By: Alex Ciobanu
The neighbourhood proved striking. Its historical significance was unknown to me, but I was never one to revel in that. I was simply struck by such sophistication and style in the buildings, a consistency to the architecture, and I found it comforting. Colindale wasn’t the same. I could tell I was in the presence of greatness when a middle-aged woman walking one of those Chinese Crested hairless dogs passed by me. At least I was wearing my most expensive coat, from Next, so I didn’t feel like I stood out that much. I was hoping that the streets would be empty so no-one would see me fixing my hair in my phone’s camera, even if I would have to rely on street lights to do so. As I turned the corner and reached my destination, it was rather disappointing. A bland, square, apartment complex. It wasn’t the fact that I wished he lived in one of those expensive and refined houses I passed by, since he was just twenty-four, but it had to do rather with the architectural mismatch. A fleeting moment of disappointment, however. That should hardly matter to me at this point.
It was expensive traveling to Earl’s Court from zone 4, and it was my only day off that week. At least I was meeting him at his house, and that was saving me some money. I had gone on a few dates in the previous weeks, which never lead anywhere. Usually I would go in hoping the guys would be more than they were, and end up tolerating their presence for the duration of consuming one beverage. This time is different, I thought to myself, I haven’t had sex in a long time.
This place looks pretty strange, I pondered, looking at the white hallways with the uncomfortably low ceiling. It seemed as though a hospital and a college dorm were merged into one building. Not a good combination. I knocked at his door and a few seconds passed. Didn’t he just open the door for me downstairs like a minute ago? I was feeling a bit uneasy with the idea of meeting someone for the first time at their place.
“Hey,” he said with a smile as he opened the door.
“Hi. Fuck, you’re short…” I think you can imagine which part was audible. Handsome, curly blond hair with blue eyes. I already knew that, but not his height, because Tinder doesn’t make you fill in those details – and it’s rather weird to ask someone how tall they are. But damn, the place is bigger on the inside. This is my Doctor Who moment, I amused myself as I followed him up the stairs to the open living room and kitchen. He’s no Matt Smith, though. Then again, he’s isn’t thought to be conventionally attractive.
I remembered what he had written on his profile, which was ‘wine o’clock is my favourite time of the day’. That should improve things. I hesitated as to where to sit as he headed for the fridge and came back with a bottle of wine and glasses.
“So much chanting today from the stadium. Did you hear it on your way here?” he said to me after he sat on the couch, while I relegated myself to the armchair beside it.
“There’s a stadium? I’ve never actually been to this area before.”
“Yeah, Chelsea. There was a football match and all the fans were chanting on the way to the tube… How long have you been in London for?”
“About seven months. You?”
“Two years. How are you liking it?”
“Ah, the inescapable question. It’s a mixed bag, honestly.”
It has become so tiring explaining to everyone how London has failed me. Recounting the same ideas; that it is alienating, that it is quite difficult to find people to connect with, people that can become your friends and not merely acquaintances or classmates. And everyone nods approvingly while listening to their experiences proves they don’t really know how I feel. With him it was no different.
He went on to explain just how irritating winter in London can be. How he had failed to see the sun for three months once because he had to leave for his job in finance quite early in the morning and left work too late. Now he goes skiing and sunbathing abroad in the winter, or back to Paris where he is so glad he kept his place, or across South America for two months.
“I’ve heard that summer in London might make me fall in love with it,” I told him, thinking that perhaps I was coming across too defeated and joyless. He agreed, telling me of the barbecues every weekend and of how happy British people can be due to good weather. I think that neither the person that told me that initially, nor this guy, really knew anything about what I find enjoyable. But then again, why would they?
“Last summer I didn’t spend the weekends here,” he went on. “I went to Nice to my parents’ beach house.”
“I’ve heard Nice is quite crowded.”
“Yes, but the house is in a more secluded area. It has a pool and it was quite a lot of fun.”
