Grovel Greg, Grovel Part 2

A continuation of Grovel Greg, Grovel - Greg moves to London. It is 1976. Greg is a shy and naive 19 year-old, who has decided to take his chances in the big city. He must pitch his wits against racism, unemployment, and people who want to take advantage of his inexperience. But things don’t go well, and by the Autumn, he has disappeared from the face of the Earth. Or has he? In Part 2 Greg moves to London, and takes-up residence in the strange lodging house, "Turbot". Part 3 is set in the present day, as his sister sets out to discover what really happened. One chapter will be published on Movellas each day, until the story reaches its gripping conclusion.

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2. May, 1976

During the late afternoon of Saturday 8th May 1976, Greg is at a loose end. He is killing time before he goes out drinking with his mates. He buys a newspaper. Uganda, I.R.A., strikes. Then he decides to have a walk around. He thinks he might go down to Brixton, which he has heard is just around the corner from Stockwell Park. Greg does not know what 'Brixton' is, but someone once told him about a record shop called 'Hip City' there. He reaches Stockwell Road. He does not walk there: instead he drifts there on the heat haze. A Vauxhall Viva drives past Greg. It is driven by a young black man with wild hair. A small flag of lime and black triangles flutters from the car's aerial. Its windows are wide open and loud music emanates. Despite Greg's lazy state of mind, the music makes him look harder at the car. He sees that it is not actually a Viva, but an old fast-back variant called a Firenza. It coasts down the street, seemingly propelled by the music rather than by petrol. Greg is not familiar with the music that is coming from it. He has not heard it on the radio or on the juke boxes in the pubs he has been in. It resembles the reggae of Desmond Dekker, but the bass is louder and bouncier.

It hits Greg that this is exactly the right sort of music for a hot sunny afternoon in south London. Sure, it is loud and it 'rocks', but it is warm and inviting, unlike the jarring 'take it or leave it' approach of the heavy rockers like Uriah Heep. The music fills Greg with a sense of tenderness towards his fellow man. He decides he will not go to Brixton: instead he will visit Derrick, the man who saved him from the thugs. And he must do it now.

 

It is with some trepidation that Greg knocks on the door of Derrick's flat. He is not even sure if he is knocking on the right door, so similar does one stairwell look to the next. And why should Derrick want to see him anyway-  a weedy white guy with silly sticky-up hair? And what if Derrick is unemployed? Greg has heard that most black people are unemployed. He might not have any furniture. What if he was invited in and there wasn't a chair to sit on? What would he do? What would he say? But it is too late to go back- Greg already has knocked and now he waits. Maybe Derrick will be out.

 

Derrick is not out. He opens the door and blinks a few times at Greg, trying to remember where he has seen this slightly odd-looking boy before. Greg begins to babble his explanation of why he has come, and Derrick smiles and invites him in.

            Greg's first impression of the flat is that it is big. The living room is massive. And there is furniture! Nice furniture- modern stuff: simple but high quality. Furthermore, there is a large window that opens onto a balcony, adding to the sensation of space. Greg has never been in a flat before. He had assumed all flats are small, but now he thinks they are big. 'What a good idea' he thinks to himself, 'if flats are this good why don't we all live in them?'

The balcony looks northwards. Greg can see the Thames.

"You like the view?" asks Derrick. “We’re only half-way up. You can probably see Jamaica from the top floor. See that patch of green over there? You know what that is?" Greg can see lots of patches of green in the direction that Derrick is pointing. But one of them has a distinctive round shape.

"The Oval?" Greg guesses.

"The O-val" confirms Derrick, but pronouncing 'Oval' differently to Greg. "And you know what's gonna happen at the O-val in August?" This time Derrick doesn't wait for Greg to reply. "We're gonna make you guys grovel!" At this, Derrick gives a loud boom of laughter.

Derrick glides around the flat with grace, and Greg wonders how such a tall man can move so smoothly. He watches Derrick go over to the refrigerator. It is huge and stylish, unlike the cranky little thing in his parents' house back in Bury. Instead of heaving it's door open as Greg would have, Derrick flicks it open with his finger.

Derrick gives Greg ice cream with fresh coconut mashed-in and rum poured on top. Greg likes this. He asks about the rum. Derrick says it is special rum. Derrick finds the bottle and pours Greg a drink. After a short while, the pair of them have polished-off the bottle. It is very strong, and Greg struggles to keep it all together.

