First Impressions (I)
He met her in the alleyway behind the bars with ever-glowing neon lights.
When asked about it later, neither of them would have been able to tell you the time, or even the date of this first encounter. They just weren’t that kind of people. All she would remember was the humid taste of alcohol in her throat and the curses she had spat out at her sister earlier that day.
And him? If he couldn’t evade the questions of what had happened that whole year, he would mutter some half-truth about it being the year his mother died and his father was sent to prison. How interrelated those two events really were he would never reveal, leaving the question-asker confused just long enough for him to pull out a tattered deck of cards from his pocket and ask the asker if they would like to play a game. (The events weren’t related, but in many ways the truth was much harder to digest). Those same cards were in his the pocket of his parka on the day they met, their decay rewound due to lack of use. In truth, he didn’t know any card games at the time, but he had bought the deck in a rare moment of excess because he liked the sound of cards being shuffled.
In time, they would forget the disheveled state they each were in, and the stench of stale urine that festered in the autumn air. The fact that they met on a day of global disaster would also escape their minds, until, that is, the question was brought up at a lawyer’s office twenty-odd years down the line.
They met on your average bad day; there’s really nothing else to call it. It was a day ruled by gloomy skies; a day for two layers of socks and a melancholy view of the world.
It was also a day when things that perhaps weren’t supposed to happen managed to wheedle their way around the obstacles that generally block their path. It just so happened that Fate was busy that day with three thousand deaths from the genocide, coupled with the earthquake leaving the lives of thousands more in shambles. It was raining in more than one hundred and twenty countries that day, planes were delayed across the globe, and three multinational corporations filed for bankruptcy. A photojournalist was beaten to death by an angry mob in the Middle East, and oil prices reached a record high. All in all, it was a terrible day for mostly everyone.
But meet they did in the alleyway behind the bars, and when they did, the soot-stained, greying bricks surrounding them seemed to sigh inwards in irritation at yet another nuisance to behold that night. These were walls bearing coffee stains and urine stains and had seen every abominable act of man in love or lust or hatred that plays out in alleyways behind bars. Certain bricks had an unappealing tang of fermented sweat from generations of people spawning generations more with their backs pressed up to the back-alley bricks in the lustful clamor for sinned skin on skin. Some bricks too wore badges of blood from the knife fights that shook the foundation of alleyways like this, and a few bricks nursed bullet wounds from guns long put to rest.
Eighty-year-old brick walls in big cities behind bars have front-row seats to see human nature played out time and time again on an alcohol-infused backdrop. And see they do. Some might say that it was a pretty shitty show. The man taking his final steps to the alley’s entrance would have agreed.
The woman, clutching a glass of ice cold water, might have said differently. At the moment, she was standing in the dead center of the alleyway. She knew better than to stand in shady alleyways behind bars, but she figured that potential attackers wouldn’t bother with a crying woman.
In following years, the man she would meet on this fate-forsaken night would criticize her unwavering faith in humanity. While she always admitted this was true, her belief had been nurtured inside her soul from such a tender age it could never have withered or been cut down. She might as well have been the patron saint of lost wallets, for their natural tendency to gravitate towards her, and her subsequent tendency to give them back.
On this particular night, it was her herself who had lost her wallet. She would ruefully remember during a dip in the level of pain in her front cortex the next morning that she hadn’t gotten it back. But before that, she was just a girl, standing in the shadow of a bar with ever-glowing neon lights willing the world to set itself right again. Mostly, she realized, she just wanted to get home.
It was as she was wading through thoughts like these in her foggy mind that a shadow at the alley’s opening morphed into a man. A man with shoulders wrapped up around himself as if blocking some nonexistent wind, his quick steps beating an incongruous rhythm into the ground.
He hardly noticed the woman in the alley. Until, that is, she reached out for him.
An extended finger complete with a ruby-red, dagger-like nail wove a sloppy circle in the air above his heart. He took a quick step back, and his eyes flared to the sides. His head tilted subtly this way and that, as an animal’s will as it struggles in it’s collar.
The woman’s finger made contact with his jacket. She stood motionless, gazing at her finger and the tiny crater it was making in the fabric.
“Dylan’s Mechanic, huh,” she said eventually. The words slurred together and dribbled out of her gorgeous lips and down her chin, but even in her intoxicated state, her words had a lilt indicative of elegance of heart. She spoke with an air of beauty, even as the words were ejected unceremoniously from her throat. It was unlike anything else the man in the shadow had ever heard before.
Still staring at the embroidered parka, the woman narrowed her eyes.
“I live– ag–,” she struggled, “ac- agcross the street,” she told him.
She suddenly took a step back, considering something. He took the time to notice the frame of her face. The gentle curve of her cheekbones framed two glassy eyes that were blinking slowly at him. Her mascara was already migrating down her face. Two spots of garishly pink blush sat upon the apples of her cheeks, grossly out of place on her otherwise pallid skin.
“Could–,” she faltered again, and the man stiffened. She started again.
“Please, could you–” she paused, considering, “drive me?”
Her sharp intake of expectant breath was matched by the brick wall’s sigh. Fate had missed its meeting to tear these two apart.
“Sure,” were the only words he said to her in the alleyway that night. They were the only words she needed to hear. He cleared his throat.
“I only real–” she stumbled here as the hand reaching out to stabilize herself against the wall misjudged by half an inch, and her words stumbled too. She blinked, and recoiled three seconds too late from the wall, wiping her hand on her sequined dress. Simultaneously, she dropped her glass. The tinkling sound of the smash hung in the air between them. A piece of ice slipped down her leg and nestled its way into her shoe, leaving a cold, glittering river in its wake.
“Shh-hit,” she exhaled, taking two looping steps closer to the man, and with a semi-graceful wobble she wound her frozen fingers around his arm. She giggled.
“The wall– is gross,” she managed after a moment, and giggled again.
The man’s naturally rigid posture didn’t falter, but his temple twitched in rhythm with her open-mouthed breaths. He could see the goose-bumps on her shoulders leading to the curve of pale pink lace where her bra strap had escaped her shoulder. His eyes quickly darted to the wall on his left, then to the misty, starless sky above, making the circles under his muddy eyes moved up almost imperceptibly. He blinked the blink of someone trying to regain control, and the woman took note of his eyes being closed for a second or so too long.
“Oh,” she whispered, “I’m sorry.” She straightened her back and took a half-step away from the man. Her hand, however, remained latched onto his arm as if she had forgotten that she had put it there.
“I was only gonna say,” she murmured, “I only really–,” she gulped, and steadied herself, “go for guys I can’t have.”
The man didn’t move.
Her eyes gleamed up at him, but then again, that might have just been reflections of the sequins on her dress.
Her face crinkled inwards into a lopsided smile. “That’s pretty sad, huh.”
The last words he remembered hearing before her mouth closed in on his were:
“I’ll remember this tomorrow.”