The Prince and the pea

I went to lunch last week with a former colleague, Ibsa. Amongst the usual chit-chat, the catching up on recent events, gossip and reminiscence about the old office, there were two notable pieces of information he revealed to me.

The first was pretty innocuous, but has a bearing on what I am to write. A couple of weeks ago I caught up with him on a Friday night for a drink or two. In the bar that night were also a few work colleagues – someone was leaving – and the night grew large and raucous. Somewhere in the course of the night, he tells me, one of my colleagues, Shui, spoke to him about me. He admitted he was jealous of me, that he envied how, in his words, all the women want to be with me. I smiled at this as I was told, surprised but not displeased.

The second piece of news was more substantial. Quite casually he spoke of the girl I had liked at the place we had worked together, Amy, the girl I had looked to be with. He told the story as if I already knew it, as if it was common knowledge – but if it was, it wasn’t to me. He mentioned it as if it was understood how the girl had been on the verge of leaving her man for me, had made that mental leap and was preparing to come across. Except in this case she was talked out of it at the last minute by her friends, how can you leave your boyfriend?

Had I been told this a year ago my reaction would have been very different. Today I listened and took it in, surprised once more, stunned almost, so that I did not follow up with the questions I might have, and did not confess that it was news to me. The timing of this news seemed odd. I had not thought of her for ages, yet had found myself dreaming of her a few days before, and she had been on my mind since. Then this. Still, though I was stunned – and maybe a little sad – most of what I felt was distant and remote, as if a long way distant at the far end of a long tunnel.

As always women figure large in my life. There is the other of course, Jen, somewhere over the seas, distant also, but tied to me still, for now, a tenuous link that neither of us yet are willing to completely sever.

Then there are the others. There is the woman who would come to me if I beckoned, who sees in me the perfect man for her, the man she has claimed she will marry one day, as if it is written in the stars. She is always close by, hovering, intelligent, fun enough, interesting in her way, but not right – not for me. No matter what she wishes or how hard that will never be.

And there is another, fascinated by me I think, drawn to me and resisting it sometimes and other times letting it be. She is with someone too, a no-hoper, an ex-dopehead who lumbers around genially but without purpose. He seems such a strange match for an intelligent, strongly-natured woman like her, but perhaps it is easier like that, unthreatening, unchallenging. I am almost the total opposite to him.

And so she clings to me. We lunch, we have drinks, we part late. Ibsa asked what the deal was. No deal mate, I told him. She follows you around he said. I shrugged my shoulders. I enjoy her company. She is irritating sometimes, but interesting too – sometimes I want to make her life better. I look in her eyes and ask what she wants. I wish she were happier and at times I wish I could make it so. I am drawn to her but I also know she is not for me. I think almost inevitably we will end up in the same bed, and if nothing else intervenes, may even be together for a while. But not forever.

There is another falling for me too, I know the signs now. I like her a lot, I respect her, care for her, enjoy her company. It’s hard for me not to linger with her; but I don’t want anything to happen with her. Her boyfriend is a bit of a dick but I am not Mr Fixit. I like her, I’ll be her friend, but I can’t do any more.

There is all this but really, still only the one. Funny how it’s so hard to find that person just right. You can go through a lot, you can like them plenty, but… Like the Princess and the pea if you remember your fairy-tales, or may be Goldilocks. How few there are just right…

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