Thursday, 11 November 2010

Enjoying the little moments

This update is going to have a literary theme.

Firstly one of my friends, Abbie, bought me a book for my 20th birthday which i began reading last night. It's called "One Day" and is by David Nicholls. It looks pretty promising both from what Abbie had previously told me about it and from the first chapter. I've been looking for a new novel to read, something to read as an alternative to histories of American politics and excerpts from classical political theorists.

Printed on the page that precedes the first chapter is a quote from a truly fantastic novel, "Great Expectations", the classic by Charles Dickens. I'd forgotten the quote since i last read the novel, but seeing it again last night i remembered just how perfectly i feel it captures a pretty abstract concept that has always intrigued me.

"That was a memorable day to me, for it made great changes in me. But, it is the same with any life. Imagine one selected day struck out of it and think how different its course would have been. Pause, you who read this, and think for a long moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns and flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on that memorable day."

I love that quote because it sums up the idea that a single day, 1 out of hopefully tens of thousands at least, can change your entire life. That the beginnings of a chain of events can be humble yet affect so much which follows. We're rarely aware of the importance of a day until the gift of hindsight is given to us. It's a very similar idea to that of 'the butterfly effect', the idea that even the slightest change in our history could produce a drastically different present and future. It does make a slight mockery of the degree to which we believe we have control over our own lives. How much control can we really have unless we analyse every tiny decision to the point of getting nothing done? Most of the time we just have to let life run it's course, enjoy all the little moments and hope that we don't end up regretting one of more of the myriad of things we do each day.

Also it is impractical to try and attribute all the praise of blame for an eventual destination on an individual decision. So many little decisions combine to bring us to the big decisions which impact on our lives in a more distinct way. Without any one of the many smaller choices we may never have reached the place where that bigger choice would have been possible.

So there you go, this is the kind of thing that goes on in my head when i should really be focussing on something useful.

I don't have any deep or important point to make about this next quote, i include it solely because it's one of my favourite quotes from any book and when i was typing out the Dickens quote this one sprang to mind as well. It's from "Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen.

"We can all begin freely –a slight preference is natural enough; but there are very few of us who have heart enough to be really in love without encouragement"

Right, the rest of this update is going to be a short story i wrote quite a while ago, the summer before i came to university, but it's one i've not grown to dislike over time which is quite unusual.


Kindred Spirits

A quick glance at his phone told him it was nearly half 11. He’d been dragged into town by a couple of his friends, determined despite past evidence that he would have fun in the bars in the city centre. Now both friends had wandered off, their attentions drawn to girls who’d caught their eye. So he was sat alone at a long and fairly empty bar, perched on a tall bar stool that looked like it was straight out of an IKEA catalogue, all cheap plastic and shiny metal legs. The bar he was in was very student friendly, almost seeming to make a unique selling point of everything being cheap but cheerful.

The beer bottle in his hands offered some minor distraction, both through drinking it at a rate that gave away his discomfort and boredom, and through playing with it, tearing the label, spinning it around, doing anything menial to take his mind off the night. He really wasn’t cut out for the clubbing scene, far too busy living inside his head to enjoy the thrills of a night out. He couldn’t help feeling incredibly jealous as he watched the confident boys and girls of the city meeting, greeting and pulling. He felt like he was doomed to always over think things, to complicate what should be a simple and fun night out into a tumultuous and confusing mess of emotions. He watched people finding a connection, even if only a brief one, with people they’d never met, and he felt that loneliness that had been weighing heavily on him recently, press down all the harder.

He stared unseeingly straight ahead of himself, into the mirror which stretched along the entire length of the bar, but he wasn’t paying much attention to his reflection, his eyes had simply settled on that point to avoid making eye contact with anyone. He resolved himself to wait out another half hour, have another beer and then go home, either with his mates, or alone. He wouldn’t resent them wanting to stay, he wasn’t self obsessed enough to think that they should share his reasons for not enjoying the night; they were more confident creatures than he was, and were both single. This was exactly the kind of night they were supposed to enjoy. Part of him knew that it was the sort of night he should enjoy.

