Wednesday, 25 November 2015
“I think I know you.”
The music wasn’t exactly loud, but over the last two hours a large crowd had gathered for a Wednesday night, a group of boys playing pool, another round the jukebox, several cliques of guys in suits and a rugby team in after training, so there was a lot to try and shout over.
I moved closer to him, “I said, you look familiar.”
“Oh right, yeah. Same. Name’s Alan” He pulls his hand from his worn jeans pocket and thrusts it in my direction
“Matt.” I shook his big, calloused hand noticing how thick and muscly his forearms looked.
“I said, MATT”
He hadn’t let go yet and shook my hand even harder.
His handshake was ridiculously firm. His hands twice the size of mine, like big slabs of meat. He’s hairy too. Big, hairy slabs of meat.
This was a proper bloke.
I played it cool. I took a quick swig of my overly fizzy beer sending it foaming over the rim of the bottle and cascading down over my hands and dripping down onto the front of my shorts.
“Take it easy mate, don’t get yourself too excited.” He was bluff, warm and open. There was a smile on his face and a good-natured air about him. I relaxed a little and smiled, trying to calm myself down a little and glanced around the bar nonchalant like, hoping he wouldn’t see me looking at him in the mirror behind.
He was a couple of inches taller than me, shaved head, bright blue eyes, thick-set without being fat at all, in fact there was no fat on him; faded, dirty jeans, work boots, checked shirt, sleeves rolled back to mid-forearm exposing the grey dusting of fur at the wrist and again at his neck where his buttons were undone. He was rugged, manly and sexy as hell, without being anywhere near classically handsome.
“You’ve just moved here right? From London? You’re ********* on that Bear site, yeah?”
“That’s me. And you’re ******, ya live out in Orange or something…”
“Not quite. It’s Bathurst, but you got me right.”
“Sorry, Bathurst. I knew I recognised ya.” The noise receded suddenly leaving us alone. “So, how far is that anyway?”
“Bathurst? About two and half hours. I’m down for the night.”
I perched myself against the barstool behind me and tried to hold my beer in the manliest pose possible, moving from thumb in belt loop and bottle against my hip, to beer against my chest, other hand in pocket and finally swapping beer between hands and leaning casually against the table next to me, all in five seconds.
“Are you alright, mate?”
“Yeah of course, why wouldn’t I be?”
He laughed, deep and dry, “HA! Am I making you nervous?” Leaning in towards me, his face became serious, his brow moody, “It’s alright mate, you’re not the one to be nervous. Those eyes o’ yours… you’re a bloody good lookin’ bloke, nothin’ to be nervous about…” Leaning back, he smiled again, “Another?”
I nodded and watched him go to the bar. Confident, grounded. No’ shuffling about trying to look more butch than he actually was’ for him.
I sighed. Resigned to watching another one go down the drain.
We’d been talking online for a few months, starting within weeks of me being in Sydney and our online chat had been easy. Honest. Relaxed. Mainly because he lived 200 kilometres away and me not really knowing where Bathurst was, meaning I’d never expected to actually meet him. Of course, my honesty probably hadn’t extended to my abilities with a sewing machine, my guilty pleasures of Liberty X and dry vodka martinis, nor to that matter my legendary exploits on podiums, dancing until four am. I had however, probably mentioned my love of the local ‘beer’, my ability to handle said beer, or at least appear more sober than those around me, my ability to build flat pack furniture without the instructions and with the use of a handy power drill and my newfound love of Aussie rules football. AFL being in fact, the only sport I’d ever shown an interest in, much to my sister’s amazement.
But I had been honest about other things: He knew about my family, my relationship with my Dad, my closeness to my Mum and siblings, what had brought me to Oz and how that had rapidly panned out, and what I was hoping for in Australia, to go for my residency and make it a permanent home.
Of course, such chats while open and honest, within reason, could continue indefinitely assuming we never met. Once a meeting took place, the spell would be broken and all talk would cease.
Which was a shame as he seemed really nice. A little scary looking, but nice.
He handed me a stubbie, “So you’re not really a diehard Swans fan are ya? You’d never’ve seen ‘em back home and you’ve really only been here five minutes…”
I choked back a mouthful of beer.
Rumbled. I shrugged inside, ‘Fuck it’.
