I could describe a single meeting in a thousand pages, and a hundred years in two lines.
It’s all relative to perception, I think.
The year I met Sylvester was the year I also broke both my legs in a terrible cycling accident. I never wanted to go into the details of it all, but it was ominous. I was happy and carefree sailing down the hill, the wind rushing through my hair and over my face, the sky was brilliant because the clouds were flushed with peaches and pinks, the last hurrah of a setting sun, and my legs had never worked so well, and they never would work as well as in that blissful, euphoric moment. I don’t care to think of what happened next, it doesn’t do me any favours and makes me wallow.
A girl is never any good at anything if she is an experienced wallower.
I suppose I would not have met Sylvester if I hadn’t broken both my legs. As it happened, I was lying in bed mostly for six months straight, unable to walk anywhere. The first three months were a living nightmare, and I was in a hospital bed for most of the time because the doctors weren’t sure about my spine.
I shared a room with six other women and girls, but it was interchangeable. They came and went, and nobody stayed as long as I did. During my sixth week, I lay with both my legs in a cast, staring at the ceiling until a tear rolled out of the corner of my eye and slid down the side of my head and burrowed into my hair. It was a tear of complete boredom. I wasn’t sad at all, I was just idle, listless; yawning but not tired.
‘That must be what it means to be bored to tears,’ I thought.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I had plenty of visitors. My friends from school came around every weekend, and we had a little party by my bedside. Eventually the bulk of them stopped coming but Tommy Hill came without fail, chattering about everybody and everything and keeping me up to date on classroom and playground politics. Samantha Briggs brought me my homework, and sometimes sat with me to do hers and explain what I had missed. I got tired of that quickly, though. It was kind of her but I just wished she would let up on all the studious talk. Her large blue eyes would blink blankly at me if I dared to ask what her plans were for the weekend.
‘Well, there is that Chemistry pop quiz we have on Tuesday, and Mondays are always bulky bag days so probably homework?! Why?! Is there a test I am missing?!’
I would roll my eyes and shake my head, letting her carry on, her monotonous voice drifting above my head and over up to the ceiling, her words jumbling together and mixing up, forming mountains and tumbling down, crashing like waves on a shore of slick, black rocks.
I was sitting up that day. My toast was ready on the table by my bed, and I was stirring a mug of tea whilst absently staring at the small monitor on the wall opposite, where an old rerun of a staticky sitcom buzzed and twitched its way through a dreary episode, every few sentences interrupted by shrieking laughter.
‘Oh, I like this episode,’ a voice said from the doorway. I turned to look. Peculiar boy, he was. A shock of silver hair over a shadowy face. He wore a terrifically baggy T shirt, almost like a dress, and the baggiest shorts you ever did see. They hung below his knees, and his shins were scraped something terrible. He had two dimples and he wasn’t even smiling, and his eyes were piercing and black. Blacker than the longest night in December.
He was wild and brown, an exclamation mark of a human.
Pushing a trolley into the room, he said cheerfully,
‘Snacks, sweets, magazines anybody?!’
Sarah in the bay opposite sat up and said, ‘Do you have the Guardian newspaper, love?’
‘Why, yes we do,’ he swooped down and lifted the newspaper from the bottom shelf of the trolley, waving it above his head in triumph. Like he had won a gold medal.
‘Here you go, sweetheart. That’ll be £2.50’
Then he winked at me.
I turned away, back to the sitcom, and took a sip of my tea. ‘Rude boy’, I thought. He had no business winking at me.
‘This is the episode where they jump off that cliff, isn’t it?’
I looked up at him again and saw him leaning backwards to see the screen. He glanced at me so I knew he was speaking to me.
‘I don’t know,’ I said, curtly.