October 5, 2018
Z messaged out of the blue. I hadn’t seen him in over a year despite having a close mutual friend. That friend, U, had recently moved to Japan and had asked Z to give me a large stack of magazines he’d left behind. We arranged to meet.
I didn’t go for my usual walk in the park, or along Regent’s Canal. Instead I stayed in bed until half past 8:00. After washing, I got dressed in clothes I could lounge around in: tracksuit bottoms and a bleach-stained top. I made some oats in the microwave and ate standing up. I turned on my wheezing laptop and sent some emails while taking out my twists. After flagellating myself in my diary, I worked on edits for a piece I was writing. I looked at my phone to see if Z had texted. We hadn’t yet set a time and place. Then I tried to find out how to watch the older seasons of Terrace House. I thought of U and whether I would realistically be able to visit him in the spring.
Around half past four, Z texted to say he’d just gotten off work and was going home to pick up the books. I replied an hour later. “Do you have anywhere in mind?” he asked. I panicked because, my bank account. Thankfully Z suggested we meet up at a cheap pizza place. Mum saved the day by lending me her Oyster Card so I could get on the bus.
I was running late. The traffic was bad so he was running late too. When I arrived he was sitting in the back looking at his phone. He looked exactly the same but just a bit more… like an adult. He was wearing a Patagonia jumper. I looked the same, which I know because everyone always tells me I look the same. We did the hugs and the usual “How are yous?” and then went up to the till to order.
He paid for me. “Well, you’re not working so of course I have to pay,” he said. I bought the olives, though.
After a little small talk, we slipped back into our old rhythms but I also noticed how much better he seemed at talking than me. We talked about U. We talked about Japan. We talked about wanting to travel and maybe teach English in Europe. He ate the crusts of his margherita. I left mine. We talked about learning German. I had done seven years of German to his five but I’ve fallen off and he can speak it much better than I can now.
When we finished the pizza and olives, he suggested we get some baklava for dessert down the street. As we walked, Z pointed out where some of the people we’d gone to school with now had their own flats. We gossiped about who was married, who had kids, who lived abroad.
At the baklava place a woman was buying a box of 24. Z said she probably had guests. We (he) bought us two each. I pressed down on the top of one and watched the syrup ooze out. He pulled the bag of Paris Reviews and issues of the London Review of Books onto the table and emptied it out. I made a mental note to thank U when I got home.
U walks a lot, as does Z. They once walked home from Heathrow Airport, an almost marathon distance.
After the baklava, Z and I started walking home. As we got closer to Shoreditch, he suggested we walk along the canal. He said U had told him about the last time he and I had walked there. I’d thought the water was the ground and almost fallen in. It had been summer and in the moonlight the algae looked greyish and speckled like the concrete, so I’d drifted toward the edge. U told me that Z had once done the same thing. I imagine it’s hard for three people to walk side by side along the canal.
We emerged from the canal just before the long road that leads to the park near my flat. I waited with Z for his bus. He finally let me take the bag of books.
Then I walked the rest of the way home. I laid out a thick navy jumper for my walk the next morning. I decided to go along the canal again tomorrow. Later Z texted and I only took four minutes to reply.