“No. To be honest I’m not into sport at all.” I set my beer down and folded my arms, “To be brutally honest, I don’t watch sport or play sport, or I didn’t ‘til I came to Australia. I don’t really like your beer. Especially the frozen gnat’s piss they serve here. I’m best mates with vodka and I’m happy with it straight, or as queer as it comes. I’m a typical raving poof. I’m not into Kylie, but I don’t mind a good dance and I’m pretty good at it as well.” I was in full rant, voice rising in both pitch and volume; I could hear my Dad saying ‘Matthew, only dogs can hear you now!’ But there was no stopping me. Alan wasn’t going to get to reject me. I was gonna reject me.
“And I didn’t lie about the Swans, I think AFL’s fuckin’ ace and it’s NOT coz of their short shorts, coz if it was about the perve, I’d watch proper rugby with proper blokes I actually fancy. I like AFL coz it’s about the speed and the flow of the game and the athleticism and coz it kicks football’s arse.” I finally stopped, hands almost, but not quite on hips, mouth pulled to one side, eyes screwed up like a six year old in the playground, ‘so nur!’ Mercifully the needle hadn’t scratched off the record, no-one had heard my tirade and the bar was still in full swing.
Just loud enough to make himself heard, he said “You’re a sexy fucker when you’re pissed off aren’tchya?”
I goldfished, mouth opening and closing, brow furrowed.
“You’ll be telling me you like sewing and wearing frilly knickers next.”
As if queued up by Loki himself, I recognised the opening strum of my favourite song. I glanced up at the large video screen and saw the black and whites of the Liberty X video about to kick in. I would NOT start dancing.
“No. Don’t be ridiculous.” I held my hands firmly at my side.
“I wouldn’t care if you did.” He said leaning in, his breath on my cheek, “I’d still wanna do this…”
I didn’t even hear the end of the song.
“So, your football or our football?”
“What? What you on about?”
“During your rant earlier, you said AFL kicks football’s arse. Your football, or our football?”
My brain slowly ticked over to a moment of clarity ‘their football is our rugby, our football - their soccer, Got it!’
“Oh, ours. Naturally,” I shrugged as if suggesting how could I mean otherwise, “Y’know what soccer’s like, they graze a knee and they’re rolling around, getting carried off by a stretcher and sitting on the bench for six weeks. I watched the Swanies the other night, this guy gets thrown over onto his head, dislocates his finger on landing, runs off and gets it taped up, comes straight back on, kicks the penalty for the foul against him and wins the match! You’d never see David-bloody-Beckham doing that!”
I raised my drink to the heroes of my newfound religion.
“Fair go. I see you’re not so bothered about our beer now, either…” Alan raised an eyebrow at the dregs in the bottom of my bottle.
“Ah well, it’s cheaper than drinking voddie all night, you don’t get quite so smashed and after the first few you can’t taste owt anyway.”
“You’re mad you know that right? And your accent changes when you’re drunk, you get all…” he wrinkled his nose as he did the accent, “ northern!”
I caught myself mid-slur, “Wassa boy to do, eh?”
He placed his hands on my shoulders and squared up in front of me.
“So listen, sexy lad, I really enjoyed meeting ya tonight BUT”, he squeezed hard, “… I have to be on the road real early tomorra, and unlike some, I need my beauty sleep. AND I’m staying at a mate’s. So I’m not taking ya back tonight. BUT, if you’re still keen to make it out to Bathurst…”
I nodded quickly, “Yeah as I say, this weekend’s fine, no plans yet…”
“Good well you got my number…” He leant in again for another kiss. Stepped back, smiled, grabbed his jacket off the back of the chair, shrugged it on, winked and walked out of the bar. Cool as a cucumber. And nowhere near as boozy looking as I felt.
The train to Lithgow took two hours. The drive by car from there to Bathurst was gonna be another hour. My excitement over the fact that this was my first double decker train lasted about two minutes.
Rachel stood up and said over the desks, “Nice work, that’s your first placement in your first month,” she raised an eyebrow “not bad for a beginner”, her eyes lit up teasing me. “Seriously, it often takes longer. Nice work, you learn fast”.
I leant back in my chair, a big grin splitting my face: Sure the first placement had been a complete fluke with an existing client, one Kate had previously placed with and knew well, but the work had been my own and there hadn’t actually been a role to start with – the client had created one for my obviously amazing candidate – ‘what we in recruitment call a float’ I gloated to myself. I stretched my feet out kicking into the Australian shoe mountain under the desk. Sighing, I reached down under the desk, determined to clear a more permanent space for myself. It was a leather heeled jungle down there and I could barely see where the shoes ended and the back of the desk began.
“Ahem” said a voice from above “and who’s this sitting in my seat?”
