I saw your name on a wall. I paused and couldn’t look away. It was a busy day in our cathedral to capitalism, our hive of activity where there was a lot of people milling around but mostly they were seated, with headsets on like train drivers of the post-modern age. At each of their thrones, people were transfixed on the blue-tinged screens in front of them. They were practicing portraying a calm and smiling voice into their microphones as they spoke to people from all over the UK about why their broadband wasn’t working and how long it would be until it was fixed.
Anyway, I saw your name on the wall in a photocopied certificate along with other names stapled jauntily in a long conga line of playful celebration – you were doing well inside of the corporate juggernaut – clearly. Your name stood out on the wall. If only because it was exotic, Polish and different from Mc and Mac and O’Celtic names around it.
Somehow it haunted me, followed me everywhere and back to my seat like two kindly eyes watching me curious from afar. I felt my face blush and the lower half of my body dissolve as though even then, without even seeing your face, I knew you were someone monumental to me.
I had wandered over and through the undulating bright green hills of Edinburgh, over and around the Pentlands, through the hazy, orange-tinged lower boughs of the Old Town at night, within and through the porcelain cavernous innards of bars, clubs, back alleys where nobody could see me, not really only see my face contort into the seemingness of smiles or animated laughter. Or see my body move like that, in a feigned and faded attempt at joy, or to remain a tightly wound mystery that couldn’t be unravelled easily by anyone, no matter their frustrated attempts at carefully, lovingly delicately peeling back the layers in various stages of bright and dim light and in different seasons.
Some seasons were frigid and flaky with snow that fell silently and crystalline and huddled brown and damaged like ashamed refugees on the sides of roads. Other seasons were warmly lit as though god herself had flirted and dropped champagne into the Water of Leith. The people of Edinburgh revelled and greeted the outside cathedral of the sky as though greeting an old, old friend.
I floated wraith-like and lingering in my checked shirts, my woolen kilt and leather jacket. Under worn and cracked window casements in Leith and underneath of ornate cornices of grand New Town houses. Like a phantom I moved and all the while, a great hard rock had been sewn up inside of me, dessicated and dry as a tiny angry homunculus, where my heart used to be. A thick epidermis had almost consumed me, slaked and black with the dissapointments and cynicism of a thousand attempts at connection. Had swallowed my gentle spirit whole, as though devouring a tasty meal.
I ran every day. From myself, from my still healing body which was scarred from the cancer that had eaten away at half of my torso. From my deep and abiding loneliness in my single room in a shared house.
Where no amount of Dutch pancakes and stewed sweetened chestnuts could warm me inside. I listened to metal and techno and ran up Arthurs Seat every day. In the blue dawns of winter amongst the snow storms and blizzards and wearing Vibram shoes that gave grip to the snow, but made me feel the frozen unforgiving earth through my feet. With each pounding hit of my limbs into the frozen ground, I felt more darkly alive. I came back with raw blue feet and eyes wild and widened by the terror of winter. Back to the domesticity and caring of my flatmates, who nursed my feet in front of the open fire and marvelled with angled brows at my unique brand of self-discipline and self-hatred.
I greedily gathered flowers from the park during spring time, even despite the death stares of middle-aged do-gooders who followed me throughout the park just to glare at me, like ferocious barking Scottish terriers that I could hear vaguely over my headphones and above the vivid beauty of tulips and irises. I took them home and artfully placed them around my single room and let them crowd out the greyness inside of me. They arched over the window casement and obscured the low-slung grey sky, a protective amulet of cheer, colour and lush promise.
I twirled and sang and listened low and longingly to Scottish folk music in ancient pubs and drank my weight in whiskey stumbling home from The Royal Oak at 2 am. Past closing time by myself and completely unaware of any living soul in the shadows. Instead
I was followed home by the curt, raucous and alcoholic ramblings of a thousand Edinburgh ghosts who came before me, walked these rain-slaked streets after midnight long before I was born. They were my friends, their banter a companion to the blind euphoria of the drink.
