This is my best story ever. Better even than my tale about the Frenchman I made cry because I mistakenly took him for a masochist.
Feel free to covet this story as your own. Change the names, countries, invent your own variation - although, as it will become clear, the logistics of gender
might be tricky to adapt. This story is too good for me to keep to myself. I want to hear it whispered between friends on a bus come Autumn, a living breathing urban myth that I know to be absolute truth.
Three and half weeks ago I meet a handsome young man. His name is Alba and he is from Chile. I have a thing for Latin men. Maybe it’s their dark, brooding eyes, or their full lips, or their bravado - but there is no coincidence that the boys I make eyes with across the bar are, nine times out of ten, from South America.
Alba and I swap phone numbers and the next day I ring him to organise a date. We meet at a pub in Brixton Hill; I take the bus and arrive a few minutes early. I’m nervous, so out of practice because of my other life as a New Zealander, and when he arrives we take two glasses of red wine to the sofas and spend an hour getting to know each other. Alba is an architect. He is in London for twelve months.
His eyebrows are perfect
, I think.
Something Alba says jolts me back into the conversation. He wants to see the Cirque du Soleil, he tells me. The force of déjà vu is so strong I have to take a large sip of wine. Déjà vu is a very odd feeling. It’s your subconscious letting off a flare.
Alba looks at me.
I smile and hope the wine hasn’t stained my teeth.
Did you meet anyone from Chile in New Zealand? He asks.
Another flare spits and fizzes.
I nod, in a daze.
Who do you know there? I ask, but I already know what he is about to say. Cirque du Soleil. Chileans. Eyebrows.
Renaldo, Alba replies, drawing out the ‘r’.
Three months ago. My sister Holly and I drive up to Auckland for a friend’s birthday. I have one weekend to drink and flirt and I waist no time doing either. On Saturday night, just as the bar I’m at is about to close, a tall Latin man strolls towards the entrance. I am standing by the smokers, out front. His name, of course, is Renaldo. He is from Chile. He is stupid tall, and handsome with a long, serious face. He has just been to watch the Cirque de Soliel, which I avoid mocking. We spend the night together and when I leave the next day to drive down to Wellington again, I experience that horrid ripping feeling when you know you will never see a person again, someone you could have quite happily fallen in love with.
How do you know Renaldo? I ask Albo, feeling my face drain of blood, despite the wine.
They were boyfriends, of course. First loves. Albo had only really come to London because Renaldo wanted to travel by himself. Opposite sides of the world with nothing and no one to link them except… me.
I feel horrid; mostly because this has spoilt my nice, lovely date, but also because I don’t want to be “the other person”. I have only ever kissed two Chileans in my life and now they’re estranged lovers. I tell Albo that maybe we should call it a night. He disagrees but neither of us can fight the fact that things are weird. A weirdness we cannot budge, not with all the head shaking, and knee slapping and can I get you another glass of red wine
We go back to his place. As we kiss, I can’t help… comparing. I bet he’s doing the same.
How did he take it? I ask Alba the next time I see him. His perfect lips pout.
Not well. He’s angry.
I bet he is, I think. And then I imagine, not for the first time, the three of us lying in bed together, possibly naked, with soft petals falling from the sky.
A week later I get my first cold sore. This is another major setback for my new found relationship. The scab on my lip is dark brown and crusts painfully. I have never had a cold sore before and so inadvertently infect Alba. Herpes is not an easy word to translate into Spanish.
You know who used to get one of those? he asks pointing at the scab on my lip which is so big it has its own post code.
Let me guess, I think to myself, knowing all too well the name he’ll say.