I jumped, hitting my head like some clichéd clown and turned on my hands and knees to see two perfectly formed ankles, long slender calves leading up to a green pencil skirt, all perched on a pair of stiletto heeled, black snake skin shoes. I clambered out into the light my eyes scanning up to arms folded in a matching green jacket and I struggled to make out a face haloed in the light as my eyes grew used to it.
She stood there, hair swept up, hazel eyes flashing dangerously, cheekbones flawless and mouth in an angry pout.
Her eyes travelled south to my scuffed shoes, creased trousers and the dust balls from under her desk that had glued themselves to my knees, before taking in my shirt and dishevelled tie and her eyes finally meeting mine.
“So you made it to the end of your first month then?”
I walked through to the break out area, box of Hokka Hokka noodles in my hand, on through the kitchen and the gaggle of Accounting girls including the cute, tall one, Lance. Spying Kate at the furthest table on her own, newspaper spread out in front of her covering the table surface, headphones on and fixed on the contents of the salad bowl in front of her, I made a bee-line for the seat opposite.
“You don’t mind if I join you right?” I stood waiting for a response.
Caught, her eyes flicked up. Slowly she reached for her portable CD player and pressed pause. Another beat and she reached for the headphone band and pulled it back over her head.
“No. Sure. Take a seat. I wasn’t doing anything.”
I sat down moving the paper out of the way, folding it up to make space
“You don’t mind… “
She stared straight at me.
“I’ll just…” I looked up again to see her still staring at me.
I stopped the folding and placed the noodle box in the small space in front of me.
And then the verbal diarrhoea began.
“So we have friends in common. My friend Colin Carmichael knows your friends Justine and Damien. Weird huh? I met them at Colin’s house. I told them I was going to be working here and they told me all about you. Y’know I studied drama too? I didn’t teach though. And they told me you played the violin! I used to play the violin too. How freaky is that! And then we both ended up working here. John tells me you worked in Retail too, same as me, I did remember that right, right?”
Kate took a large mouthful of leaves and reached for her water bottle. She slowly chewed, then swallowed as if to respond. She paused. Impaled another bunch of leaves. Aimed for a tomato and then added an olive and a wave of houmous to her now heavily laden fork. She looked up. Slowly moved the fork to her mouth, carefully closed her mouth over the food and began chewing again. Her eyes locked on mine the whole time.
The silence drowned out the cackles from the Accounting team.
Another bubble of anxiety laden word-vomit rose in the back of my throat.
Another bubble of anxiety laden word-vomit rose in the back of my throat.
“So y’know how I made that placement last week with Jigsaw? Well it looks like we hadn’t worked with them in a while and didn’t know what roles they had on, there’s nothing on the system, so I thought I’d arrange a visit for us to go on, so we can find out about their business and get to know them and things, y’know? I wondered if you’re free next Tuesday, coz I’ve spoken to Inga and she said Tuesday was best for her…”
She took a sip of water and swallowed her mouthful.
She took in a deep breath and sighed.
“Matt. Darling. I get that you really want to do well and I understand that you’re excited.” She set down her bottle, pushed the salad clear and folded her arms on the table leaning in. Her large bronze and orange bangles clattered and she smoothed them along her wrist taking another deep breath. She froze a smile on her face and looked up at me.
“You’re right, we have lots in common and it’s funny you’ve heard so much about me when I know so little about you. And I’m really glad you’ve made your first placement.” She nodded agreeing with herself. She looked me clear in the eye, “Jigsaw are a company I’ve done a lot of work with over the past two years. I know Inga very well; In fact I went for lunch with her the week before my month- long holiday. They’ve had a recruitment freeze on for the past few months, but that’s about to lift so things could be good for them. And you. I’d be happy to take you out to meet Inga and hand over my well established relationship.” She breathed deep a third time, restoring her composure. “But maybe we should make sure you’ve got the hang of things before I do that.” Her face was calm again as she exhaled.
“No, of course, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean… I mean, I know that you… That you, err… I…” my hands fumbled with my chopsticks, I could feel the flush of colour racing up my face.
“Seriously, Matt, its ok. Just give things a little time. I’m sure we’ll get along ok. Just get back to your noodles and let me get back to my reading.” She flashed me a killer smile, “Nice tie by the way”.
I grinned, and shovelled in a first mouthful of teriyaki chicken, sending a splash of sauce and one long silky Udon noodle snaking its way down towards my stomach.
Kate nodded at the offending mess and seeing the distraught look on my face, let out a loud bark of a laugh, “Oh darling, what a mess you’ve made!”