He glanced to his right, half hoping to catch the attention of the barman and order another bottled beer. He’d still got a third of the last bottle left, but he reckoned that the sooner he drank that and drank another one, the sooner he could feel he had fulfilled his promise to himself and could leave. The barman was busy; pouring what seemed like a fairly epic number of pints for a rowdy bunch of lads. The group of guys were all stood around the bar, laughing at each others jokes a little bit too loudly to be completely natural. They had arrived at the bar about 10 minutes ago, clearly already several pints south of sober and though they were in good spirits they had changed the atmosphere in the room by drowning out anyone else’s conversations with their banter and seemingly competitive laughter. He’d not really paid them too much attention until now, having no interest in joining them or annoying them, but as he looked towards the barman he saw reflected in the mirror a sight which focussed all his attention on that section of the bar.

Sat at the edge of that storm of alcohol and testosterone, perched as far to one side of a bar stool as physically possible, and still leaning further away, was a girl. Next to the crowd of guys, so noisy and unpredictable, she looked so small and vulnerable that he felt a sudden urge to protect this girl, even though he’d never seen her before and she probably didn’t need protecting. He imagined he’d be a long way down on her list of the guys in the bar who she’d want to protect her anyway. As he continued to watch the girl in the mirror, he was surprised to find it had taken him this long to notice just how stunning she was. She had shoulder length brunette hair, with a fringe which she seemed to be using as a shield against the world, a slightly tanned, very cute heart shaped face and delicate, kissable lips, but what struck him most was her eyes, peering out from under the fringe, they were such a dark shade of brown that at this distance they almost looked black.

Suddenly she glanced up, away from the drink in her hand that she’d been focussing on, and her eyes met his in the mirror. With a start he realised he’d been indirectly staring at her, so absorbed in both her situation and her beauty. A different guy may have met her gaze, may even have mustered a smile to her, and taken it from there. But he wasn’t that guy and he panicked looking away and staring intensely at the label of his beer, hoping the embarrassment he felt at getting caught staring wasn’t manifesting itself into too obvious a blush on his cheeks. He suddenly felt 10 degrees too warm and considered making a dash for the door. But instead he found himself, slowly so as to try and be subtle, glancing up at the mirror, back at the point halfway between him and her, where their eye’s had met. To his horror she was still looking at that exact point, and his heart seemed to forget quite how to go about its job, as he saw a shy smile spread across her lips as their eyes met. All the sounds of the bar seemed to become muffled as he looked into those dark eyes. He quickly looked away again though, assuming the smile was one of pity, she probably just felt sorry for the blatantly out of place and awkward boy sat a few seats away. He briefly wondered where the girl’s boyfriend was, a girl that good looking almost certainly had a boyfriend, it would be bordering on an injustice if she was single by anything other than her own choice. He’d probably be a guy not that dissimilar to any one of the group of drunken lads that had moved a little further away from her now that they had their pints. At least, he felt it was fair to say, he probably wouldn’t be a guy like him. Girls like her didn’t go for guys like him.

The barman wandered past him and he asked for another beer, paying the guy quickly, while managing to avoid looking to his right at all. He glanced around to see where his mates were, considering going and joining them just to give him an excuse not to sit there, so hyper aware of this girl sat at most 20 metres away. Both his mates were busy talking to girls so he ruled that one out, he’d rather be the weird but potentially a little mysterious loner than the third wheel. Some small part of him, some minute but optimistic part of him made him glance over at the mirror again, tempting his imagination with the idea that the smile might have been born from something other than pity. That maybe she had seen something of interest in him, a hint of a kindred spirit perhaps, someone else who at that moment in time, clearly didn’t want to be sat alone at a bar. What he saw in the mirror confused him; he didn’t know how to react to the sight of her unmistakable sadness. Her head was down, her eyes locked on a seemingly random point on the bar, and it was clear even at this distance that something had disappointed or upset her. He was contemplating going over to talk to her, for he knew as well as anyone the sensation of loneliness, but his body and thoughts froze simultaneously as she glanced through her fringe at the mirror. They froze because the moment her eyes met his, the sad look vanished, replaced by one that despite his better instincts, he could only describe as hopeful and happy.

His eyes went to his beer again, unable to meet her gaze for the sudden string of images that had filled his mind when she smiled made him feel instantly awkward. In that one moment where there eyes had truly met, her hopeful smile and the glint in her eye had thrown his pessimistic and cynical defences aside and caused him to hope as well, and he’d found himself entertaining images of them as a couple. He knew it was foolish and naïve to even dream those things on the basis of a smile and a brief moment of eye contact, but he had done, and now those images were going round his mind; now he’d imagined them, he couldn’t shake either the images or the way they made him feel.

