Wednesday, 3 August 2016

An Empty Condom, An Empty Bed, And Subtext

I was in my university's union bar, trying not to let the music get to me while sipping my usual non-alcoholic cocktail. This was, of course, in my first year - I rarely went clubbing in my second, and in my third, I'd graduated more towards going to band three times a week and sex chatrooms when I had more time. I'd never really been clubbing before, but our union bar held weekly loud-music-and-getting-drunk nights. I went to dance for a couple of hours (on my own), drink things without alcohol in (on my own), kiss girls (on cheeks and hands and, occasionally, shoulders), and check out cleavages (with 47 on more than one occasion). Everyone went, and so did I.

Keeping in line with my life from the age of 18 onwards, I was perpetually single, and to be frank, the idiots getting off with other idiots on the dance floor were offending me. Not because they were getting off, exactly; I was absolutely au fait with the amount of sexual tension there was in a bunch of rowdy students. Nor was I offended that they were doing all this in public view: it made for an amusing spectacle. It's just that the dance floor was meant to be used for dancing, in my opinion. I tended to thrash around a bit, sprawling mass of limbs and hair that I am, and if I had to bump into one more kissing couple...

I weaved through the heaving mess of saliva and grunting and noticed, among other things, a discarded condom on the floor. Durex. It was still sealed in its packet, and I naturally picked it up (because I am a sucker for free things I find on the ground). It looked fine to me when I inspected it - no rips or tears in the packaging. Still felt relatively fresh, and it was well in date. Had probably just fallen out of someone's back pocket, I reasoned, slipping it into mine add to my own stock when I got back to my room.

"Have you met my friend Laura?" asked a girl I vaguely knew from sight. I knew a lot of the girls in my year; they all seemed to know me: I was the dancing idiot. Out of a mixture of courtesy and curiosity, I followed her finger, turning around... and there she was. 

Laura. Blonde hair cascading over her shoulders in countless, messy curls, sparkling blue eyes, nice body shape, and a cheeky, attractive quality. There was something ineffable about her - she was, as an unknown quantity, being given a bit of a wide berth by everyone else in the club. Drawn inexorably into her aura, I shifted uncomfortably and managed to rearrange my face into my default ‘flirting’ smile, hoped it wasn't too much of a grimace, and said hello.

The rest of the evening passed in a Laura-shaped blur. I hovered. I bought her drinks. I tried to make polite conversation. Eventually, I flirted. It was, at the time, something I was good at - flirty without being threatening; male without being masculine; sexy without having sex. I just never seemed to know when to start or stop, or where to go with it. But she was receptive, seemingly hanging onto my every word. I ended up, after a while, telling her she was sexy, gave her a big hug, earning a dazzling smile...

My room floated into my head. She'd be welcome there. It was tidy. My bed wasn't too small. There were Pokémon posters on the wall; everyone loves Pokémon. I'd been so terribly lonely for months now...

"Okay, well, I’m going back to my room," I heard myself saying to Laura, who (as I noticed with a certain grim fascination) was now more than a little drunk - which was, of course, my fault. "I might get a bit bored, but this is tiring me out." And I've got a condom in my pocket, I reminded myself.

"Well, when you get into bed, text me," she said.

I didn't need her to elaborate on that. Nor did I want her to. What was unsaid was a far sight more exciting than what was actually said. I doubt, however, that it was her intention to ascertain that I'd made it home safely. I just needed to walk across campus and make it up the stairs to my room in student hall. Hardly a difficult task, especially when not hyped up on Coke-and-cordial and chips with cheese (I always, somehow, ended up getting chips with cheese...).

"Oh... but I don’t have your number," I said.

Yes, that really is what I said. Not "could I have your number?", "I'll give you my number!", "I look forward to it!", or even "I will!". But I was aware that this sexy girl had asked me to text her without giving me a means to do so. In the pre-Twitter, pre-Snapchat, Faceparty-dependent days of 2003, this could be a serious setback.

She shrugged, laughed, and didn't respond any more than that, taking another sip of whatever I'd bought her and beginning to groove to the phatter bassline. I could sense her slipping away, but I didn't have much of a choice - I'd said I was going. I hugged her goodnight and walked off, out into the cool night air, and into the kebab shop to get chips with cheese.

I never saw her again. But, on the plus side, I got a free condom.

[Heavily edited and re-posted version of an article originally posted elsewhere. Hooray, bonus content!]

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