“Do you want to come in?” The French art dealer is pulling downwards at his t-shirt, a little embarrassed at his choice of underwear.
You're one of us now.
Voicenotes, and more recently, video essays have long been the storytelling medium of choice in my group chats. Messy dates, tragic moments, and adorably mundane updates all get transported across borders and time zones in two, five, or nine minute summaries, played and replayed on our phones. In these media files, my friends’ voices gush animatedly into my headphones, turning bus rides and dreary queues into cozy dinner parties where secrets are shared over dessert and everyone decides that it’s too early to catch the last metro home. This column is my attempt to send a written voice note to you, wherever you are. You're one of us now.
18:35pm - I’m sweating a little in my leather blazer as I march up a hill in Hampstead, one of London’s poshest neighbourhoods, in late July. I’m already running late and I sigh as the street splits into a fork, forcing me to stop and zoom in on Google maps to check which one contains number 14. I’m picking up Jules*, a 23 year old art dealer who, earlier today, had informed me that he, although rather hungover, would “love to see me one last time” before I left for Amsterdam the next morning.
18:43pm - He buzzes me in and appears in the corridor, smiling and rubbing his eyes. As he kisses me on both cheeks I see that he is predictably, rather badly dressed. It’s strangely enough something I find quite charming. I’ve always been attracted to people who contain a dichotomy of some kind and although he’s a 23 year old art dealer (and French to boot) he had seemed pretty down to earth and unbothered by a lot of the glitzier aspects of his job on our first date. In my eyes, his slightly sloppy dress sense in some way reflected that humility. He slides a mismatched brown coat over a stained black hoodie and we head out the door.
19:04pm - Jules directs me toward a gastropub and as we sit down we talk about our respective trips. I go back to uni in Amsterdam the next day and after the weekend he’s being sent to Paris indefinitely for work. Though I’m excited for mine, he seems apprehensive about his imminent journey.
19:25pm - My eyes refocus on Jules’s face once more as I realise that I’ve zoned out for at least 3 minutes. He’s monologuing passionately to me about bitcoin and seems to be directing the speech at a space just above my right ear. I nod and order us two more pints.
19:48pm - “Well at the end of the day, our job is about money. It’s about selling an object for as much as we can and putting it in the hands of a buyer who will look after it.” I’ve just asked Jules what he likes about his job and although I respect his honesty, his answer makes me bristle a little. He seems oblivious to my displeasure and launches into a new speech weighing the pros and cons of “Ye’s old stuff vs his newer shit, like ‘God Is’.”
20:23pm - We pass a playground on our way out from the bar half shadowed and half lit by the pink light that’s streaming through the gap between two high-rise flats. The golden filter makes me feel unexpectedly romantic and I pull him through the yellow gate and order him to take a seat at the other end of a see-saw shaped like two dolphins nose diving toward each other.
As we giggle and try to launch each other higher, I realise that neither of us has laughed much in the last hour.
"“Well at the end of the day, our job is about money. It’s about selling an object for as much as we can and putting it in the hands of a buyer who will look after it.”
20:35pm - I subtly slide on my mask as I get my phone out to order an Uber to the pub for some goodbye drinks. It was a nice date in the end but I’m not really sure either of us are ready for a goodbye kiss. As the car pulls up, we awkwardly chest bump as he goes in for la bise and I go in for a hug.
20:36pm - I enter the back of the car and look for my seatbelt in a fragrant haze of Dove deodorant.
“Sorry babe, just had some cheese and onion crisps and didn’t want to stink up the car!”
My Uber driver, Hannah*, is grinning at me from the front seat as she sprays the car liberally.
“I didn’t get a single moment to eat today, it's just been so busy!”
“No worries, I’ve actually got some chips leftover from this date, do you want them?”
“Are you serious?”
I pass her the greasy, salty packet rescued from the pub.
“Amazing, thank you. So tell me... how was the date? That goodbye was uncomfortable.”
Hannah raises an eyebrow at me through the rear view mirror.
“I know! I think it’s a Covid thing. I don’t know how to greet or say goodbye to people normally anymore. The date was good...I just think we might be better as friends though, I’m not sure we feel that spark and he’s a little serious.”
“What’s his sign?”
