By Cliff Carroll
Colm could feel his black cotton socks soak up the moisture from the almost grey slush he had just stepped into. He was used to it by now from wearing the same old, worn pair of Nike shoes for the past two years. Shoe laces not tied, just tucked in at the side. It was mid December. Sleet was falling from the sky and college was finished for the Christmas holidays. The streets were black with people satisfying their consumer needs. It was chaos, and Colm loved every minute of it. It had been one year and four months since Colm moved to Dublin city. Originally from rural Mulranny in Co Mayo, he wasn’t used to the pandemonium attached to the festive season in the capitol. His sombre, almost grey eyes stared back at him as he watched his reflection in the shop windows as he strolled down Grafton Street.
As he walked he thought about Amy, his sister who stayed at home to continue with her culinary career she was destined to have. She was a deli assistant in Spar who barely made it past her leaving cert. He thought about his friends, most of whom stayed at home working with their parents, aunties, uncles at whatever they could get. The rest of them are living the dream. They were working minimum wage in pubs and restaurants in Australia and America, only to be never heard from again. Colm often felt guilty for making promises he had no intention of keeping, like going home for Christmas, keeping in contact with school mates or following his friends to New York. He reached the gates of Trinity College and turned left, up Dame Street.
The feeling of anonymity is something Colm really enjoyed. He liked to play a game. He watched people walk in and out of shops with their bags, creating lifestyles and back stories for them. Depending on his mood he would wonder how their day was going, or think to himself “I’ll never see these people again”. He took a cigarette out of his pocket. He placed it between his dry cracked lips and lit the tip with the lighter he stole from the girl beside him in his geography lecture.
He looked up and noticed bright red curls bouncing up and down. He crossed the road immediately. He knew the red curls belonged to Megan, the first friend Colm had made when he moved to Dublin. The friendship quickly turned to sex. It lasted for seven months when she finally ended it. It was Colm’s first relationship and he had never been so relieved when it ended. He felt an obligation to stay in the relationship. Megan was the first person to show any kind of physical attraction towards him. As Colm was passing Costa at the corner of Central Bank the thoughts of an Americano were beginning to sound good on a winter afternoon. He decided to turn back and treat himself as he often did. It was another chance to fill in the details of a stranger’s life.
Upon entering he scanned his surroundings to pick out his target for the next thirty minutes. There wasn’t anyone of interest bar one of the baristas behind the counter. He recognised her as she had served him several times before. She always smiled while he placed his order. Colm liked to think she fancied him but she probably just had good customer service skills. He took a seat opposite the counter where he could have a clear view of his subject. She was of African descent with short black curly hair. She was about 5’7” in height, had a slim figure and was no more than 23. He thought for a moment if it would be racist to base her back story on stereotypes and thought again if it was racist that he thought that in the first place. He decided to name her Julia.
A butterfly tattoo was visible on Julia’s neck. A black outline with blue wings. She got it at the age of eighteen when she moved away from home for college to remind her of her younger siblings. She’s in her final year at NCAD, studying hard for a degree she knows won’t get her far but she enjoys it. She’s been working as a barista since she moved to Dublin. She’s looking for a second job. Working 20 hours a week isn’t enough to pay for rent and art supplies….
Twenty minutes have passed and Colm’s nicotine craving returns. With half a cup of coffee left he asks “Julia” for a take away cup and he’s on his way. Colm is greeted by a sharp wind, the type that brings tears to your eyes. He walks briskly around the corner to Central Bank and stood beneath the shelter. Colm took out his cigarette box and began the ritual. Between his cracked lips, light the tip, stolen lighter. Central Bank was unusually empty for December.
There was a women standing at the bus stop wearing a dark green coat and holding six bags from clothing shops. She had that “Can I speak to a manager” vibe. She was accompanied by a tall overweight teenage boy with long black hair tied back, huge headphones and a guitar strapped to his back. Colm wondered if they were related until the 40 bus arrived and the overweight teenager disappeared into the crowd on the bus. The women now on her own. Colm turned and noticed a young man sitting on the benches by the bank. He had jet black shaggy hair and a stubbly face. His skin looked tan, possibly Spanish or Brazilian. He looked to be 6’2”, had broad shoulders and deep brown eyes. He was the type of guy Colm would generally go for. He was holding a cigarette in one hand and a Costa cup in the other, like Colm. Strangely enough the man was wearing an old, scruffy pair of Nike runners, again just like Colm’s. He couldn’t resist, he had to play the game one more time.
Hugo is 27 and originally from Madrid. He lived there with his mother, father and two younger brothers. He didn’t go to college. He left school at the age of 16 He had no choice but to find a job to support his family since they didn’t have much. He worked as a waiter for 6 or 7 years in different restaurants. Eventually he was able to save enough money to come to Ireland. Here he could get a job easily with his hospitality experience. Hugo thought of the better wages he would make, he could send money back home to help his family. Eventually his brothers got old enough to work for themselves and there was no need for Hugo to send back money. He was free to spend his money on what he liked. He applied to colleges in Dublin. It was his dream to have a degree in business and accounting. Hugo had been accepted to DCU as a mature student in September and is now enjoying his Christmas break. He’s waiting at Central Bank for his girlfriend to arrive so they can do some Christmas shopping. Wait Hugo isn’t waiting for his girlfriend.. what if he’s waiting for a boyfriend?
What if this character is gay?
Colm thought to himself. Colm was rarely attracted to men and he was a little bit ashamed when he was. This was a new concept for him. He had been playing this secret game ever since he moved to Dublin, but not once had he ever considered a character to be gay.
Colm noticed “Hugo” turn his head and make eye contact with him. He then quickly turned his head back a stared down at his Costa cup. Colm took another drag from his cigarette and began to think to himself. He tried to figure out this little mystery inside his head. Was Hugo gay? He didn’t look very gay with his dirty Nike runners. He then looked down at his own shoes, the exact same filthy shoes. Colm took another look at Hugo. He had a profile view of him. As he continued to gaze he began to realise he was attracted to him. Colm had only recently learned he was attracted to men, he had never even said it out loud before. He thought about what it would be like to kiss a man. To kiss Hugo.
Colm took another drag from his cigarette, it was coming close to the end. He ran a scenario through his head of starting a conversation with Hugo, how would he react if he asked him. “If he were gay would he be interested in me?” “What if he gets offended or laughs at me?” “What if he gets aggressive or if he’s homophobic?”. Colm took another drag. There was one drag left. Colm thought to himself, “I’ve never even spoken to a gay person before, how would I start a conversation with him?” He took the final drag and dropped the cigarette on the ground. Colm mustered up the courage to walk over to Hugo and try start a conversation. He stood on the cigarette butt to extinguish the tiny embers and began walking slowly towards the 27 year old Spanish Business man. Colm’s heart started racing. He became light headed and felt like he was going pale.
Hugo turned his head and noticed Colm come closer. He began to smile at him and look into his eyes. Colm saw this and it gave him a bit more confidence. He began to walk a bit faster, now smiling himself. He was now within three feet of the mysterious Hugo wondering “What do I even say?” He finally reached his destination. He opened his mouth to introduce himself but no words could come out. Colm’s smile disappeared from his face as he looked down at Hugo’s take away Costa Cup. A feeling of embarrassment and disappointment overwhelmed him. Hugo’s cup had no coffee in it, just a handful of copper coins.