“Where can I buy rum from?” says Greg, almost slurring.

“Anywhere, Liptons, Spar, Sainsburys....”

“No, no, special rum,” says Greg.

“Brixton.”

"Brixton! I was just about to go there!" says Greg excitedly. Derrick finds the idea of Greg walking around Brixton amusing.

"You'll be on the front line I reckon," he says, but Greg doesn't know what this means, and lets it pass.

Now lounging on Derrick's low black leather sofa, Greg describes how came down from Suffolk, and how it was that he came to be chased by the thugs. In his tipsy state Greg makes his migration from Bury sound like the Exodus from Egypt. Derrick modestly refrains from mentioning that some years ago he came to London from Jamaica, and gives Greg the floor. Greg explains that he has come to London to make new friends. He says that he has already made three. Derrick does not think that this is very many. He says he has hundreds of friends.

"Well," says Derrick, "you have four friends now. And you must come to my party. Its in two weeks time."

A party! Greg agrees. 

 

Greg scurries back to Stockwell Park, keen to tell Olly and Bollocky and Zepp about the party. But when he gets there, they are not in. They have left a note- 'Gone to Roebuck', The Roebuck is a pub on the King's Road that they know.

 

Still high on rum, Greg heads for the tube as soon as he can, pausing only to work some more lacquer into his sticky-up hair.

 

When he gets to Fulham Broadway, the rum is wearing-off. The 'high' has been replaced by the early stages of a hangover. Furthermore, Greg is demoralised by the prospect of the lengthy walk to The Roebuck. But he has paid his fare to get this far, so he resolves to carry-on, and walks past Chelsea football ground, towards the King's Road.

 

The main reason why Greg likes the King's Road is that there are other kids with weird hair here. He feels less unusual here. Olly likes it here because he enjoys observing the tension between the gangs of old-style rockers and the gangs new-style people with weird hair. “Och, there’ll be a rammie here one of these days,” he says. Zepp, the lisping African Prince, likes the King's Road, because he thinks he is seeing something of 'the weal England' before he returns to Botswana. He especially likes the fact that there is a shop called 'Sex' (which he pronounces ‘Theckth’) at number 430: he will never find anything so cheeky back home. And Bollocky likes the Kings Road, we assume, because he never says that he does not: he merely follows Olly around.

 

The Roebuck is packed to the rafters. It takes Greg a long time to locate his friends among the crowd. There is excitement in the air, something is going down. A lot of people are drinking quickly, getting tanked-up before they move on to somewhere else. The air reeks of alcohol-breath and cigarette smoke. Greg finds his friends and asks them if they know what's going on. They do not know. So he asks someone else- a kid with sticking-up hair not unlike his own. He wears a T-shirt with a sports jacket over the top, daringly mixing formal with street credibility. This kid oozes self confidence. He knows that, simply by being the way he is, he is better than you. Greg silently names him 'The Attitude Kid'. The Attitude Kid says that the 'Minge Dynasty Music' may be in the pub. The Attitude Kid is on the verge of slurring his words, so Greg at first assumes that this stupid remark is alcohol-inspired. But then Greg remembers that there is a new branch of music with bands that always have offensive names. He racks his brain: what do they call these bands....

            "Punk band?" asks Greg. The Attitude Kid nods and says:

            "Of course, the alternative rumour is that the band have already left." Greg notices that The Attitude Kid is carrying a clipboard with some sheets of paper clipped to it, and a biro attached to it by a piece of string. Greg asks him what it is for. "I have to review the band for AD."

            AD, Greg knows, is short for Aural Digest, a music paper. AD is famous for its pious austerity coupled with an acidic tongue. It is a cross between The Times and Private Eye. In AD there are no photos, just columns and columns of tightly-argued prose. You would still be reading AD days after you’d chucked Record Mirror in the bin. Kids who are into music either swear by it or find it unbearable. But Greg is impressed by the fact that that The Attitude Kid works for AD. Sensing this, The Attitude Kid is encouraged to elaborate:

"See, I just write my review on this sheet here, stuff it in here [he waves an envelope at Greg] and stick it in the nearest post box on the way home from the gig. See, they even give me a pre-paid envelope because they know I'll be too pissed to lick a fucking stamp after the gig! [He laughs]. Next Friday, there it is: my review in AD, and a fiver in my direction for my troubles."

