‘You know, I’d have recognised you anywhere, Mike. In a bar, in a street. You look just the same. Older, certainly.....but the same. What about me ? Do I look the same? Don’t hold back now. You can say it.’
I said he looked the same, but he didn’t believe me. And he had good reason not to. The Dave M- I remembered from all those years ago was a strong kid, a good six inches taller than everyone else, with a thick head of blonde hair.
‘I lost it all after divorce number two’ he said. ‘The bitch cleared me out. Gave her everything and, well, I don’t want to waste my breath talking about it. There’s a new woman in my life now: Linda. If I’d met Linda when I was twenty five, believe me, things would have worked out a lot different. She’s a chiropodist. Oils my feet for me. I’m not joking, Mike. I sit in front of the TV and she prepares a bowl of warm water and oils my feet.’ He pulled out a battered leather wallet, ‘This is her.....Linda. Right here.’
I looked at the photograph of Linda. Out of politeness I said: ‘Good looking woman. You’re a lucky man, Dave.’ He smiled and nodded and lit another cigarette.
I’d been standing in the bank filling out a money order when Dave M- walked up. It took me some time to recall his name - to re-establish the connection - but recall him I did and we spent a good few minutes holding up the queue as we paged our way through twenty five years of news.
‘Remember Justin P- ? Nicky P’s brother ? He’s not with us anymore. Died. Car crash. And Brian L- joined the police. Inspector, so I hear. Rob G’s a millionaire. Karen B- married a footballer. And I suppose you heard about the school - got pulled down in 83. Fucking cemetery now, which is kind of appropriate.’ He twigged on his moustache. ‘What about you, Mike ? You look as if you’ve done OK.’ I said yes, I’ve done OK. Then it was time to cash my money order and Dave tagged behind, still marvelling at a world that could throw up such an unlikely meeting.
We ended up in a cafe. I tried telling him about the flight I was due to catch but Dave wasn’t having any of it. What time ? Late afternoon. Where you heading ? Scandinavia. And you can’t spare thirty minutes ? After twenty five years ? I said I didn’t want to hold him up but he just shook his head. ‘You work for yourself you don’t have to clock on for nobody, right ?’
In the cafe he bought sandwiches and coffee and more cigarettes, even though his current pack was half full. I explained about how I came to be living abroad and he couldn’t believe it when I said English was now my second language. Pictures of our kids were spread over the table. The thirty minutes turned into an hour. When the conversation grew cold I asked Dave M- what line of work he was in: ‘I buy and sell’ he said, grinding another stub, ‘short term investment, that kind of thing.’
As we parted he looked me over. ‘You know how I remember you, Mike ? I remember you as one of the quiet ones - distinct but quiet. And I remember hating you because you used to go out with Jackie R-. Remember Jackie R- ? Small, honey blonde ? Class below us ? I was in love with her right up until the age of 17. But she was devoted to you at that time. And I hated you for it.’
Later, after take off, I recalled that I possessed an image of the fifteen year old Dave M-. It was a black and white class photo, kept in a box. We’d lined up on the playing field that day. Dave was standing on the back row with his arms folded. His cheeks were flushed and a wide grin was spread across his face. He was a kid ready for action - a future sea captain or army officer: anything but short-term investment.
As the plane ascended I tried to recall the names of those other twenty or so kids who made up our class and made a promise that I’d search out the box when I got home. I tried to picture Jackie R-, a girl I hadn’t thought about in a long, long time, and wondered what had become of her. Most of all, though, I wanted to take a good look at the quiet but distinct kid on the front row who broke her heart.