“I want you to meet my ex,” Mehmet said to me. “He’s not like you. He’s really sensitive and fragile and although it didn’t really work out between us, I still care for him as a friend.”
Didn’t really work out between us? What the hell does that mean? It didn’t work out between you. That’s why we’re together. Otherwise you’d be together. You can’t date people in ratios.
“Oh, ok, I guess. But just for a meal or something, right?” I answered, doubt and insecurity dripping from my response.
“Yea, great. We’ll go somewhere in Shoreditch for Vietnamese. You’ll really like it!” Mehmet chimed in, willfully oblivious to any emotion in my answer.
Mehmet and I had met at our university gym, where he worked out and I would go swimming. That is, where he would go to be seen on the elliptical machines and hopefully pick up, and I would go swimming. That is, we passed each other on the way to the water fountain and then chatted on Grindr two days later. The exact chronology isn’t important; the fact of the matter is that he was my first boyfriend in London after I had moved here from Canada. He was entirely part of my new life as a Masters student in Turkish Studies. He was lefty, a PhD student, Azeri, a hipster, into (at least the idea of) keeping fit and a full-fledged Londoner. He was also seven years younger than me, and about a light-year less mature, which I worked hard to ignore.
Mehmet was pretty social. By which I mean that he had a fear of intimacy and one-on-one interaction not in the form of sex. A week didn’t go by when an alleged date for just the two of us suddenly had a new chum, acquaintance, friend, buddy, pal or just stranger off the street joining us for beer or food. I’m at the other end of the spectrum, and like my groups to be, well, minimal, so I guess I never really got comfortable with Mehmet, or opening up to him. Not that he would have listened to anything personal I had to say that didn’t begin with the phrase “Beyoncé really speaks to me because…”
We had agreed to meet at 7 at Hoxton overground stop, and then head on to the restaurant, which was around the corner. When I got there and found Mehmet, he told me that Davo, his ex (who should have started calling himself David about 20 years ago), would be about 15 minutes late.
“He’s probably working on something super important. He does all sorts of stuff like designing club nights,” Mehmet prattled on.
Yes, I thought, he’s probably stuck at the hospital clearing a blocked artery, or tending to the poor and destitute of Kolkata, like a modern-day Mother Teresa with an active sex life.
“Oh, that’s fine. Can we get some starters or something?” I said, trying to console myself.
“Of course not! That would be sooooo rude, Michael! We’ll wait for him to come before we get a table.” Mehmet was always so considerate for people who didn’t form part of the relationship.
Davo arrived 20 minutes late, evidently not from the office.
“Sorry, I totally got caught up with something I was watching on YouTube. A great set of music videos.”
“Oh my God! Beyoncé? MIA? Who are you into now, Davo?” Mehmet was beside himself with joy from the opportunity to find more pop idols to mimic in his daily life.
“MIA. She’s so meta. She reminds me of what I really want to accomplish in my life. I just feel so…. Sorry, I can’t talk about it, it makes me too emotional.” Davo suddenly choked up like a little boy who’s been told Old Yeller won’t be coming home.
“Of course, Davo. Oh, remember how we used to always joke about the way people used ‘literally’ wrong? Like, they would say that ‘he was literally on his way’, as if they were talking about a book or something. HAHAHAHA.” Mehmet was trying hard to keep Davo on the up.
“Do you think the Pho Hanoi is good? I feel like something hearty. Is that hearty?” I asked, trying to bring the conversation to just about the only thing during the evening that would interest me, the food.
“What?” Mehmet suddenly realized that I was there. “Um, yea, sure, order whatever you want.”
The night progressed, slowly. Most conversation chunks started with the phrase “Remember when we…”, which naturally meant I was left to shovel my food into my snout, or conjugate Turkish verbs in my head while pretending to be listening. Mehmet and Davo were too busy chatting to pay attention to their food, and my hunger was being fed by boredom and exclusion, despite the copious amounts of rice and beef I was cramming into my stomach.
“So, Michael’s looking to move in a couple of months,” Mehmet suddenly announced, as if this were a pre-arranged interlude. “Maybe he could live on your boat and watch it for you while you’re in Ibiza this summer.” I suddenly remembered that Mehmet had said Davo lived on a houseboat on Regent’s Canal not far from Shoreditch High Street. Also, that he occasionally had drug-fuelled sex parties with randoms he picked up on Grindr or Scruff or Growlr or a street corner. There were so many things that made me shudder when thinking about the suggestion, but, ever concerned with keeping Mehmet happy, I smiled and perked up, as if I had actually wanted him to suggest this.
“Nah,” Davo brushed off the offer. “I’d prefer not. I don’t really know what’s going on this summer, and, you know, I’ll probably be in and out of London anyway.”
“Oh, really? Hey, you should have another one of those parties like you used to, Davo.” Mehmet was now off his brilliant idea. “Remember, like the one where I wore those glittery high heels the entire night…”
Oh, for fuck’s sake! This was like being in that scene from Primary Colours when they go on about their mammas, but far less entertaining, and with much less food.
Another hour of this. A long, boring, senseless hour of reminiscences and in-jokes, most of which made me want to get up and scream “Take my wife – please!” and hurl Mehmet at Davo. The only thing that kept me looking over at that side of the table was Davo’s nearly untouched bowl of broken rice with chicken. I wanted it. I wanted it bad. I wanted it like I wanted to turn back the last three hours, avoid coming out to Shoreditch and spend my night reading Tintin comics, eating yoghurt and granola pots and lying around my room in my boxer shorts. It was so close, and yet so, so far away.
“Have you been dating anyone recently?” Mehmet finally got to the question that I knew he had wanted to ask all along. He wasn’t really interested in showing me off to anyone, just in showing them that he had a boyfriend, like a trench coat or a beanie that he wore in the height of May heat. Similarly, he wasn’t all that interested in Davo, he just wanted to know that he was, in some perverse way, irreplaceable.
“I’ve dated a couple of guys, but it’s just so hard. You know, people are so judgmental on the apps. They like, say all this stuff about not being into this type or that type, and they don’t get to see the real me,” Davo started complaining.
Yes, I thought, why can’t they see your deep and interesting personality after the cock shot? What is it about these youngsters that they don’t know how to build a close connection through an impersonal communication portal? And what the hell is going on with your meal? Who the hell orders something as delicious as that and just lets it sit there, awaiting its final end in a rubbish bin, or, more likely, the bowl of the next diner to order broken rice with chicken.
“I mean, it’s so hard. I just… Sorry, it’s getting me all emotional again…” David was on the verge of another scene from Bambi, and I was at my breaking point.
“Hey, uh, Davo, you gonna eat that food? Because it seems like you’re done with it, and I’m still kinda hungry…” I seized my chance. I would redeem this evening in some way.
Mehmet glared at me. Davo stared in slight disbelief. And I smiled – genuinely, for the first time all night – as my chopsticks reached across the table to grab that fatty piece of meat.