"So where is the band playing?" asks Greg.

"Fuck knows. Nobody knows. Why do you think everyone's still in the pub?" replies The Attitude Kid, with attitude .

"Won't you have to go and look for the gig?" asks Greg.

"Fuck off, I'm staying in here and getting drunk."

 "But how will you write your review if you haven't seen the band?" asks Greg.

 "I'll just make it up. Any pretentious crap will do!" And with that The Attitude Kid was off, battling his way back to the bar.

 

            It is difficult for the friends to converse with each other in the packed and noisy Roebuck. Raising his voice, Greg does his best to tell them about Derrick's party.

"Who's Derrick?" shouts Olly.

"This West Indian guy. You know the one who helped me fight the thugs." Olly does not look impressed.

"But there will be all black people there," Olly shouts, though less loudly than a moment ago.

"So?" asks Greg.

"There won't be any white people like us." Olly appears to regard Zepp as white, for some reason.

            "I don't see the point you're making" shouts Greg. Olly mumbles a long disjointed reply, most of which gets lost in the general hubbub of the pub. Greg only catches:

            "....don't think we'd integrate....." and "...generally not a good idea to go to West Indian parties..." to which Greg shouts:

"Bollocks!" Bollocky looks around. Greg does not speak to Olly for the rest of the evening. Meanwhile, the frenzied drinking carries on around them, among the clientele of the Roebuck.

 

Towards closing time, an argument breaks out between some punks and some old-school rockers.

 

            "We're the rockers now!" say the punks.

            "You're a bunch of twats!" say the rockers.

 

            A drunken scuffle ensues. Various people (not necessarily the ones involved in the argument) are knocked over. Greg notices that The Attitude Kid is one of them. Soon, the landlord's cronies wade-in, and begin to evict anyone they think is guilty of being involved in the scuffle. For this purpose, they make the broad assumption that those who are lying on the floor are the guilty ones. So they pick them up and start propelling them through the door. Greg thinks this is rather unfair, and wonders whether he should intervene on behalf of the innocent. He looks around for his friends, but Olly and the others have cleverly disappeared.

            Moments later, Greg spots The Attitude Kid's clip board, lying on the floor. He picks it up, and hatches a plan.

 

The Attitude Kid is “in your face”. Physically he represents little- you would find more fat on a bicycle frame. But drape his spindly body in a sports jacket from Oxfam, and spike-up his hair, and you notice him all the same. He has learnt to make the most of what he has; and where his muscles are insufficient for the task in-hand, he makes his brain do the work. He has developed an aggressive persona. By strength of personality, he makes you believe that he is the most important person in the room. Or the pub. Or wherever. His finishing touch is a lapel badge- either saying something radical ('CND'), or something outrageous ('Fancy a Shag?').  

            Greg learns from the Attitude Kid. He will not copy his poseur jacket (that oversteps Greg's personal good taste boundary), and Greg hopes he will be a little less obnoxious generally; nevertheless, he sees that there is much merit in using the power of the mind. Using it to make good decisions at good times. Using it to think his way out of problems. Using it to persuade his shy personality into action.

            But for once, the Attitude Kid has failed- undone by a combination of booze and bad luck. And Greg sees his chance to take advantage of the situation.

 

On Sunday morning, back in Stockwell Park, Greg sits on his bed with the clip board on his lap. If he had seen The Attitude Kid when he was leaving the pub, Greg would have returned his clipboard. But he hadn't. The Attitude Kid had been three sheets to the wind in any case, and had probably forgotten all about his clip board.

            What was to stop someone else from filling-in the gig review and posting it to AD? They would never know. Anyone could do it. Anyone. Even Greg.

            Greg has seen AD before. It contains a section section of short, snappy reviews of minor gigs. Rumour has it that people who are 'into' music read these to decide which bands are trendy. The reviews are known for their pithy remarks and their cruel sense of humour. 'What the hell?' thinks Greg, and writes his review:

 

"I went to this gig with pre-conceived ideas: people had warned me that Minge Dynasty Music were 'dull'. Well, they were right.  At the gig I asked a kid nearby what she thought. 'Er, good' she said, politely. 'So good, I nearly enjoyed it' she continued, sensing my scepticism. This Minge lot are a bland band compared with, er..other bands. And it would help if some of these men, any of them, for that matter, could play his instrument. So, how to summarise? Well, as Voltaire might have said, 'Minge Dynasty Music' is neither minge, nor a dynasty, nor music in any way."