I cut myself slack because I drank my whiskey with filtered water and so that made me a moderate drinker. Sometimes I awoke in other people’s houses, oddly one time in a lamp shop hidden among the tassled amber glow of a 60’s floor lamps as though I had safely squirrelled myself away the night before into a field of giant mushrooms in a fairytale. I sheltered under Turkish rugs or towels or under duvets under the watchful liquid eyes of anonymous cats and dogs. Myself also like some kind of rescued animal. Hair dischellived, body torpid with spent desire, mouth like the bottom of an abandoned well. Eyes like two lumps of coal in the snow. What now? Was always my first thought, like an embattled soldier awakening from a battlefield after an indeterminate period of unconsciousness. Suddenly vigilant. Then – where am I?
The journey to you was long and obfuscated by sedate low-squatting houses with brown and white cladding and humble stone fronted gardens filled with dying flowers and children’s toys blackened with dirt and mould.
Past black faced street signs that sighed and hushed with a thousand people’s lives, both good and bad, upstanding and dodgy. The knife-weilding and flower-wielding, the open-hearted and closed-fisted folk in the good neighbourhood of Leith.
I saw your name on a wall was remained fixed in place long after my 15 minute allocated break time was up. Long after I had been called back by Sarah to my allocated place amongst the rest of my rag-tag renegade team, led by Sarah. Sarah, the portly red-head. The tough-as-nails team leader who regularly chastised me for being late and who sometimes yelled at me for various reasons until I started to cry silently. Snivelling like a little toddler and looking downwards in shame at my own emotions. ‘Don’t cry’ she would say in disgust. She spent her youth in a children’s home in Fife and her twenties in prison and it was well-known she didn’t stand for any nonsense like that.
Even despite the menacing shadow of Sarah behind me and the end of my break time, the pressing need to resume my position as a corporate cog, I stared at your name for so long, it seemed like a lifetime.
I saw instead of your name a fire-cracker or a Roman candle, burning brightly but not in a way that was terrifying at all. I was filled with elated joy as though by seeing your name, I was being pushed into the cavernous inside of a hot air balloon, suddenly hot from the fire, buoyed up and weightless in my body and careening across the universe out of touch with reality.
Who the fuck are you? I thought to myself. What the fuck is going on here? I had to meet you. But I knew….I just knew I wouldn’t be dissapointed. Yet another obsession to overcome. I chastised myself in advance for my stupidity at thinking, at hoping that you would be all I imagined you to be.
When I finally did see you, my heart pounding in my ears, fresh blood coursing through my neck, my toes barely scraping the floor. It was the strangest feeling. I kept my eyes to the ground, more so that I didn’t give away anything at all to anyone around. My huge expressive eyes tended to be a liability. They were tellers of the deepest truths that people could then use against me, had used against me many times.
You were sitting there laughing with your manager, leaning back in your chair. Confident, muscly arms folded behind your head. Three giggling girls were sitting around you , vigilant to your every move. Mousy, overweight and rough-cut gems who followed you around like faithful flirty servants.
Suddenly, you answered the phone, the impeccable picture of class and professionalism and smooth amiable customer service. Yet you were wearing a black t-shirt featuring sexy almost naked girls enveloped in the Swedish flag and straddling giant spiders. Girls and spiders in the throes murderous erotic delight. This is very interesting, I thought to myself.
You had a large open face with icy blue eyes like warm, blue glaciers and that were infused with a beautiful sweetness. I had never seen blue eyes that could be warm, could be anything other than cold, simple blue. Your dark blonde hair was cropped into a functional crew cut. Now, knowing that you were there, in the building at the same moment I was, I couldn’t feel the outlines of my body, where the floor and my body met. Everything was formless and filled with a strange joy that I had never experienced before.
I must be finally losing my mind out of loneliness I thought to myself. I guess I should just fold myself up into a neatly squared hankerchief, book a ticket back to Melbourne and forget this strange period of my life. I said to myself on the bus on the long journey home from work. Past the towering council flats in Saughton and Sighthill and the tunnelled concrete pathways and the shadowy figures of people bent over against the wind, rain and sleet.
I knew how to say your name, because I had a Polish friend from my youth who also had the same name. So when I first spoke your name and called to you, you smiled and seemed surprised that I could pronounce it properly. When I was around you, I had a weird feeling I was close to home.
Any time you were in the large cannon-like long room with endless banks of phones, partition walls and people in the midst of resolving broadband issues, I felt you there.
