Jodie was a guy I met outside the post office on Russell Square one evening in January 2001. He dropped an envelope, which landed by my feet. A bashful ‘Thank you for picking that up’ turned into a conversation, a drink, an exchange of phone numbers and a Proper Date the following weekend.
Jodie was a kindred spirit. He was one of those inspired students. He lived in the zillions of books he had to read for his politics degree, his thoughts heavy with the Black Man’s struggle. He even went the whole nine yards and read stuff his professors dared not recommend. For him, everything had political and moral significance. We would sit for hours mulling over something someone had said in a book or an article or an interview, comparing it against something somebody else had said, weighing them against what we thought, finding them both defective and moving on to the next exploding star.
It was his total disregard for what anyone thought of him that I found so utterly arresting. Once, as he waited for me to arrive at a rendezvous, I stood watching him from across the road, his quiet confidence, his mismatched clothes, his dreads. He was absorbed in a novel and suddenly burst out laughing, making passers-by jump. I remember thinking ‘You make me follow you’ because the only ones that capture my attention are the ones that don’t care.
Skip to August. It was almost time to pack my bags, to collect my passport from the Syrian Embassy and to beg a lift to Heathrow. Jodie was refusing to meet up with me. Three days to go and I called him one evening as I walked passed that same post office. I got his voicemail instead. ‘I’m leaving in two days,’ I must have said. ‘I haven’t seen you in a week. Don’t you want to say goodbye?’
He called back at the wrong time. When I got out of the tube at the other end of my journey, his voicemail was waiting for me. ‘I don’t think it’ll be good for me to see you. I mean, a year is a long time.’
I can laugh at it now. I can understand why he did it. I can even thank him for it. But at the time his way of doing things filled me with rage, which eventually subsided when I got to Damascus. By then, I missed him.We went out last night – Ali and I – to a ‘Mediterranean night’ at Enclave on Brewer Street. Quite unexpectedly, I won a jar of sweets in the raffle. The DJ, who called out my number, recognised me from Facebook. By that point I was so drunk on Stella and JD&coke that being recognised by a DJ really impressed me. I needed the distraction: bodies gyrating to the camp tones of Arabic and Turkish pop; the Brazilian that chatted me up; the Kazakh, his mad cousin and Jewish fag hag who turned every tune the DJ played into a celebration of their homeland (they invited us to Fire but we declined); Shap and his Nigerian friend; the black guy outside Centrepoint (according to Ali: ‘He looked you up and down. What’s wrong with you? Talk to him. He’s so hot I’m getting a hard on!’); the other black guy on Charing Cross Rd whose last word in a shouting match with a white guy was, ‘My dick’s bigger than yours’ (I offered him some of my sweets – ‘It’ll calm you down’ – but his friends only laughed at me); and, finally, the cabaret that is the No 25 night bus.