My club was actually I pub I visited three times a week in the afternoons when only the lost are drinking. I bought my pint and glanced at my non-existent watch as though time was in short supply before retreating to a corner table and reading the news on my mobile phone as if it might affect my life. Three visits a week only because I’ve got £20 to spend a day and that doesn’t go far, even for a man who just wants to lose himself.
Day after day in this northern town which is my new home and where I know nobody, I walked the streets as if I had a purpose and then retreated to my single room, free of pictures or romance, to reflect on ruin and friendship’s ebbing glance: poverty enjoys a limited social life..
Week after week I sat there, often alone but sometimes in the company of other souls, spaced out across the bar through embarrassment and drinking what they could afford. The barmaid, Nuala, don’t ask me where that name came from, always smiled at people as if they’d made her day and in between serving the occasional customer walked round the bar polishing the pumps and then tables: it was the same each time I saw her.
“That’s a lot of cleaning for one girl with a whole pub to attend to as well” I said, and she replied “You’ve got that right!” Her face was pretty, engaging you might say, though she was over-large below the neck in the opinion of those fashion magazines my wife read when I still knew her, before she divorced me, took most of my money, the children and moved to the house of my ex-boss shortly after I was sacked.
I am not a bitter man, that takes too much energy but I am lost if you can understand that: alcohol is my holiday and strangers provide my only solace: “The Falcon” was club where I went to gain a sense of company. Nuala had that friendliness which says “This is just brochure” in case you tried to take her literally, but I took her literally anyway.
One day, driven by madness, I spent part of my twenty pounds on a cloth and general polisher and half way through my drink, rose from my table and began cleaning the surfaces near me. “What are you doing she said?” and she sounded more puzzled than angry which I liked: “I stopped asking that years ago” I said while moving to clean the next table. “You’re mad” she said and I replied “I’ve just discovered that” but somehow, despite the clumsiness and the sense this was the last card I had to play she smiled and added “Crazy mad” and I smiled because she had it in one.
Each week I returned, ordered my drink and then cleaned some tables, watched in bewilderment by her and that scattering of undirected souls who inhabited the bar in mid-afternoon.
One day I said, “I cannot buy you a meal or do anything grand but we could get some fish and chips when you get off” and she said “We could” and so we did.
Through her I also got a job at the same bar, working in the evening when they are busier and my income is now £35 a day. Between us we are rich if you don’t want foreign holidays and sometimes, on an evening off we can afford a meal: contentment has visited me and Nuala is the angel who holds the door open to that blessing. I love her and she accepts me willingly.