiso, the beautiful Italian film which was all the rage a few years earlier, was on TV one night. When Stella rang to ask me round to watch it with her, I thought I was in with a big chance. Let's face it: there's no denying the obvious underlying suggestion when a girl invites a boy round her place to watch a wonderfully romantic and nostalgic film, in the language of love. So yours truly went through all the motions, well groomed, bottle of wine and flowers in the Suzuki moped's basket and off we go. She only lived round the corner from our block, but 'round the corner' in Cyprus is usually a distance you usually drive anyway, just to give the planet that coup de grâce it so desperately needs.

I went up the stairs (couldn't wait for the lift), jumping the steps two and three at a time, like an eager young Majnun on his way to meeting Layla. When Stella saw me she was pleased and happy with the flowers. The lights in the flat were low, the little settee was set up for two bodies to cosy up against each other, and the film was about to begin. Things were looking rosy for yours truly. And, as usual, that's when disaster stroke. I heard in the door the horrible sound of the keys turning, and the flatmate of doom returning home early from her politics group. Now, I must say here that I have nothing against the girl. Well, a few things stored up, perhaps. Kiki was the sort of girl that most guys found obnoxious: loud, involved in every cause, a creature that went from the green pastures of political meetings to the snowy peaks of oboe practice. She was a member of at least a dozen groups, and participated in all of them very actively. Most importantly, Kiki was not very popular in the mating arena. Being flatmates with Stella meant that attention was never directed at her. This made her spiteful and more determined to ruin the chances of her fairer (and more pleasant overall) flatmate.

"What are you guys up to? Oh, I smell popcorn! Is there a film on?" That was it. For the next two and a half hours what had been planned as a nice, romantic viewing of maybe half a film, possibly evolving into some tender exchange of bodily fluids, had degenerated into an awkward ride in the Robin Reliant of love, with Kiki playing the part of Vehicle Wheel the Third. She of course stayed and watched the whole film with us, cooing and ahh-ing with every sad, romantic or beautiful twist in the tale. The film was indeed gorgeous. I hadn't watched it before and it really brought a wobble in my throat (which I would without doubt have used in an evil ploy had Kiki not been there). It told the childhood and coming-of-age tale of Toto, a Sicilian boy whose love of films during his childhood and beautiful Elena in his teenage years dominate his life. The film was very nostalgic and at times dark, but a masterpiece nevertheless.

When the film was over, very late at night, we thought (well, I thought to be precise) that Kiki would at last leave us alone and that we'd be able to get on with things. After all, it was quite late and Kiki had been out all day, so she must have been exhausted. Again, wrong call. Kiki had just enough energy to stay up and keep us company, obviously to protect the virtue of beautiful Stella from the evil paws of the hairy bloke. So she stayed on, rabbiting on about x, y and, occasionally, z, making small talk last so long I thought I would die there and then. Although I was putting on a brave face, responding to chit chat and pretending to be civil, always the galantuomo, I was burning inside as if the Vesuvius and Etna had decided to sit in my heart for the night and play board games. What had promised to be a night to remember, for all the good reasons, turned out to be the biggest let-down since Guns n' Roses released The Spaghetti Incident?.

At about three in the morning I conceded defeat. The omnipresent and ubiquitous Kiki was not budging, but just sat there, determined to ruin it all for young Majnun. I got up, said my goodbyes, kissed both on the cheek (so as not to create a sense of unfairness and inequality) and disappeared into the night. The three -minute moped ride from Stella's block to ours felt like a lifetime. As I turned the key in the lock and entered the flat, I saw Mike and Chris in their usual positions, playing backgammon, watching Kral TV and sitting as close to the electric heater as possible. Mike turned and looked at me, as I entered with all the panache of a wet dog who'd just been kicked in the head. 'What happened? Or, in fact, what didn't happen?' I went to the kitchen, pulled out our bottle of brandy, three glasses, and sat with them to tell them the story while drowing my sorrows in the sweet, trusted friend. As we worked our way into the morning, backgammon, cheesy Turkish music, brandy and unfulfilled potential all became one, enveloped by the unrelenting February cold.

I don't quite remember what happened next with Stella. After the Kika incident, we sort of drifted apart, as if Kika represented a stonemason's wedge and feathers, driven deep into what looked like a solid, unbreakable promise. After a few empty phone calls, the romance was over. Soon over it would all be over anyway-graduation, departure for foreign lands; life has a way of ironing out the little imperfections everyday situations create on the greater fabric. It all seems so distant now, but there is nothing greater than the hurt of the unfulfilled potential, the 'what ifs' of our lives. It would have been a thousand times better if the whole thing did kick off, only to peter out in a few days. At least I'd have known. As it stands, all we have is a hypothesis.


Biluś said...

So that's why you don't drink Stella Lager - all becomes clear...

Never again, my car - wonderful, sounds like something the Conchords might actually do!


Marios said...

Hahaha, remember 'Stella' is her fictional name...I don't drink Stella because as a principle lager is piss so you might as well drink the cheapest :-)

Bethan said...

Brilliant, Marios, you write so well. I can remember a few what ifs and it's always amazed me when things actually go the way you wish them to! :-)

Marios said...

Yes, it's as if we're conditioned to expect failure.