Dave and I were standing in the lunch queue chatting, when Dave suddenly went quiet and started making sideways nodding movements with his head that I took to mean, “Look over there.”
I looked in the direction his head was pointing, but couldn’t see anything in particular; so I looked back at Dave and his eyes were wide, asking me a question I didn’t understand; so I pursed my lips and gave a barely visible, Soap-Opera like, shake of my head, trying to let him know that I didn’t know what he was on about.
“That’s her,” he hissed.
I tried on my best quizzical look, which seemed to work because Dave responded with, “You know, the one I was telling you about.”
To be honest, Dave had been going on about some girl for weeks. He’d first seen her walking across the Quad at interval, and I think he’d skipped a few classes to wait down the Quad “just in the hope” as he called it.
Dave had started head gesturing again, so I had a good look around, and this time I saw her.
“Oh,” I said.
“Oh?” Dave fixed me with a stare that said “If you know anything about her, tell me now.”
“Yeah well, I asked her out is all.”
“Yes,” I replied.
“Well, what did she say?”
Dave was starting to fidget like an ADHD kid on raspberry cordial. I don’t think he noticed that my cheeks were glowing red, or that my hands were getting sweaty. I looked down at my feet, trying to hide my face, and pushed my hands deep into my pockets. I remember there was some moss growing between the paving stones, and a flattened white drinking-straw near my right foot.
“Well?” Dave repeated: almost a demand this time.
“She said she had a boyfriend,” I mumbled. And then I said “I just remembered I need to be somewhere.”
Dave didn’t want to let it go.
“Perhaps she just told you that because she didn’t like you?” Clearly my feelings were not Dave’s top priority.
“Thanks mate,” I said and started to turn away. I’d forgotten about lunch and just wanted to be on my own.
“Tell me about it later then. I’ve got to get her to go out with me.” Dave sounded exasperated.
She was looking at me as I started to walk away.
Her eyes were sad. She gave me that smile that’s not really a smile, where you press your lips together and look the other person right in the eye.
In my mind the lunchtime Quad was silent: just her and me. And there was an ache in my chest, and tension between my eyebrows.
And in that moment, I knew I wasn’t a kid anymore; I felt older; I felt pain; I felt alive.
I walked on.