He felt something coursing through him, an optimism and confidence that were fairly alien to him, so he took a long drink from his beer and then before these new found feelings could desert him he stood up and turned to face the girl.

As he started to walk towards her, his heart rate rising with every step, his mind ran through what he could say. He’d gone too far to back out now, but he realised he hadn’t the faintest clue what to say to a beautiful girl. He ran through lines he’d heard other guys use when chatting up girls, but they all seemed so fake and sleazy that he ruled them out. If he was going to do this, he wasn’t going to pretend to be someone he wasn’t, it just wouldn’t feel right.

Suddenly he realised that he was stood only a couple of feet away from her and she was staring up at him from beneath her thick fringe, those deep, dark eyes managing to take away what little breath he had left. He was out of time and so did something he hoped would serve him well. He simply followed his heart.

“I, I think you’re beautiful and I want to kiss you.” He paused, unable to read her reaction, but decided that now he’d come too far to turn back and so he had to keep going, in the face of her silence, “I can think of some clever lines if you’d prefer,” he felt his heart soar as she smiled, a smile so infectious and awe inspiring that he couldn’t help but feel more confident than he’d felt in years, “But I wanted to say that first.”

He finished speaking and just looked at her, knowing that he meant what he’d said and that for once he’d been impulsive and brave, rather than letting fear cripple him. Slowly she reached out a hand to him, the contact between her fingers and his making the hairs on his arms stand up. She took his hand and gestured to him to sit down on the stool next to hers. She’d still not spoken a word, but their eyes had not left each others, and they were telling him enough to make him fight the terror that was lurking beneath the surface and sit down. He wasn’t sure a girl had ever looked at him like this, looked so deeply into his eyes, that he felt like she was examining some deep and important part of him. And by the way that smile which was still ever so slightly shy lit her face up; he dared to hope that she liked whatever she was seeing.

She looked like she was about to speak when a sudden urge struck him, a most atypical urge for him, but following his heart had worked well so far, and his heart was screaming at him to do something he wouldn’t have dreamed of doing even 5 minutes ago. As she started to open her mouth, he placed a finger over her lips and she stopped, slightly startled but not unhappy, merely curious. He took his finger away and started to lean in, moving slowly so that she had every chance to tell him no or move away, but as he’d been staring at that smile, he’d felt like he wanted, no needed, to kiss those lips, right then. He kept his eyes open until the last moment, checking her eyes for any sign that he’d misjudged the moment, but her eyes continued to sparkle with what he was sure was happiness, so he gently, delicately kissed her lips, feeling like all the sensation in his body had transferred itself to his lips. He was more aware in this moment of the contact between his lips and hers, than he could remember being of anything else in his life. Reluctantly he pulled away, because no matter how incredible it felt to kiss those lips, he was already starting to worry. He worried that he’d misjudged the situation and she was going to be angry. He also worried that they were in different places emotionally. He felt so intensely about this girl already, and though he didn’t believe in love at first sight, he was certain he wanted the chance to fall in love with her, wanted to talk to her, hold her, and learn how to bring that smile back to her lips as often as possible. What if she just thought this was a bit of fun? The thought scared him, but he couldn’t deny that by being impulsive like this, he couldn’t be sure even of his own emotions, let alone hers. He realised he didn’t regret it though; he knew in his heart that he hadn’t acted merely out of lust, but out of some deeper emotion, some combination of hope and desire driven by the fact that when he looked into her eyes, he could already imagine a future with her. He didn’t regret acting on an impulse, because the idea of never seeing this girl again didn’t give him the freedom and confidence he’d heard other guys talk about, it scared and upset him.

All these thoughts filled his head in the seconds as he pulled away and as he waited for her to speak they almost overwhelmed him. But she was still smiling as she opened her eyes again.

“Well, that was, special. I bet you say that to all the girls.” Her voice was ever so slightly sing song and though he reckoned she was teasing him, he became a little defensive, worried she’d misjudged him.

“I promise you I don’t.”

Her laugh erased his defensiveness, it disarmed him completely. “I know.” She grabbed his hand again and gave it a comforting squeeze, “If I’d thought you were just yet another guy, like any other, I wouldn’t have kissed you then.” Those few words soothed his fears and he relaxed in his seat. It seemed like she’d felt it too, that strange, indefinable connection.

Maybe this would work. Maybe his dreams of a future with her weren’t completely naïve.

She was beautiful and he had kissed her. Minor details like what she was called seemed insignificant right then.

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