I am an old man. I had a busy life once. A wife, a family, a career, but these days, retired, I live alone. I am swiftly advancing in years: too swiftly. I have some friends. I value those friends, and I hope they value me. We meet on a regular basis, in pubs, and have drinks. We discuss mostly the past, rarely, the future.
One Sunday night I felt restless. It was mid-June. The sun was still shining in the early evening sky. I sent a message to one of my friends suggesting we meet up for a drink, but he couldn’t make it that night. No matter, I decided to venture out alone. It was a short walk to the local pub. I entered the bar, which was not busy. It was a quiet Sunday. I went out into the beer garden, which was more lively. I sat at an unoccupied table where I soon attracted the attention of a waitress and ordered a drink.
In the table in front of me, there were two young women with their backs to me. Sitting opposite them was a third woman. She was bright-eyed, vivacious and very beautiful. I found myself looking in her direction. Occasionally we made brief eye contact, but she quickly looked away. I kept telling myself, don’t look in her direction, but my eyes had a life of their own. I concentrated on my pint, looked down into my glass, but still my eyes would find her. Eventually, she moved to join her friends. She sat beside them with her back to me. It appeared to me she had done so, so that they could share something on their mobile phones. I felt a sense of shame. I hoped it was not my wandering eye that had discomfited her and caused her to move. I wanted to say to them ‘when there is little else left, all you do is look.’ I meant them no harm. Probably I read more into the incident than was really the case.
I finished my pint and ordered a second, then a third. To my left there were a group of men younger than me, but by no means young. They were aged between forty and fifty. Quite loud, raucous even, confident in their collective security. I paid them little heed and nursed my pint. It was then I noticed that one of the group had left the throng and placed himself on a seat opposite the three young women. He asked, did they mind if he joined them for a chat. Apparently they did not. He addressed them with a bullish confidence, asking them where the nightclubs with the girls were. One of them referred to a late night bar nearby, ‘The Walkabout.’ ‘I might take a look,’ he said, ‘will you girls be going later?’ ‘No,’ they said in unison. I sensed they had had enough of his intrusion. If he had the same sense, it did not deter him. He produced a mobile phone, said he had some raunchy images, would they like to see them. It was then that the girls linked arms across their shoulders and declared in unison that they were gay. This did deter him, but only briefly. ‘No problem,’ he said, ‘one of my mates is gay.’ He then began talking about his wife and son, and what a great life he had, and started rambling on about the sanctity of married life.
I felt like intervening, telling him he was tilting at windmills, which I felt sure he would not understand, but perhaps my literary allusion might impress the girls. I convinced myself they were more intelligent: better educated than him. I would charge forward: be their rescuer. The beauty would become my lady, Dulcinea del Toboso, I, her champion. But I said nothing, partly through a fear of the consequences which my intervention might bring: aggression from him, scorn and derision from them; but also the knowledge that had I done so, I would have been tilting at windmills too.
It was then that the pub bouncers appeared. They said to the man, ‘Would you please leave the ladies alone and go back to your friends.’ It was not a request: it was an order. He scowled, got up and left. I figured one of the girls had an app on their phone which enabled them to summon the bouncers in just such a situation. They resumed their conversation with laughter and, I sensed, relief. It was then that he reappeared. He returned suddenly, still scowling. ‘I left my glass’ he said, picked it up, and departed, this time with what I can only describe as a look of hatred in his eyes.
I thought about ending my story with a dramatic and tragic turn of events: The following day, the papers reported an attack on three young women in the same area. One had received fatal injuries, one was critically ill in hospital, and the third had escaped with minor injuries.
This is what really happened: I left the pub. It was after ten, but there was still a strong twilight in the western sky. I crossed the viaduct and entered the street of terraced houses where I lived. I heard an unearthly howl which sounded like the anguished cry of an infant, but the infant of some demonic monster. With relief, I saw it was the confrontation of a pair of tom cats. Each looked equally ferocious and determined, but inexplicably one gave way and ran. The other strolled off with a confident gait. I never saw or heard of the man and the three girls again.
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