 

Greg is pleased with this- it is sarcastic and contains a pretentious reference to a famous quote about the Holy Roman Empire. He thinks he has satisfied the main requirements of the column. He tucks his work into the envelope that The Attitude Kid had waved at him the night before, and, without further thought, puts it in a post box.

            On Tuesday, he gets a guilt pang, and writes to AD explaining that he is not The Attitude Kid. However, he fails to mention that he did not actually see the band. On Friday he looks in AD and in horror sees his review in print (despite his letter). Yet it is a curious type of horror, as it is mixed with the thrill of seeing his work sitting there in AD, for anyone to read. In fact the thrill is so strong, he cannot resist the urge of waving the article under Bollocky’s nose as he makes himself a cup of tea in the kitchen at Turbot (Bollocky being the only other person around, at the time). Bollocky looks carefully at the article, in his shifty way, and then mumbles the word ‘good.’ It is the first time that Bollocky has ever shown any interest in anything that Greg has done.

            On Saturday the postman brings Greg a large envelope, from AD. It contains a letter (the gist of which is that they don't much care that he's not The Attitude Kid, so long as he writes for them), several of the pre-paid envelopes like the one that The Attitude Kid had, a list of bands that AD would like him to see, and, notably, a fiver.

 

Little-by-little, Nadia seeps into Greg's life. It is not a conscious decision of his to allow this to happen: indeed, if his conscious mind had a say in things, it would have said he was being stupid. For Greg understands that there is little else as futile as unrequited love. Little else absorbs one's time and energy as efficiently as this infatuation, and little else destroys you as cruelly as unrequited love will, once its folly is revealed.

            Yet, despite this knowledge, some strange force makes Greg adjust the timings of his working day, to increase his chances of bumping into Nadia. When he quizzes himself as to why he is doing this, he creates superfluous reasons why it is better to travel-in at these times, rather than acknowledge his true motive.

            And he notices strange things about her. 'Strange' in the sense that they are things that he thinks are improper to notice: but he notices them all the same. For example, he notices the shape of her knickers through her skirt. Whether or not a particular skirt exactly reaches the knees, or falls just above or just below them. The way the relative height of her hemline varies according to whether she is sitting or standing.

            Greg starts to long for warm days: before he looks out of his window first thing in the morning, he prays that he will see sunshine. Sunshine means that Nadia will not be wearing tights, and Greg will secure a glimpse of her perfect light-brown calves. But when he prays for sunshine, he does not pray to God. Despite of the fact that he went to chapel for the first sixteen years of his life, he is not a Believer. He does not believe that there is a single, all-knowing force out there (somewhere) who is in-charge. He does not think that Christ was the Son of God. Just a mortal who deluded himself and others into believing he was. Greg finds it bizarre that a large chunk of western Faith can be centred on the pre-historic wanderings of some Middle Eastern tribe.

            So, if it is not God, ie the one who features strongly in The Bible, then who is the 'god' that Greg prays to? Maybe Geoff Boycott, or Mike Oldfield? In truth, Greg does not 'pray' in the true sense of the word. More accurately, he hopes, and he wishes. Certainly, he has no religious grounds for feeling guilty about the lascivious thoughts he has for Nadia, he simply thinks they are ‘improper.’

 

Greg tries to control his passion for Nadia by a variety of means. For example, he thinks about Derrick's party, which will be on Saturday 22nd May. Greg is not sure whether to go. He does not think that any of his friends will go. So, if Greg is to go, he must go on his own. The only person he will know there is Derrick, and even the naive Greg realises that you cannot spend an entire party talking to one person. If he is to survive socially at Derrick's party, he will have to integrate, mix, socialise- in other words, the kind of stuff that he always dreaded as a kid. How many people in Bury would consider going to an all-West Indian party on their own, wonders Greg? No one else, probably. The thought of crossing this racial divide excites him, as much as the thought of going to the party on his own terrifies him.

