He was lonely in a busy pub but didn’t sit alone, nothing like that. ‘Life and soul of any party?’ Some might have said. I felt, at the bottom of all his talk, there was a stone lodged in his heart. His voice rattled along but the eyes were the giveaway. No-one really knew him. He wore the same jacket, a Harris tweed affair, frayed at every edge.
I talked to him but not too much which seemed to suit him. I would leave him for an hour or so and he barely seemed to notice. He produced a ready-made smile, a flicker at the edges of his mouth and a slightly forced show of his teeth.
I let him be. We listened in silence as the bar’s music drifted which seemed to awake a vague distant memory. He nodded as if ready to begin a conversation, then retreated, but slowly began to reveal more of himself. His wife had left him. It was a bitter divorce. His face became a mask of hate. Any sign of bonhomie disappeared. He held my hand until it turned white. I slowly retrieved my fingers and was only too happy when he headed to the toilets. I looked for an escape.
The bar was almost empty apart from Jimmy sitting near the door mulling over the career he never had as a singer in a heavy metal rock band. His pint stood there as he examined its thin white smile of a head. Andrew’s Gold’s ‘Thank you for being a friend’ was playing quietly on the bar’s sensitive CD player. The next song on the compilation album I knew was, ‘Lonely Boy’. It would be too much of a cliché to say it captured Jimmy’s mood perfectly, but I sensed it did. I left him to his memories. The bar manager was worrying over a book on Sunderland’s football team. Nothing new there I thought. He was my escape committee. We talked and told old jokes and all was perfectly happy in our world.
‘Harris tweed’ man returned with a strange look. He was perhaps re-living his divorce. A young lad and girlfriend entered the bar which seemed to spark his held-in rage. He was looking closely at the couple and then staring in the bar’s mirror, I knew something was going to happen. He grabbed the young lad by the throat.
The next few moments saw an explosion of violence. ‘Harris tweed’ was dragged from the bar in minutes of arm wrestling by a powerful customer who had stood happily at the bar before springing into life and escorting our man out of the door in the nearest I have seen to a flash.
The bar manager and wife threw out bonhomie as if this eviction had not really happened. The young couple looked bemused sitting beside their arm-wrestling saviour who said nothing of the fight. I suspect they really began to believe it was some kind of apparition.
I finished my third pint, headed for the hills, well home, and beyond the church the falling sun was glorious.
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