The day was oddly stuffy and I couldn’t decide whether or not to wear my coat on the bus journey over to Rhayader. My hands were latched onto a tub of Tesco’s value ice-cream and my common-sense was imploring me to alight and get the next bus home. All the same; I’d wired the rigging of my chest too deeply into a girl with blonde hair and lungfuls of recklessness. I’d invested too much in ice-cream promises and in the sweetness of all her frozen stares. I was too programed into pleasing her, so desperate to win her approval. I was pathetic and yet I relished it. I was going to do it; we would be glory criminals; revelling in the lawlessness of our moneymaking and in the infinity of our age.
I jogged my knees, wondered whether Mat and Dan had ever driven this far past their set of rules, and rejected the concept of holiday revision. As long as I could hold GCSEs insignificantly on the borders of the skyline, I could continue chasing a girl who lived without horizons. When Mum had asked I’d said I was going to Aaron’s to go over Business Studies. I grinned at my Converses; I reckoned I’d learn more about businesses from ice-creams than I would from a text book.
I was nervous but beautifully so; like the churning of my innards was just at the right level to heighten my adrenaline without bubbling over into outright fear. I’d never done anything so perfectly wrong. I know that sounds boring but the truth is that, when you live in a place that is Nowhere, there aren’t many opportunities for going ‘wrong.’ It’s exciting to sneak alcohol to the church bazar or to exceed the boundaries of footpaths when you’re heading to the shops. Life is not thrilling and it’s not particularly free. The countryside might unfurl without limit but there are only so many things you can do with an empty map.
It was in that moment, as the tub of expectations stuck my numbing fingers together, that I decided that Iris was a good thing. She was dangerous and that was probably what I’d been craving.
Or maybe not. Maybe she was just able to convince me that I’d been missing her. She was impossible to know and yet invited approximations with mere glances. She called eyes to her but when you turned to stare she could only bring herself to be condescending.
I started to question my sanity when I began to recognise the fringing of Rhayader and with it I felt the undertow of all my Sunday-school morality. I was unhinged by the way I’d so easily permitted my rationality to melt through my fingers and the buildings that bordered the roads were each notched markers of how I’d gone too far.
The bus deposited me near to where I’d agreed to meet her and I propped myself against a stone wall in an attempt to appear at ease. I was beginning to wonder whether I should have been more sensible and stowed the ice-cream in away in a bag. As it was my fingers were sticking to tub they clutched and I could almost feel the sugared frost clawing its way through, searing them right down to the bone. I had been stupid not to think more about how ridiculous I looked. But then, wasn’t the whole thing senseless? Were there really any tourists hunting down refreshments in February?
A teenage boy in bright red skinny jeans crossed the road and smirked at me. He stood a short distance away, observing, before sauntering closer. His movement overran with self-assured grace and his head of twisted smiles loped as he approached. He walked with an energy but with no urgency, as though his restlessness was all contained within an over-lying sense of being completely and utterly at ease with life. I doubted that he really was because it was the exact way that Jac walked and I knew Jac too well to say that such a walk genuinely oozed calmness into those who captured it.
“She’s not coming,” he said as he sized me up.
I was so surprised that he had not continued to walk on past me that I felt the tub slide slightly from where I was hugging it against my ribcage. As though the words made my heart drip down.
“You’re waiting for her. She’s not coming.”
“I don’t understand,” I did understand because there was nothing else that I was waiting for. What I couldn’t conceive was exactly how this stranger came to know not only about Iris’ plans but of my existence. “Why not? And how did you-”
“You’re awkward-ish, scrawny-ish, mousy-ish – I think you fit the description perfectly – and you’re carrying ice-cream and you’re waiting. She’s not coming.”
“So you’ve said,” I muttered, setting the tub bitterly down on the pavement. My disappointment was savage and I needed some sort of explanation to appease it. “Did she tell you why?”
“Might have done; maybe she just didn’t feel like it today,” he shrugged and I wanted to clamp his shoulders in place so that he could not continue with this forged nonchalance. He was maddening with his playful smiles, his half-tightened laughs. He seemed to be dropping hints from between his teeth. I know more than you do, he grinned.
“Who the hell even are you?”
“Me?” He pretended not to know the question although he surely must have been expecting it. “I’m Abdul. I’m her messenger and her secret keeper.”
“God, seriously? Since when does she need slaves?”
“Oh I’m not a slave. She pays me.” The boy removed three expectant cigarettes from his pocket and flashed them in front of me with a twisted grin. “And anyway, she’s had me longer than she’s known you. There is no since when.”
The pause was pregnant with the sour smell of all my hopes. Trashed and intoxicated as they swam around our feet.
“Well,” I raised my arms both to gesture to the stupidity of the situation and to attempt to ward him off. “What am I supposed to do then?”
He flashed his teeth at me again; I supposed that maybe the whole thing was a joke. I couldn’t quite understand where Abdul fitted into everything but I was so frustrated with Iris’ avoidance of the day she’d badgered me for that I didn’t bother to ask. I didn’t particularly want to know. I didn’t want to hear how there was someone here who she’d ‘had’ long before I’d met her; I was sickeningly selfish but my wasted time was like poison that was finally reaching my head.
“How should I know? I’m just a messenger; you don’t shoot the messenger. Give me a bullet and I’ll send it to her if you’d like.”
He walked away with the same casual stride and, even when I called after him, he brushed me off his shoulders as though he hadn’t the time for such idiocies. Was I really so foolish for agreeing to meet a girl who’d insisted on my presence?
“Goddamn it!” I exclaimed and upturned the ice-cream contained with a sweep of my toes. I didn’t even care that it had cost me a whole 89 pence. Did she really not give one single damn that I’d actually bothered?
I don’t know how long I lingered on the side of the street but a few passed me awkwardly, unsure whether to acknowledge such a sullen statue. It was long enough to tease myself into believing that it was all a hoax and that she would come and that maybe she was delayed and that maybe Abdul meant nothing other than a trouble-maker and that maybe her bus had broken down or maybe…
I ran out of excuses in the end and crossed the road to wait for the bus home.
The sky began to dribble and battled with my negativity; leading a desperate effort to convince myself that the strict, Facebook-abhorring parents had tied her down to their front porch. I pretended to myself for the whole return journey that she would have been screaming and desperate and fighting them to leave the house but all I really believed in was a girl as sharp as a razor blade who decided she did not much fancy the cloying kiss of ice-cream or the lure of contraband. And she can’t have cared much for the boy who wielded the opportunities either.