            But the party is not for another couple of weeks. He decides to write to Madge, to tell her about his feelings for Nadia. The weather cools-down a bit. Greg and his mates go to see one of the bands on AD's list. Greg writes his review, it gets printed, and Greg gets a fiver. Greg does not know much about these new-style bands. But it strikes him that there is relatively little to know: these bands seem very basic. Greg believes that if he applies care to the task, and approaches it with confidence, his reviews will be OK. And his confidence levels are at an all-time high. Friends. Pubs. A new hair style. Cutting it in London.

            "Imagine," Greg writes in his diary, "putting pen to paper, trying not too hard and writing something. Any old thing, whatever comes into your head. And then seeing it in print. And not just in any old rag, but in the music press: something trendy, read by the kids."

            No wonder his confidence is high.

 

 

"Dear Greg,

            Nadia sounds absolutely gorgeous. You should ask her out. Even if she says No, you'll at least know where you stand. At the moment it is eating you up.

            Don't try anything too ambitious for your first date, that may put her off. Just ask her to lunch. And put the question clearly. Say: 'Would you like to come to lunch with me?' Don't say: 'Er I was wondering whether, when you're not so busy, if you might be interested in going to lunch sometime?' Remember, an unclear question gets an unclear answer.

            And let me know how you get on. Mum and Dad are missing you. Why don't you come home one weekend to see us?

         Love Madge"

 

Greg is bolstered by this advice. It has the effect, at least in his own mind, of bringing Nadia within reach. He begins to believe he has a chance. Stranger things have happened, he tells himself.

            But he thinks that if he asks Nadia out of the blue, she will say no. This is because he has no rapport with her yet. At the moment, their relationship is cool and sterile, their conversation strictly functional, limited strictly to work topics:

            "Can I see the file for Hartson?"

            "Yes," is typical.

 

So the next day at work, when he sees Nadia, Greg says casually,

            "Hi. How's it going?"

            "Alright I suppose," she replies.

 

One of their colleagues has a habit of hogging the electric fans on warm days. And the next day, when it is warm, Greg says to Nadia,

            "He has more fans than David Cassidy!" Nadia smiles.

The following day, Greg says brightly,

            "Hi Nadia. You'll never guess what happened to me the other day!" He then gives a brief account of how the thug-pickets chased him into a block of flats. She listens intently. So simple! Greg cannot believe he has not thought of using his ordeal to his advantage before.

            And this is how Greg became Nadia's buddy. Someone she could trust. Someone who is 'allowed' to speak to her. Someone, Greg hoped, who would be in a good position to ask her out.

            And then, one day, he does it. As his sister had recommended, he asks his question very clearly and specifically, although his manner is so casual that Nadia probably assumes Greg's motive is platonic. Nevertheless, she says 'yes' gladly, and later that day the two are to be seen in the least-grubby cafe in the vicinity of Waterloo Station.

            Nadia is talking to him. Greg is trying to act cool. He is thinking 'If only Ashley and the rest of the Bury lot could see me now!'

            "So what happened when the thugs caught up with you in the block of flats?"

            'She's even asking me questions!'

            "Weren't you scared?"

            'She's asking about me!'

            "Did they explain why they wanted to hit you?" asks Nadia.

            "They said I was a 'Paki-lover'" says Greg. "But I must say, I hadn't realised Mr Markarian was a Pakistani. He doesn't look Pakistani. Not that it bothers me anyway."

            "We aren't," says Nadia.

            Nadia's use of the word 'we' rather than 'he' puzzles Greg, but he lets it go. The rest of their lunchtime goes by pleasantly, if uneventfully. Greg does not make a 'pass' at Nadia (he does not know how to), but he is pleased with his progress, and his afternoon drifts-by in a love-sick haze.

            This is not the last of their lunch time rendezvous. In fact, it becomes a regular event. On one such lunch time, Nadia tells Greg she has worked for Mark Loan for four years. Greg thinks about this. “You must have been young, then,” he says. “I used to work in the school holidays. Typing, and stuff,” said Nadia.

            Each of these occasions passes 'pleasantly', with no significant development in the nature of their relationship. Nevertheless, Greg is delighted with the state of things, so overawed is he with Nadia's beauty. To spend time with her, regardless of how that time is spent, is heavenly to him. He begins to kid himself that he is really 'going out' with her. He starts to think of her as his girlfriend.

