I am in a taxi, speeding away from logic, reason, my friends and safety, with someone I only met about two hours ago. Harry, apparently. Hello Harry.
I don’t know how long we’ve been in the car or where we’re going, but I don’t recognise the houses flashing by – and I have lived in London a long time. He makes a couple of attempts to lay a kiss on me, but the taxi seems to lurch round corners at just the right/wrong moment, plus I’m swaying like the clumsiest waiter on the Titanic.
Just as the neighbourhood starts to look even less familiar, he bids the taxi to stop, and we get out on a fairly rundown high street. I expect him to take a key out of his pocket and open one of the scuffed doors, but instead he says he “just needs to get something” and slopes off.
Could he buying drugs? For the first time, I start to worry – am I about to be chem-sexed?
I can’t think what he’s after at this hour. Condoms are not a consideration, because I won’t be doing that with a total stranger, thanks.
Could he buying drugs? For the first time, I start to worry – am I about to be chem-sexed? And then he suddenly stops – I hold my breath – before striding right into a chip shop. Oh.
My stomach heaves; I tell him I’ll wait outside. It certainly puts Harry in a different light – nobody has ever broken off the promise of copping a feel of me to get food before.
I stand on the pavement, wobbling slightly, until he comes out, armed with a huge portion of fish and chips and a battered sausage. I’m amazed.
“Are you going to eat all that?” I gasp.
He looks down at what is essentially a meal for six. “Well, yeah. I’m a growing boy.”
We start to walk down the street. It is our first time under a bright light, so I look at him anew.
“Just how much growing have you got to do?”
“I’m 26,” he shrugs. “What about you?”
Quick as a flash, my first lie of the evening: “30”.
I wait for him to start laughing, but he doesn’t, so I exhale and we carry on.
“Older man, eh?” he says. “Like it.”
Silence from the peanut gallery, thank you.
After what seems like for ever but has actually been two minutes, we arrive at a rundown block of flats. Every window-frame has paint peeling off it in lumps, the entrance hall is filthy and the stairwell hasn’t seen a broom since Kylie last had a number 1.
Eventually there’s a jangle of keys. He lets us into a dark hallway that smells strangely. I can’t quite place it.
“There’s no light,” he whispers. “Just go straight ahead.”
I stumble my way in what I assume is a straight line and find a door handle. I walk into a room lit by a few candles. It’s a lounge. There is very little furniture, save for a sofa, on which there is a girl, sleeping under a puffa jacket. She is surrounded by fag packets and cups.
“Erm, Harry?” I call out.
He appears behind me. “Ah, shit,” he says. “I thought she’d be in bed. We’ll have to go to my room.”
“Wouldn’t that be better anyway?” I ask.
“Um, yeah. You just wait there. I’ll put the lights on.”
He darts off and leaves me in the hallway. I am really starting to sober up now – all my realities are coming back to me at once. I am in a stranger’s flat, in the pitch dark, God knows how far away from home. I feel the stupidest I have felt in… oh, I don’t know. Since I last did this.
Just as I am trying to work out how to get back to the front door, another door creaks open like Dracula’s coffin and there is a vague idea of light, with Harry’s silhouette in the middle of it. I move toward him with all the enthusiasm of an aristocrat walking into a plague pit.
The room may as well be illuminated by a cigarette dangling from the ceiling.
Once I’m in, it’s pretty hard to tell where I am. It’s a bedroom, I imagine, but I may also have come through a portal into a junk shop. There is stuff absolutely everywhere, but I’ve no idea what it is, as Harry’s room is lit by two tealights, both ten miles up, atop a huge stack of what I think are books.
“Harry, why is it so dark in here?”
He lights another tea light. The room may as well be illuminated by a cigarette dangling from the ceiling.
“Fucking hell,” I say. “Where is the light switch?” As I make to find out, I trip over something, something that moves, and then hear a seriously perturbed miaow come out of the darkness.
“Is there a cat in here?”
I hear Harry scratch himself. “Very possibly. Look, don’t turn the light on.”
“Don’t be silly,” I snort, finally finding it on the wall.
“No, really don’t…”
He is soon drowned out by my exclamation of surprise and horror as the light switch fizzes like a firework. I leap away from it.
“I did say,” he sighs. “Look, I’ll put a lamp on.” I feel a furry tail brush against my leg.
Suddenly, the room is bathed in light, and I very quickly see why Harry was eager to keep me in the dark. It is the room of a hoarder, a mad man. The type of guy who becomes emotionally attached to an old baked bean can. The shelves – at least I think they are shelves – are piled high with books, magazines, jars, coffee cups, boxes, tins and, in one corner, what looks like a metric tonne of old telephones. The wallpaper is desperately trying to escape from the walls and the ceiling sags like an old scrotum.
There is a television, its screen thick with enough dust to make Bruce Forsyth a dozen toupees and, on top of it, tails swishing menacingly, three cats, regarding me with ill-concealed loathing.
The one tidy part is the bed, which has been made and looks clean. I guess Harry reckoned if he managed to guide me onto it by candlelight, I’d be too preoccupied with him to notice the chaos around me. I flop down onto it in disbelief.
Within two seconds he lets out a vinegary belch inches away from my face.
Harry noisily finishes off the last of his chips then gets onto the bed with me. He touches my face tenderly and for a second I am lost in it, but then I hear his stomach grumble and within two seconds he lets out a vinegary belch inches away from my face.
It is just the smelling salts I need. I need two minutes to decide whether I really want to do this.
“I need to use the bathroom,” I say, weakly.
“It’s straight across the hall,” he smiles, then pulls me toward him and finally gets that first kiss. It is very nice indeed, but I can still taste the salt and vinegar and have to pull away sooner than I’d like. I curse my lack of chewing gum.
I schlep to the bathroom, my hangover starting to kick in. I find the light cord and pull it, expecting instant electrocution, Instead a dim bulb sputters into life and I quickly realise I am standing in hell.
The walls are covered in black mould and the room reeks of it. The bathtub is brown and has almost certainly been the scene of much dismemberment. The shower curtain hangs pathetically, the Turin shroud swinging from a meat hook. There is toothpaste all over the sink and the pedestal mat around it is hairier than a thousand coconuts.
If this is Harry’s idea of interior decorating, what terrors lurk for me with his personal grooming?
I peer at the loo, desperate to pee. My desolation is vast. Suddenly, a bang at the door. A voice. “Harry!” it cries. I am guessing the girl in the lounge has arisen at last. “Will you hurry up? I need a shit.”
I blanch like Margo Leadbetter in an abattoir and open the door to push past her, propelling myself forward and landing next to what I hope is the exit. I spin round again to see Harry standing there.
“You all right?”
“I’ve… I’ve got to go, Harry,” I gasp. I think he’s disappointed; it’s too dark to tell.
“Why?” he asks.
“Because, well…” I groan. “I’m just too sober.”
And, like magic, I feel the latch and pull open the door, stepping out onto what was the filthiest stairwell in the UK upon my arrival, but now seems fit to eat from. I rush down it, ignoring Harry’s calls and flop out of the main door to see a bus that goes right past my house pulling up to a stop.
I clamber on it, elated, and realise I must’ve been really, really drunk in that taxi.
I live four streets away
Stats: 5’ something, 26, brown/blue, God knows
Post-date rating: 4.5/10
Date in one sentence: Cleanliness is next to sex-godliness.
Image: Federico on Flickr