I groaned as I saw someone pull up a stool in front of us.
We were sat in a corner of the Bulldog, smoking and talking about every single reason men were the certified worst, about past lovers, about the men who were currently on the shortlist, and men who were just booted off.
He was around five foot eight, with a small frame and a baby face, and he had come to join the boys in the far corner of the room. About eighteen years old, tops. A child.
‘Please don’t do this,’ I muttered under my breath, as she laughed and nudged me in the ribs. I was never good at this sort of thing, because I found it very acceptable to physically turn my head and ignore people I didn’t want to talk to; like a dog playing innocent after ripping apart your brand new goose-feather cushions. Apparently, though, that was rude. I still did it because I never cared, and she always dealt with them because she knew I would have happily just sat there in silence, making it awkward for everyone involved. I was immune to awkwardness, and silence was never a bad thing. I could ignore every problem that was right in front of me; she preferred to tackle it head on.
‘So, where are you from?’ he asked.
‘We’re not from here, we’ve come from London,’ she replied, as she handed me the joint, scrunching her mouth to the right to make sure she blew the smoke away from me, ‘how about you?’
‘I just came from jail two hours ago.’
I choked on the smoke in my throat.
‘Jail,’ she repeated, incredulously. ‘What for?’
‘Just one fight. I done a little bit of a fuck you and they arrest me. Here, I have my papers if you want to see.’
‘So how old are you?’ he asked, leaning back in his chair and getting a little too comfortable for my liking. I grimaced.
‘Twenty-two,’ she replied.
‘Ah, you are too old for me. I am seventeen. And she?’ he turned to me. ‘Do you have a boyfriend?’
Please don’t do this, I thought again.
‘No, I’m married,’ I lied.
‘Oh wow. How old are you?’
‘Fifteen,’ I lied again. She’s going to have fun with this one.
‘…when are you going to be sixteen?’
‘You’re going back to jail, mate,’ she interjected, wide eyed and not knowing whether to laugh or grab me and run out of the coffee shop.
I brought the joint back up to my lips and leaned back onto the wall as she continued to make a fool of him. I began to dissociate, vaguely hearing him explain to her how he was due to come to London in the back of a van one day soon and that they should definitely meet up so we can er, you know, go to restaurant or do bowling or something.
My eyes became heavy as my body slowed, and I felt a whirlwind of thoughts bursting to leave their safe space and roam around my brain, but they just… couldn’t. I couldn’t find the words to bring those thoughts to fruition, and it was in those moments that I always realised we were held hostage, severely limited by language. By the words that we didn’t know. By the thoughts we didn’t know how to express.
I was there but I wasn’t. I felt like my body didn’t exist, and I was just an entity floating on the spot, but I was also very aware that my body was… just that; a body, a vessel for my organs, strategically placed on a bench so as to not fall onto the floor. I felt like I’d been sat there forever, like I’d been in that very seat next to Clara in the Bulldog my entire life, instead of just ninety minutes. I didn’t remember a time before the Bulldog. London felt alien, I was a local here now and Amsterdam had stolen me away. Every now and then, somebody’s voice would amplify and drown out the chatter around the rest of the room, and I enjoyed receiving a little insight into the lives of the strangers with whom we shared this space. The song playing quietly in the background picked up a little; I could hear every single instrument reverberate through my bones, and every single word sounded like it was dripping with gold and honey. I left my heart in Amsterdam.
My throat started to feel dry, but I was now glued to the seat, so going up to the bar was out of the question. What felt like floating before, now felt like I had a truck weighing down on me. I licked my lips and tasted the lipgloss. A faint taste of strawberry, but what also reminded me of crayon. The taste of crayon always made me think of nursery, and I remembered the way they’d hand out plates of slightly browned apple slices that tasted like orange because the slices has been arranged to sit between each other. I never ate the orange, but I liked it on the apple. I guessed the few grapes that were decoratively scattered on the plate would’ve tasted good too, but most of us rarely had an opportunity to try them before the fat kids hoovered them up. All I wanted in that moment was an orange flavoured apple; they should do that, I thought to myself, like how they do candy floss grapes.
I brought myself back to the coffee shop and readjusted my eyes.
‘I’m starving,’ I whispered to Clara, half trying to get away from this criminal child, and half feeling my stomach threaten to eat itself.
He turned to his friends for a second, with the politeness of someone realising they were intruding on a friendship that existed way before they walked in on it, affording her a minute to roll her eyes in relief and whisper back ‘oh my god, me too. Shall we dip? Get away from this weirdo and get food.’
‘Please,’ I said, as I slowly adjusted my bag strap and stood up.