 

 

Then, one lunch time, while earnestly explaining to Nadia the origin of his nickname 'Greg', Greg spots Olly out of the corner of his eye, in the same cafe. 'Olly! What the blazes is he doing here?' wonders Greg. His presence alarms Greg. He does not think that Olly, who looks more frayed and emaciated than ever, will impress the immaculate Nadia. But when he notices Greg, Olly looks embarrassed too. He looks away quickly and continues a hushed conversation he is having with another man who Greg does not know. Eventually the other man leaves the cafe, secreting a small package that Olly has given him in his jacket. This leaves Olly sitting rather awkwardly on his own in the cafe, wondering whether to come over to Greg and Nadia's table. To Greg's massive relief, it is at this moment that Nadia decides to visit the bathroom. Greg dashes over to Olly while she is away.

            "Olly! What are you doing here?" Ignoring the question, Olly says,

            "So this is why ye've been all starry-eyed of an evening lately. Ye've been steppin' out with the young maid!"

            "Olly..."

            "Don't worry, I won't cramp yure style! I was just going anyway." Greg starts to feel guilty. Olly continues, "So what's her name then?"

            "Nadia," states Greg, with a certain amount of pride in his voice. But Olly does not seem interested in Greg's answer. Greg hears the bathroom door opening, heralding Nadia's re-appearance. Unfortunately, Olly chooses this moment to speculate, rather loudly,

            "'Spose yule be wanting to give her a good dicking?" Greg can feel his face going red. He turns to Nadia. But her expression reveals no sign that she has heard this remark. She does not even appear to have seen Olly. Greg turns back to Olly, with the vague notion of punching him. But he is not there. In fact, Olly is no where to be seen, his skill of melting-away having come to the fore once more.

 

Although Greg detestes Olly for suggesting that he should 'dick' Nadia, he cannot get the idea of doing so out of his mind. It becomes something he must do. But he decides to bide his time. He thinks that, probably, these sorts of things happen in their own sweet way. Anyway, Nadia appears not to have heard Olly's comment, or even seen him, so he can let the matter drift for a while. During their next meeting, Nadia and Greg return to the topic of Greg's brush with the thug-pickets.

            "What I can't understand is why they thought Mr Markarian is Pakistani when he is not," says Greg.

            "To men like that, anyone foreign who is not black is a 'Paki'," explains Nadia.

            "So where does Mr Markarian come from?" asks Greg.

            "Lebanon."

 

Greg is impressed by Nadia's knowledge of this field. She not only understands the nature of racism, but also knows where Mr Markarian is from. Greg writes in his diary:

 

            "'Race' is a weird thing. Take 'whites' for example. You can be white like me with white pale skin and obviously no one will doubt I am British. Or you can be white with darker skin, like Nadia. People might assume that, somewhere in her ancestry there is a touch of Italian or Spanish, but basically she is regarded as 'white' and British like me. And then you have Mr Markarian. His skin is the same colour as Nadia's, but he is from Lebanon, so he is a 'Paki', or 'foreign', at any rate. None of this helps me to 'dick' Nadia, though." 

 

Meanwhile, back in Bury, things go along as normal. The spring bulbs in the Abbey gardens are on the wane, marking the transition to the summer flowers. At the market on Wednesdays, shoppers comment on the good weather. In Greg's old house, his sister does her homework diligently, the 'O' level exams being just a year away. His father puts his feet up after a day at work. His mother potters around the house, occasionally making a wistful glance into Greg's empty bedroom. As she does this she gets the feeling that he will never, ever sleep there again.

 

It is Friday 21st May, 1976. Now that Greg can see Nadia at lunch times, he no longer has to try and ‘bump into her.’ Nevertheless, today he arrives at work quite early. He looks through his in-tray. All the letters are for him, except for one addressed to N. Zabbah, which has strayed into his post. 'N. Zabbah?' Greg does not know who that is. However, this is not surprising as all the staff at Mark Loan address eachother by first name- Rik (Mr Markarian) likes to encourage this. But there is only one member of staff whose first name begins with 'N'- Nadia.

            'Nadia Zabbah.' Greg says the name to himself several times. 'So she is foreign after all!' For some reason, this thought sends Greg into a frenzy. The idea of Nadia being ‘foreign’ makes her sexier than ever. What part of the world would such a surname originate from? The Middle East? Pakistan? Greg is not sure. But he is certain it is not an English surname. So her brown eyes and dusky skin are not simply the result of a lucky combination in the gene-assembly lottery; no, she looks like this because she is foreign. Greg will not admit to himself why this discovered foreignness makes her even sexier (to him), but subconsciously he believes that people from foreign races generally aspire to marrying indigenous people to increase their social status. In other words, he thinks that foreign girls are easier to get off with. By this 'logic', the chances of him scoring with Nadia appear greater than he previously thought. This excites Greg.