I smile at this international code for: “we’re about to dive into some barstool psychology and a fucking good time.”
20:45pm - Hannah is in the middle of telling me about her Capricorn husband and how they were friends before they started dating.
“Sometimes it’s better! You can take the time to really get to know each other, that’s what I always tell my daughter. But anyway, you never told me his sign!”
20:48pm - “Allo? What’s up?”
“Hello! This is Hannah, Tiffany’s Uber driver. We need to know your sign, when’s your birthday?”
“4th February...Aquarius I thin-”
“Ok thanks Jules! Byeee”
We cackle at each other as Hannah whizzes us past Regents Park.
9:00pm - As we discuss the various pros and cons of Aquarius men I realise that there’s quite a high possibility that the Toyota Prius is powered by the sheer joy of our blossoming friendship. I find myself wishing that the car journey was longer.
9:04pm - Hannah’s pulling up to the pub and we’re still laughing uproariously about exes, life and the libido of earth signs.
“Ugh you’re so fun, i wish you could come to the pub with me’
“I know babe, it’s been a pleasure”
“..wait, why don’t you?”
“Come to the pub with me. Right now.”
It was one of those rare, oxymoronic half-challenges. The ones where you desperately want the other person to rise to the challenge yet would fully understand if they don’t. I imagine that people who fight outside of bars have often felt the same way.
9:10pm - Hannah and I are spread out over a leather booth screaming at her friend Nathan over the phone who can’t believe that Hannah had truly turned her Uber app off and skipped into the pub with me.
“You’re mad, Hannah.”
We beam at each other.
9:15pm - “How do you guys...know each other?” Hannah and I take great pleasure in re-telling the story of our meet-cute to my surprised friends as they file in one by one to the pub.
10:02pm - Henry* is telling me about his new job and out of the corner of my eye I see Hannah deep in conversation with a friend I’ve known since I was 17. Eavesdropping briefly, I hear the words: “well Cancers are just like that aren’t they?”
10:38pm - London’s number one Uber driver has just floated out of the pub and my friends and I are getting down to the business of getting drunk.
The air outside is muggy and warm and clusters of people laugh too loudly on the pavements surrounding the pub. I’ve always insisted that London on a warm summer’s night is incomparable and that’s partly because English people are pretty nutty. They are especially nutty when you give them several overpriced pints and tell them that they can leave the house for a drink without a coat. In the summer months, this creates a climate so pumped with frantic, unbridled energy that the air seems to literally grow heavier with drunken possibilities. Believe me when I tell you, that air is both dangerous and addictive.
12:00am - “Last orders!”
12:17am - I’m in another cab on my way back to the tree-lined street that splits in two. I seem to have inhaled too much of the city’s summer air and I’ve now decided to pull a Love Actually on Jules.
Looking back, I’m not sure why I did it, I don’t think we felt particularly strongly about each other but I found it sort of romantic that by that weekend I’d be on a train to Amsterdam and he’d be on another to Paris; our paths having crossed just briefly in the city we both only kind-of called home. Plus, Hannah had done a great job of championing the kind of friends to lovers narrative that had previously always eluded me.
12:24am - I push the buzzer next to Jules’ name and wait. “Allo?” I get a sudden fear that he may not be alone and consider running back to my waiting Uber.
“It’s Tiff,” he repeats to himself, sounding somewhat shocked. He buzzes me in and I walk down the dark corridor.
As I lean against the doorframe I wonder if I look ‘rakish’ or ‘deranged.’ For the sake of my ego, I settle on rakish as the white paneled door swings open, revealing Jules with his mid length hair in a bun, tighty-whities and a maroon V-neck on. Netflix is projected on the screen behind him. My previous anxieties about him having company are quickly assuaged.
“Do you want to come in?” He’s pulling downwards at his t-shirt, a little embarrassed at his choice of underwear. I shake my head and tell him I just wanted to say goodbye properly. We kiss and he tells me that he’s not sure how long this job in Paris would last but that he’d like it if I came over to visit sometime.
12:38am: I’m recounting my pit stop to my second Uber driver of the night and though he is rather more stoic than Hannah he is, nonetheless, similarly full of wisdom: “Better you do it than regret not doing it.”