[Fiction] Passing Through — Ronan O’Shea

There was a train at 11:54 and another at 12:33 and given I’d to get all the way back to Holloway from Peckham – the best part of an hour – I was inclined to go for the earlier one, even though Marcus – who I’d not seen in a year – was only passing through the area.
Had I been on better form I would have considered the later train. But I had lived well on Saturday, and felt it now.
Marcus lived in Bristol, which was only an hour or so if you could afford the train, three if not, so I had not visited him in two years, and the previous year – when I had seen him – was a reunion of sorts, with other people involved, such that we didn’t get a great deal of time to catch up.

Later, I would realise that I avoided going down to Bristol in those years, as the pair of us, when together, had a habit of living well.

“I came up on Thursday night,” he said, maybe forty-five minutes after we’d sat down to catch up. “We got the train to Brighton, but I was sick the entire time.”
We was him and Dina, a sort-of girlfriend, or at least she was when last we’d spoken.
Facebook suggested a couple, though how devout and devoted to the matter either party was, I didn’t know.
“She works most weekends,” he told me.
I asked if he meant the pub he’d mentioned earlier.
“Yes,” he said, as the coffee machine whistled in the background, and I overheard a man at the counter asking for coconut milk.
“I can’t remember its name,” he said, laughing in a way that suggested he’d been told, and forgotten, many times.
He’d told me the nearest station. I knew the pub on the corner opposite, and so took a guess.
“The Horse & Hound?”
“That’s it,” said Marcus, sipping his coffee.
He was as forgetful now as when we had lived together abroad, those years ago, that felt like more. Marcus had rented the room beside mine, in a third-floor flat adjacent to the Vinohradská road, where I took the tram to work daily, and he sometimes did or didn’t due to profession and lifestyle.
I put some sugar in my coffee. 

“So we got the train down to Brighton for the weekend, only I was sick for most of the trip.”
“You’re sick a lot,” I said, and he said “yes” and said “I was really unwell last year” and the music in the background allowed us to avoid delving deeper into that, but he added “I haven’t come down with something like that in a while though.”

I noticed the song in the background, ‘Bad Habit’ by Foals. I looked at the counter. A man, the spit of Yannis Philippakis, was buying a sandwich, and shifting uncomfortably. I couldn’t tell if that was because it was him, with his song playing, if he was naturally awkward, or if it was simply another hip-looking, awkward-looking, Greek-looking man.
“I wanted us to do a weekend away,” said Marcus, smiling. “I’ve either been on it or out of it or off it the past few times she came down. Or we both have.”
I smiled.
“So, what did you have?”
“Some bug,” he said. “Fluey kind of thing. I was in bed all of Friday night, didn’t wake up ‘til twelve.”
“You never wake up ‘til twelve.”
“I’m an early bird now,” he said, pausing the way he always could for effect. “You wouldn’t find me in past half eleven.”
I laughed again, noticed the song had changed, and that the man who was maybe that singer paid, thanked the woman behind the counter, and left. 

 “Did you get to do anything while you were down there?” I said.
A light gust of autumn chill came in off the street, as a person came into the café, and a plate clattered, the barista apologising, insisting on cleaning up a minor flat-white spill. The customer said it didn’t matter.
“We had a few drinks on Saturday, in a local pub. And a few more back at the AirBnB. Sunday was super chill,” said Marcus. It was Monday now. “We didn’t get back ‘til eight last night. I stayed over at Dina’s.”
He sipped the last of his coffee.
“It’s a pity though. I wanted to get out and about. I lived in Brighton for a year.”
I nodded. I hadn’t seen him much since we both moved home the same year; to England, England actual, not the fantasy version we’d imagined while living abroad as foreign men, eyes rose-tinted for the home we’d run from; to live, and work, somewhere that wasn’t home. To be, and to be in a place unfamiliar.
Though I knew the fluey-type symptoms that came with us seeing one another, I regretted not seeing him more often. It was always sublime; I say, rose-tintedly, perhaps.

I sipped the sugary last of my coffee, making vague and unspoken plans to meet again, regretful we’d not in so long, though not with the same force of feeling I would later, when I wished to high-heaven I’d bitten the bullet and gone down to Bristol more, accepting the wagon jumping that came with the sublime.
Now, sat in the café, I forgot the general rundown feeling that had nagged at me all morning, and I wanted to stay; happy and nostalgic, with Marcus, who himself had to get a train, to Bristol. 

He looked well enough despite the illness he’d had, and there was a light scar on his lip from an infection that’d eaten away at it, more or less, a year or so before, such that it looked almost cleft now. He’d told me often of bacterial infections and colds and bugs that had laid him down a few days, a week, more, but he had never used the word addict before, so it was a surprise to hear, not long before the man who was or was not Yannis from Foals had walked out of the café door.
“Do you want one more coffee?” he asked, shortly after telling me all that, and I said I did, had it, with milk and sugar too, and we talked a little about my work and its ups and downs, veering away from the before, a knack of diversion we had often used in the past, on those days in which we’d go for walks near the flat, subtly navigating to the beer garden in the park under the illusion of a kickabout, laughing, as we tapped glasses, took out our smokes and settled in for and afternoon and night, accepting who we were.

Soon after, he said he really should get going, as he’d stuff to buy before his train home, and he did not know London well and was inclined to get lost. I told him I’d walk him towards the station, and Superdrug, where he had to buy something, I don’t remember what.
It wasn’t tablets, but something else. Skin related, I remember that, but anti-bacterial, moisturising, I can’t recall.
Either way, I was there when he bought it, telling me as we left that in addition to his illness, the bus back from Brighton had broken down, leaving them stranded by the motorway for two hours.
He laughed, and I laughed too, that last time I saw him, in September, the one just gone. He did have some bad luck, Marcus; self-inflicted and otherwise.
All the same, I said it was the worst of luck, that bus breaking down, knowing full well as I did that he’d had much worse, with no idea at the time that he still would.
We hugged and parted, with no clue that soon enough all I’d have left of Marcus were recollections like those we’d shared that morning, over the coffee, and the laughter.


Ronan O’Shea is an author and care worker based in London. In 2018, he released the autofiction memoir Bad Bread, Good BluesHis website can be found here.

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