            When Nadia walks into the office, Greg cannot believe his eyes. He has to blink several times, and take a further look to make sure he is not mistaken. But it is true: Nadia is wearing a miniskirt. And no tights! And she's foriegn! Greg has the presence of mind to look-away before his staring becomes too obvious. How short was that? It looked pretty short, he thinks. He looks again. Damn it, yes, that is short.

            Throughout the morning, Greg creates opportunities so that he can subtly look at her legs. Nadia is not particularly tall, but the shortness of her skirt makes her legs look quite long. Her thighs look tender, and very sexy.

            Eventually, Greg composes himself sufficiently to have a stab at asking her out to lunch. As he speaks, he looks her unflinchingly in the eye, because he knows that if his eyes were to stray to her legs, his jaw will drop and prevent him from speaking. Stumblingly, he manages to ask his question. Nadia says 'OK' and smiles at Greg.

            'She smiled !' thinks Greg. 'She smiled at me and she is wearing a miniskirt. She is wearing it for me!' he concludes. It is Nadia's way of saying that she wants him. The time is right. This lunch time he must move their relationship on to a higher plane.

 

It is not a warm day, Greg notices, as he walks to the cafe with Nadia. He wonders whether the cool weather has put goosepimples on Nadia's legs. But he dare not look to find out. As he walks along, beside her, he feels the eyes of people looking at them. 'How does he get to walk

with an angel?' he can hear them saying. Greg is proud to be seen in her company. But he is also worried about the high level of performance he will have to maintain to keep her for himself, in the face of the hordes of better-looking and more experienced rivals who must be out there. Greg decides he should compliment her on her appearance.

            “I must say you are looking very glamorous today in your miniskirt and everything. Are you out to impress someone?” She smiles coyly and says,

            “You could say that!” 'Great' thinks Greg. 'She's openly admitting that she's trying to impress me. This must be a good moment to strike!'

            “And who might the lucky man be?” asks Greg, jestingly.

            “I'm going out tonight. A night on the town. It'll be fun: a posh restaurant then off to a show. My boyfriend's picking me up straight after work.”

            My boyfriend's picking me up..............................

 

 

 

My boyfriend's picking me up. My boyfriend's picking me up. My boyfriend's picking me up. My boyfriend's picking me up.

            Greg sits in his room alone that evening. He is so upset that he cannot even be bothered to booze his sorrows away. He keeps repeating the phrase 'My boyfriend's picking me up.'

            Not only has she got a boyfriend, but he is picking her up. This means that he must have a car. How could Greg have competed with someone with a car? He can’t even drive.

            All the time that Greg had been going to lunch with Nadia, they had been 'just friends', in Nadia's eyes. There is some great, sexy being out there somewhere, who is worthy of being Nadia's boyfriend, but it is not Greg. Greg cannot understand why she agreed to come to lunch with him all those times, if she was not interested in him. She must have realised that, by coming to lunch with him, it would mean something to him, thinks Greg. Why did she think that he would want to be 'just friends'? No red-blooded male would simply want to be 'just friends' with Nadia. But somewhere down the line, she has picked-up this idea. Maybe she does not realise how attractive she is. Or maybe she thinks that he is homosexual. Greg mulls this over and over. He thinks back to what his sister had told him: when you ask her out put the question clearly. But he had put the question clearly, hadn't he? He tries to remember back to two weeks ago, when he first asked her to lunch. His actual words had been forthright, but his manner had not. He had been casual. He had made it sound like it was no big deal. Despite the words that he had used, he had not put the question clearly. Taking his words and actions together, he had given a mixed message. And, as Madge said, an unclear question gets an unclear answer. Nadia's answer, in effect, was that she didn't mind going to lunch with him but she did not want to be his girlfriend. But Greg had not given her the chance to express this. Until today, that is.

 

 

 

Saturday, 22nd May 1976

 

Greg wakes-up quite early. He is pleased that he does not have his usual Saturday morning hangover. But that is where his pleasure ends, because he has remembered Nadia. Ah, Nadia! All his hopes and aspirations have been dashed, he recalls. His life might as well have ended, he remembers. So serious is his predicament, that he decides to make a cup of tea.

