I always thought that the most obvious indicator of no longer being part of the youth movement was spending one’s Sunday afternoon at the local shop, ticking off a list containing items that needed replenishing in one’s pantry. And as I stood in the cheap wines aisle at Lidl on a Sunday afternoon, I knew my time had come. Of course, it wasn’t called the cheap wines aisle, but the suspiciously pink and fruity-looking rosé bottled priced at £1.39 recounted a different story.
I stacked my trolley with the suspiciously priced wine bottles and headed over to the cheese aisle. Glass(es) of red wine and strong cheese, what more do you need of a quiet evening at home?
I wasn’t playing the part of ‘sad, lonely spinster’, no. In my capacity as the only lecturer in the Political Science and International Studies department at my University who cared about the Politics Society, I had been assigned the task of hosting a panel discussion about compulsory voting in the UK, and in a fit of brainstorming I had gone on to suggest that perhaps we ought to host a reception with food and drink after. The NUS had taken me up on it and granted me a generous £80 to accomplish this task. Thus it was that I had ended up at Lidl. The students had a lot to worry about, a 3000-word essay was due that week. I could help with the shopping.
As a lecturer, I didn’t fancy myself as part of the Youth movement anymore anyway. I didn’t have the energy or inclination to go out-out every other night. The last time I had been out-out had been at Chloe’s birthday.
Chloe was a Ph.D. student in my department and given that we were both in the same age group, she had sought out my help to plan a night out for her birthday with some Ph.D. friends of her own and it would have been rude not to invite me in the end. I had hoped she wouldn’t, but she did and I had ended up at a hip bar in Soho, well outside of my comfort zone and well past my bedtime on a cold night in January without a coat.
It wasn’t that I hadn’t been in the hip parts of Soho before. Of course, I had. I wasn’t a saint at University. I had many a story to tell these Ph.D. kids. But those days were behind me. It just didn’t suit my personality anymore. I wasn’t University Dara anymore, I was Dr. Dara Smith, office hours Sunday ad Tuesday.
There were remains of University Dara somewhere deep down, though. When she saw the cheap wine bottles, she did get excited there and imagined what it would be like to be back in halls, drinking everything and waking up the next morning for a run. I don’t know how she did it. She was a superstar, honestly.
Presently, I picked out a mature and an extra mature cheddar- mature for the reception, extra mature for my private wine nights. It was just as I turned towards the frozen meals section that I saw him.
It couldn’t be, could it? Could it be David? How long had it been? About five years, if not more. David had been gone for five years but now he was back in England.
I wanted to walk up to him, but my feet were somehow glued to the floor. I wanted to say something but something was clogging my throat. I couldn’t smile, I couldn’t even be surprised. What was David doing back in England?
I thought back to the night he had told me about an incredible opportunity that had come up in Canada and that he would be gone for two years, tops. It was far away and two years wasn’t a short time. ‘Two years is nothing’, I had said. ‘We’ll make it work.’
‘Why don’t you come with me?’ he had asked me. I couldn’t say no but I couldn’t say yes either. My family, my friends, my work, my doctorate; everything was in London. My silence gave my answer away.
My faith in our love had kept us together for a year after he left. I visited him during Easter, he visited me and his family for Christmas. And then one day, he said, things weren’t working out. The time difference between us was challenging. He hardly ever knew what I was doing or where I was. He couldn’t be blamed. Whenever he had some free time, I was busy with my Ph.D. dissertation. When I had time, he was at work. Two visits in one year was not enough. After a year of convincing ourselves that this was what we wanted, the illusion of happiness was shattered. ‘Perhaps if you’re ever in Canada, or if I come back to London, we could get back together’. It was a lot to leave to chance. The Universe hadn’t been particularly kind to me so I wasn’t going to hold my breath on this one.
When we broke up, I was miserable. I hoped he was too. I wanted him to be happy in his life but not just yet. I could barely focus on work, and I wondered, what was the point of breaking up if I’m not going to be able to focus on work? Work was the reason we broke up and now I don’t even have that. It took me a couple of months, but I pulled myself together and got back into it. The day I finally became Dr. Dara Smith, the only person I wanted to share the news with was all the way in Canada.