As though a bright beacon was close by, a great and ancient bell was ringing, but only inside of my mind and the closer I came to you, the louder it got and the safer I felt.
This is weird –the rational part of my brain said to myself. Oh well – it will pass. But then I noticed that you too were circling around me. Finding reasons to come over to my end of the office circulate towards me with a beaming bright smile and those glacier blue warm eyes. I would twiddle my thumbs, fidget and squirm in my swivel chair and I would repeat incoherent sentences to customers, sometimes sounding like I had lost my mind. As you watched me, smiling calmly from a distance and in full view of my entire team. Everyone else around me seemed to have faded to black and white and it was just me and you. Your eyes drilling into me intensively, making my heart thunder with excitement and excruciating embarassment.
Then people around me began to talk – apparently L likes you they said. He would then dissapear at lunch and reappear with Tunnocks Tea Cakes, a selection of Polish sausage cut into even circular pieces and Leicester cheese in tiny cubes all arranged in perfect symmetry on a paper plate and presented to me with all of the pomp and ceremony of Polish formality. ‘For you, dear lady’ you said in mock irony and with a silly expressive flourish of your hands. My team mates cooed and giggled and jumped up and down with glee and excitement on my behalf.
I laughed and allowed myself to feel special for the first time in a very long time. Then it continued, every day with different treats. Sometimes pieces of Lindt chocolate alongside of the Polish sausage and cheese. Suddenly through some conspiratorial miracle we happened to always on the same shift together, leaving at exctly the same time each day.
“I moved all of my shifts around to match yours” he later told me.
His pasty-faced entourage were initially confused and unsettled by my presence. Who was this olive-skinned imposter with a strange accent, who was not feminine at all and wore punk and metal Tshirts with offensive slogans, had a half shaved head and a lacksadaisical attitude towards work.
How on earth could L – the great L – have any interest in her? I heard their arch questions, confusion and judgement in the way they looked at me, scathingly, with hating blackened eyes. Their ire and jealousy made me feel a bit smug and also and a bit scared.
I too was baffled – his acolytes all seemed good enough, if a little boring.
“They are basic and stupid…you are not, you are interesting and rare. An endangered species”L would later explain to me.
I was behind in rent and could barely afford to feed myself, so I brought along some very basic fried rice with frozen veg that I made at home and wapped in glad wrap for us to eat together one lunch time. It had been sitting in my bag for the whole morning on the bus. So it was all sweaty and weird when I put it into the microwave. I was so nervous that I felt too ill to even eat it, but you ate it and claimed to like it. Although I doubted this as being the truth given its paltry ingredients and its rough journey from farm to plate. We took our break together so that I could gift the fried rice to you, a gift given with all of the love I could muster from my damaged heart.
We had the rice in mid-morning while others were still on the phones and in the hush before the lunch time, a soft warm light came through the window and the narrow young trees outside wavered in the wind and light rain. It was very cosy, as though I had just walked into the room where I needed to be, all of my life.
When you meet someone who feels so very familiar to you, someone it seems you have always known, even though you have only met. This made absolutely no sense at all, but also made more sense than anything else ever in my whole life. A dim and weak light inside of me that had always struggled to remain alive suddenly became like a solar ray bathing everything with brightness.
The music inside of my soul matched to the music inside of your soul. Your voice matched to my voice. The way you moved in the world matched to the way that I moved. Your body fit snugly into mine. Your chest neatly fit the curve of my head. Your arms could neatly wrap around mine. Your name matched to mine. And when I saw it for the first time I knew all of that instinctively. That’s all. It’s as benign, boring and as devastatingly beautiful as that. The same story that some lucky people have, told in a different way.
Yet the crossing point, the meeting point was so worryingly tenuous. So vulnerable to many millions of moments of chance that came before it. The happiness we have enjoyed together over many many years the countless innumerable moments together that we have had, the many places we have been together. Too many to count. All of it depended on a unique confluence of events and complex circumstances – Luck.
Our thousands and millions of moments of laughter together. The joy, frustration, adventures, arguments, tears, hugs and kisses. The moments of quiet silence in the canyon of darkness after midnight, blue of early morning. Covered ina film of sweat and the innocent confusion of sleep.
All of it so fragile and riven by chance that it is almost too unbearable to think about. How we first came into contact.
How I first saw your name on a wall.