            Greg’s ventures into the kitchen are rare. He has become accustomed to eating in cafes. His early forays to the kitchen taught him that it is a dirty ramshackle place, with bits of old food here and there, forgotten and left to rot by their owners. Hence, Greg enters the kitchen nervously.

            It is not quite as bad as he remembered it- its usual musty smell mitigated by the left-open window. Sure, there is dirty crockery around, but it is pretty-much contained within the washing-up bowl, rather than strewn-around the entire place. Both the (chipped) yellow formica work-top, and the 1950s (chipped) cream enamel Belling cooker have been given a wipe-down quite recently, presumably by one of his house-mates. They are not as slovenly as he had assumed.

            Greg finds a cup which is not too dirty, 'borrows' some tea which he guesses belongs to Zepp (being the least-disorganised of his house-mates), boils the cranky old kettle, and finds some milk in the fridge which is not yet rancid. At last, a cup of tea. It tastes good! He begins to think more clearly, about Nadia. At first Greg's thoughts are trivial. For example, he thinks that its just as well they are not lovers, she would have disapproved of the state of his kitchen.

            Presently, a more profound thought comes through. Now that he is not going out with her, he will not be having sex after all. That, he thinks, is the most tragic aspect of the whole thing. It would have been good to have gone to the cinema with Nadia. It would have been good to have kissed her. It would have been good to have married her (he thinks). But it would have been absolutely bloody marvellous to have had sex with her. Having said that, it would have been good for him to have had sex with any woman. This is because Greg is still a virgin. He is nineteen. This is old, he thinks, as far as virgins go. Furthermore, he has been left to his own devices for over a month now, down in London, but he has yet to 'score'. What if he were run over by a bus today, or some other tragedy were to befall him? He would die as a virgin. His shame would be unbearable.

            Of course, as far as losing Nadia is concerned, he will be blue for a while, but sooner or later he knows he must regain control of his emotions. The priority, Greg believes, must be to lose his virginity. To break into that mystical club: the club of those who have ‘known’ a woman.

 

Greg remembers that tonight is Derrick's party. So pre-occupied has he been with Nadia, he has not given it a second thought until today. A party would help him to take his mind off Nadia, he thinks.

            Later that morning, Greg asks Olly once again whether he might like to come too. Again Olly refuses, but this time he does not appear to feel guilty about not wanting to go. A change has come over Olly, thinks Greg. Absent is his old good-humoured self. He is more forthright, more terse, and less chummy.

            Greg asks Zepp if he would like to go to a West Indian party. Zepp declines, curling-up his nose slightly as he does so. Then he asks Bollocky. But he says he will only go if Olly does. Thus if Greg wishes to go, he must go on his own. Greg ponders the issue for most of the day. He buys The Times for twelve pee and reads it, hoping that the cerebral effort entailed will help him make a good decision. As he reads, he notices that M.C.C. is playing West Indies at Lords. He thinks that this is an omen, though he is not sure in which direction.

            By four o'clock Greg has made his decision- he will go to the party. On deciding this, his heart-rate increases noticeably. He walks down to Brixton to try to buy a bottle of rum like the one that Derrick had shared with him when they had last met.

            Greg has never been to Brixton before. He notices the groups of young black men in the street. They joke with eachother, laughing loudly, and slapping eachother on the back. Then they dawdle-off down the street, not going anywhere in particular. As they walk, they move with grace and rhythm, implying a latent power. Whites do not walk as well as this, thinks Greg. For a white, a pavement is a thing to be attacked with a clash of the heel, a thing to be beaten. Any old walking style will do, as long as it kills the yards and beats the pavement. Whites do not hang around in groups like this, either. The blacks are invariably taller than him, and Greg cannot read their faces. He feels vaguely threatened. But they just watch Greg with curiosity as he walks by. Greg looks in a couple of shops, but he cannot find any rum like Derrick's, so he tries to buy some vodka instead. The shopkeeper asks him if he is under eighteen. Greg does not think he looks that young, and becomes flustered. But the shopkeeper simply laughs at him and then says

            "If you wanna drink yourself dead man, that's your problem!" He sells Greg the booze, it costs three pounds and seven pee.

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