In a moment of weakness, I sent him a text. He might have seen it on my Instagram story but I didn’t want him to be just another story reply. I wanted him to be the important person he was in my life. I told him I was officially Dr. Dara Smith and lecturing at King’s College. He told me he was so proud of me and that he still thought about me. Did I think about him? Of course, I thought about him. I thought about him all the time. He told me he would earnestly wait for the day he could come back to London and be with me. For now, the opportunity was too good to miss.
When would it not be too good to miss though?- I had thought, but I hadn’t asked him out loud.
I scanned his face to determine if it truly was David and not just a figment of my imagination. It was the same black hair, the same glasses I had often made fun of and tried on and said ‘David, your eyesight really is awful’, to which he would say, ‘Did you think I wore these for shits and giggles? Of course, it’s awful!’, the same tall, broad man, whose hugs would make me feel like I was cocooning in a duvet. It truly was David.
I thought back to the first time we had met. It had been at Euston station, at Nando’s, of all places. I had been dropping off a mate, Jen, at the station who was heading back to Birmingham after a short visit to London and he had been waiting to board a train to Manchester. Jen had turned to the side and said, ‘Oh, that geeky geek is totally checking you out’, I had smiled and turned to look at David. David smiled at me and I smiled back. When Jen went away to the toilets, David waved and I waved back, signaling for him to sit with me.
‘Do you live in London or are you just visiting?’ I had asked him upfront.
‘I live here’, David had looked visibly confused.
‘Sorry, just, every time a guy chats me up, he isn’t from here, and then it becomes weird and pointless, you know?’
After his short trip to Manchester, we had gone back to the same Nando’s for jokes and dated each other for two years before Canada happened. Where the rest of the world swooned over Justin Trudeau, I held him single-handedly responsible for taking away the love of my life.
I could walk up to David, but what could I say? ‘Hey! Remember when you said that if you get back to London, we could get back together? Are you back for good? Is this our chance to get back together? Why didn’t you call me when you came back?’
I made up my mind. If there was ever going to be a moment for me and David, it was going to be now. I chuckled at the thought of our first encounter being at Nando’s and this, our chance encounter, being at Lidl. Both such plain places, and both now of significance. I could sense my poor nerves having a fit.
Just as I started to walk towards David, I saw a shadow approaching his body. A woman, walking towards him with what looked like a frozen pizza.
‘Oh, my God, I love this place, like literally, this pizza was $2! What even is this place?’ she said with the strongest Canadian-or so I assumed- accent I had ever heard.
David chuckled and tossed the pizza into the trolley.
‘Alright, we still need toilet paper’, the woman said and waltzed towards the large stack of loo rolls and kitchen towels.
I froze. We? We still need toilet paper? Canadian accent in London. Had David brought home a Canadian floozie? Is that why he had never got in touch with me?
I turned around before he could see me. A hundred Lidl stores in London and this is the one he came to? At the same time as me, and with a Canadian floozie? Was David in on this with the Universe to make me feel worse than I already did about losing him? Was I the only one who was ever affected by the breakup? Was I the biggest idiot to have stopped dating, holding on to the hope that one day David would come back and we would get the happily ever after we should have had before he went away to Canada?
I didn’t want to see him anymore. Seeing him on his own and not being asked to get back together would have been fine. People break up and move on, it’s normal. What he had said to me about waiting earnestly to come back to London? That was years ago. Of course, his feelings changed since then. Of course, he started dating someone else. He was allowed to move on. Why hadn’t I moved on?
I suppose I had just assumed that at some point he would come back to London and we would resume from where we had left off. I hadn’t even thought about him dating someone else. He could have been dating this whole time. He could have been on a dating app. He could have met someone at a train station like he had met me. Someone from work, perhaps. David moved on.
I have to move on, too, don’t I? Well, this is just super-duper-brilliant.
I left the trolley and rushed out of there. Luckily, London is full of weirdos anyway so when a stranger passes by in a rush, crying, no one bats an eyelid.