As he was telling me this, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons between his experience and a few chapters in the book The Line of Beauty, especially because it was standing on a shelf behind him. In the book, a politician and his family spend the summers in their holiday mansion in France, lounging by the pool and so on. I commented on this comparison, but I don’t believe he understood that in the book this upper class family is used to explore themes of hypocrisy and privilege.
We went on talking about books; the conversation was very harmonious. As a matter of fact, it had been this way from the beginning of the night. He proved to be educated, receptive, intelligent. There were a few moments, however, where I was unsure whether he was aware of the pretentiousness of his life stories. I was talking about LA as one of my possible dream cities to live in, and he was quite indignant at the thought. “Why would you want to live there? I was there once on my way to Japan to visit my dad when I was sixteen, and it was awful. Only three days and I wanted to go back to Paris so bad.”
I wanted to say that my family was poor, that I never even went to the beach growing up because we could never afford it, even though Romania has a seaside. But what point would that have made? Other than projecting my own insecurities, that is.
“Why was your dad in Japan?”
“He was there on business. He travelled a lot when I was growing up, so I didn’t get too see him much at home.”
He got up to retrieve the bottle and filled up the empty glasses. When he came back, he sat down closer to me. Subtle. I was still talking about The Hours, I think, when he put his hand on my knee. He was looking at me quite intently, having brought his face closer to mine. I was still very interested in what I was talking about and I didn’t want to stop – yet I felt I had to. And so he leaned in and kissed me. He lifted me and laid me on the couch, continuing to kiss me. For a half-French guy, he wasn’t very good at it. I was also bothered by his stubble irritating my skin so I couldn’t really get into it.
He got up and signalled me to follow. As if my responding well to the conversation was a sign that ‘the subject is ready’. It felt a bit odd and unnerving.
I hesitated. My reaction time is usually rather slow, probably due to an uncertainty effected by my severe lack of drive. My decisions are not made on the spur of the moment, since I constantly reassess where my interest in something lies. Needless to say, it is usually meagre. Why should I go downstairs with him? Where does that fall within my parameters of desire? Why did he have to signal me to follow instead of saying something, anything? Probably because that would have ruined the sensual atmosphere that he thought us kissing and rubbing up against each other had created. Also, it was rather authoritative. Without figuring out yet where my interest lied, I got up and followed.
We entered the bedroom and he pushed me on the bed. His piercing eyes and playfully mischievous smile made me uncomfortable. I remembered that look from other very nice guys I had ended up in bed with. Nothing in their prior behaviour had indicated that any such thing would occur. On those occasions I felt like prey.
I was lying on my back, then on top of him; we were making out. This went on for a bit. I was already growing tired of it. He took off my jumper and I felt compelled to take off his. He took off my pants and threw them away on the floor. I felt that was excessive. I continued to kiss him to delay what I couldn’t bring myself to stop from happening. Then he pulled my hair hard and slapped me on the ass. Oh, cause you’re short, I thought, you’re trying to release your frustrations about your height and exert dominance over me.
Eventually, I realized where my interest lied. And I told him, “I don’t think I want to go any further.” He suddenly changed back to his warm-hearted nature, reassuring me that he understood perfectly. That everything was alright.
I got dressed and he hugged me goodbye on my way out. The side streets were empty by this time and it made me slightly apprehensive, as though people might have assumed I was there scoping out their houses to rob them. That reaction soon collapsed under the weight of its stupidity. I felt proud of myself for attempting to have a sexual encounter, even if it was unsuccessful. Trial and error. But then what are the moral implications of using a person in order to get rid of one’s sexual inhibitions? They’re not getting what they’re expecting. I am a fucking tease. How do they get to have such healthy sex lives, expressing their desires so freely? Some sexual preferences are indicative of past trauma, right? But my reluctance could just as well be indicative of past trauma. He could’ve just liked it rough. And I could’ve just told him I don’t.
Alex Ciobanu is originally from Romania. He enjoys reading and watching TV shows, anything that will elicit strong feelings. Social standards vex him and he usually draws inspiration in his writing from personal experience. As one of the greatest characters on TV, Lumpy Space Princess, says it: Get in touch with your feelings, babe!