I kissed #61 at midnight when we were ringing in 1999, and we also kissed about six months later when I was getting drunk at #63’s place, the night I wound up being a drunken nightmare at the Mission. It was Saturday night and we were just giddy and silly. #61 had this weird technique, he just opened and closed his mouth again and again, big like a fish. I think I demonstrated it on #63 after he’d gone.
#61 moved in with #28 and me a few days after that. Our flat was on Montague Street and it had no central heating. For a while, things were pretty cool. #61 was this sort of sweet little drag queen, with all the skittish energy of a Fraggle. Really I think he was nervous an awful lot, and he tried to cover it up. He gave himself little projects, like installing a hammock in his tiny room. The walls looked like there’d been a shootout. He drank green tea with milk, and he ate about forty eggs a week.
I’d say we were pretty good friends for the first while, but I also took him for granted. Like, I’d ask him for massages because he was good at it and because I was lazy and because he was too nice to say no. When I went through a devastating break-up, it was all about me: I kind of handed him the role of sidekick/therapist. I don’t know if I took enough of an interest in what was going on in his own life, until it was already too late, things had already gotten out of control.
One Friday night in maybe October or November, I came home to find a few of our friends sitting around the kitchen table, subdued. #28 took me into his room to break the news. For a moment I was afraid someone had died. It turned out #61 had gone out to buy drugs, and he had been lifted by the police. Our friends were taking turns phoning the police station for progress reports. They’d been told there was a chance that he could be deported, and potentially no-one would even be able to see him first.
We were freezing. Out of desperation, we put the cooker on and huddled round it. “I can’t tell you anything really,” said the woman at the police station, “but he’s fine. In fact he’s dancing in his cell as we speak.” Oh, god, he’s swallowed the evidence, we surmised. (In fact he was just trying to keep warm, same as us.) Oh, god, he’s going to tell them he was buying drugs for his friends, and that’ll make it worse for him. We had no faith in his ability to get out of this.
Finally another phone call revealed that he’d already been released, and just then he walked in the front door. We joyfully swooped on him en masse, like we were in a sit-com. “Oh, I’m fine,” he said. “They did this good cop bad cop thing. They tried to bluff me. I just sat there smoking. I just sat there and thought, I don’t care. I don’t care if I get deported, I don’t care if I get executed –”
“I TOLD YOU THEY WOULD CHOP HIS HEAD OFF!” shouted Richard all of a sudden, after spending the last hour or so all pale and quiet. “I TOLD YOU FOR TEN MINUTES THEY WOULD CHOP HIS HEAD OFF AND NOBODY BELIEVED ME!” #28 and I collapsed on the floor in bits.
Then there was the time that #61’s uncle and cousin visited from overseas, so his cousin could check out the university. #61 was from a strict Muslim family, and he issued #28 and I with a list of lies he needed to keep going. He wasn’t gay, he didn’t drink, he didn’t take drugs, he prayed five times a day, and he only ate halal food. “Oh, and Nine, you don’t live here. I’m not supposed to live with girls.”
I was happy to take part in the conspiracy, but I wasn’t sure how we were going to get around this one. The story he decided on was that my boyfriend lived in the flat, but was away for the weekend, and I was still hanging around because … it was European custom.
Somehow, through our stoner haze, #28 and I managed to remember not to offer #61 drinks in front of his relatives, but maybe they figured out something was a little weird anyway when he glued toys on his head to go out clubbing. On their last night, I went out drinking with the boys from my microlab job, and brought a few of them back for tea and spliffs, nipping into #28’s room occasionally to do some more poppers. Showing them out finally at stupid o’clock in the morning, and no doubt looking the worse for wear, I passed by #61’s uncle in the hallway, who’d gotten up to pray.
Things changed pretty sharply around Easter 2000 or so. #61 had seen his friend get attacked in the street, and since then he’d bought himself a knife and took to locking himself in his room, only coming out when he had to cook or use the bathroom. He was suddenly quiet and uncommunicative. #28 and I weren’t sure what to do with him, but something felt very bad, and we were kind of relieved that our own rooms had locks on the doors, too.
He moved out, and he wouldn’t have told us except we picked up a voicemail message from his new flatmate. He came back occasionally to pick up mail, and he’d always have stories to tell, stories that seemed designed to shock. “I just went to London and did coke in an alleyway with this stranger. I had sex with this guy and he was really into S/M so I carved my name all over his chest. I was having cybersex with someone while I was using the computer in the library so I started masturbating right there.” Accompanied by nervous laughter. I didn’t want to feed the drama that was just under the surface. I didn’t want to stage an intervention and state the blindingly obvious fact that his behaviour was out of control. I’d just say things like, “Right, yeah. So what did you do next?”
He was shoplifting in Marks & Spencer one time and they caught him, and he had a big machete in his pocket so that was more trouble. #59 vouched for him and he stayed at her place for a bit.
I don’t remember when he left town. I’m sure some of these details aren’t quite accurate, either. It’s either hearsay or it’s vaguely remembered conversations that become twisted over time. Still, he was my friend who went kind of crazy and provided material for good stories. But he was more than that. I just wonder who he was underneath it.
The last time I heard anything about him was years ago. I heard he was working at a duck farm in South-East Asia. I have no idea if this is true. I hope he’s well.