On Friday night the streets were swampy as I walked back from a birthday party I probably should never have attended. In the sweat sodden bowels of a bastard child of Luton and Essex west-end bar-club there were, perhaps, too many things that couldn’t be said, too much being obviously ignored, for it to have been a good idea. So in no particular hurry I zigged my way through the relatively cool streets of Soho and felt my shirt dry from black to blue.
Lost in my own memories the hand that grabbed me outside the John Snow made me jump.
‘Hey, sorry dude,’ the young man with the carefully sculpted facial hair beamed, ‘but can you take our picture?’ His smile was desperate to be infectious as he thrust an expensive looking digital slr into my hands before turning back to his mob.
‘Sure,’ I replied and held it up to my eye. There was a lot of them and he was failing to choreograph effectively. One girl seemed to be standing slightly to one side, alone with a far-away, wishful stare to her eyes. ‘What’s the occasion?’ I asked ‘Someone’s birthday?’
‘Nah,’ she smiled with a tiny slur, ‘just, you know, friday night? Another friday night and we’re all out together and it’s all perfect. You know? When you’re with your people and you can’t escape that this is how it will always be?’
It was probably a good thing that the camera hid my expression. She didn’t deserve to see that. It wasn’t her fault.
‘You need to all cram in a bit,’ I shouted, wafting my right hand around like I knew what I was doing.
‘…how it will always be?’
In that moment, all of them clustered together, I could read each and everyone’s future etched into their faces.
The guy in the bottom right still wore his suit jacket and tie, although he’d opened the collar up and wrenched the tie downwards into a taut flapping knot. In a couple of years he’d get bitten by the career bug and lose himself in a mixture of fumbled so-called glory, mid-week late-night nights of debauchery with people who’d pretend to help insure this payments on another Lexus or a Yacht and who would be the best friends as long as it served their purpose. He’ll start to reinvent his past so as it fits the desired image better until eventually he will no longer remember where he came from.
Of the two girls wrapped arm in arm, sisters that never were, the blonde curly-haired one will disappear on a never-ending trek in search of her missing self. She’ll go to Africa, to South America, to Australia and to Asia all the time pretending spiritual enlightenment through shots of vodka and the occasional tab, but really simply hiding from her step father and her mistakes.
Meanwhile, the dark, straighter one will decamp to a small village outside Cambridge with an accountant she met on the first internet date. They’ll raise babies and pretend that everything’s okay and when the two women meet every two and a half years for a glass of wine they will find they have less and less to talk about without generating resentment.
The two guys at the back trying to out do the other’s comedy hand gestures: The lanky one still wearing his shades in the dark will ten years from now wake up in the Austrian Alps and discover that he’s neither as good a snowboarder as he desperately wants to be and nor is there anyway back once you’ve dropped out for so long; nobody will even be totally certain of his name. He’ll go from always feeling as the centre of everything to just another blank face in the background.
The big lad, the one who looks like he dips black pudding in his guinness for breakfast, will, in a few years time, completely over-compensate in the gym. He’ll build biceps fit for breaking iron and a six pack so griddled and thick that you can bounce spears off it, but in sorting his body out he will misplace his mind and fall in with a dubious crowd. He’ll increasingly spout opinions that make everyone else so uncomfortable that they stop taking his calls.
There are two couples amongst the group. In one pair she rests her head on his shoulder because it’s the perfect height. You can see that she’s already planned the wedding and named the first two kids. It’ll all work out fine, she dreams, they’ll have good jobs and a nice semi-detached house out towards Wimbledon where the schools are pretty good, the back garden catches the sun every early afternoon and once a year they feel like they’re a part of something special when the tennis carnival rolls into town. He’ll have years, of nine to five, shuffling in on the District Line to move virtual papers from file to file. Every year they’ll spend two weeks is Tuscany and another in the Dordogne until one tedium flooded Sunday afternoon he drives his BMW 4x4 down to a quiet little spot they used to picnic with the kids were tiny and connects a length of garden hose from the exhaust pipe to the drivers window. He’ll turn the ignition and hope it’s not too quick.
As for the two canoddling, she is constantly planting soft kisses on his lips, his cheek, his chin, his neck on any patch of exposed skin. His hand firmly clutches at her arse cheek, snug as it is in skinny blue jeans. Well, we all know you’ll take it as far as it can go regardless of the mess it causes for everyone else. You’ll both ignore the fact that she wants more and he wants just about anyone who passes by with a cute wink, but it’ll be the protracted on-off again shag-fest with blonde curls that finally kills it all by which time it’ll be too late for anything other than never-ending hate.
The girl who thinks good people forever will go onto to never quite get anywhere, constantly out looking for the best time and not finding anything other than another night losing her lunch in the gutter. One afternoon she’ll wake up, emancipated and feeling like her bones have been hollowed out. She’ll lie there listening to the rats scuttling in the rafters until she realises that it just isn’t worth it and runs back up north to start all over again in her Gran’s spare room.
The camera’s owner will pride himself on always being the last one standing, finding new eternal crowds to drag around the same haunts again and again trying to recreate the mythic past he never had, looking for ways to make himself feel alive and loved until there’s just him coming back to the John Snow alone, supping pints and wondering where everyone else went.
Some of you will be in the right place at the right time and some in the wrong place at the wrong time and any number of combinations of the same. Some will be cut short and some will, one way or another, last a little longer. You will all cry and love and lose and occasionally you might even win, but unfortunately tonight is tonight, now is now and it will always remain in the past. Everything else will move forward until these people are just dim lights blinking out of the darkness.
Only a few of you will recognise what each other become and most will walk on past without a second thought.
Nothing stays the same.
‘Here you go,’ I handed him the camera back.
‘Cheers, dude,’ he beamed with life and joy and enthusiasm, ‘that means a lot. Thank you.’
‘Yeah well,’ I pushed my hands into my pockets ‘it’s all memories, isn’t it?’ and I walked away feeling old and spiteful and bitter, but that was for me to deal with.