by Nathan Evans
I thought of you. I always do these days when I go to Gatwick.
You would pick me up from the train station there in that abominable navy Vauxhall you were so proud of and over the years, in that tired and clichéd way, you became less of a colleague and more of a friend.
You used to tell me about your disastrous holidays. One time you had to spring your wife from a hospital in Italy to catch the plane home. She had slipped in the apartment and cracked her head. Another time you went to Kefalonia, which I am pretty sure is what prompted their first earthquake in decades. You lit candles and took refuge on the beach.
I would not have wanted to share a holiday destination with you. Your blue Vauxhall was eventful enough for me.
Since it no longer picks me up, I thread my way through the jubilant holidaymakers to catch the free bus to your old office. I remember, after your promotion, how the new work clothes screamed midlife crisis. But it was impossible to hold it against you. I remember the way you always said “I’ll be completely honest with you” – even though you were genetically incapable of being anything else. I remember, too, the “love” and “hate” tattoos on your knuckles. I can only guess how much you regretted those.
You made such awful tea. I never told you that.
I was always late home from Gatwick because you always offered to drive me back to the train station. We would walk to the car park and chat about nothing much while you smoked one of those tiny cigars that did for you in the end.
I sat, soaked and monochrome, in a pew at your funeral. Everyone who spoke said how nice you were. It made me angry because I knew there was so much more to you than that, but it wasn’t the place to say. Besides, they all knew that too and it didn’t stop them all being right. You were younger than my father.
In the office a couple of weeks ago I found some emails from you that I never deleted. It’s the first time I have ever read emails from a ghost and it startled me. Your voice jumped off the page, complete with spelling mistakes. You said you couldn’t wait to be in a meeting room with me again. It’s not, I have to tell you, a commonly declared ambition. You are positive you are going to beat this thing, you said, it’s only a matter of time.
Mark, I wish you had been right.
At the end of my meetings my train pulls out of the station, full of deflated tourists not quite ready to return to their lives. I’m not sure I am either. I suddenly catch my reflection shivering in a shaft of sunlight, a boy in a man’s suit, at once impossibly young and incredibly old.
Nathan Evans writes about himself. Even then he feels like he’s bluffing a lot of the time.