A Quarter-Life Crisis
Mum still cuts it fine with the time even in her seventies. Back in the winter of 1991, she valued spontaneity, acting on impulse and doing crazy things, but not being early. Never being early. That was perceived as a weakness and to be abhorred. What a waste of time! Knowing this, I should probably have taken a taxi to the bus station. Like mother, like daughter; I hadn’t planned the finer details of my madcap solo trip from Sheffield to Nigeria. I suppose I simply wanted to have an adventure and run away from real life for a bit. In true Powell family style, I only just made the London coach that morning and our goodbyes were drowned in parking practicalities, but mum had made me some last-minute sandwiches and I was very grateful for the send-off. I’d been back home for a couple of months, recovering from a quarter-life crisis and we’d rubbed along quite well together.
Once aboard, concrete and steel graffiti gave way to greenbelt and big skies while my music lulled me to sleep. London traffic woke me in time to gather my wits and shoulder my bottle green backpack for a quick journey underground to Warren Street. I emerged to the city pavements as dusk fell on my scribbled directions to Bridgette’s empty flat. I’d been there many times, but never alone. Our mutual connection was Steve, ex to us both, now in Nigeria. Her spare key turned easily in the lock and a long search for switches and heat began, punctuated by passing trains rattling the windows and an ill-fitting door clattering in the wind. We hadn’t talked about exactly where I would sleep, just where to leave the key. I thought of calling her at her parents’ house, but it seemed a bit silly. I turned on the TV and tried to get comfy on the hard sofa. Christmas was coming and I had big plans whirring in my tired head. My tangling thoughts were stolen away by a shadow at the door and then a knock.
Roland had arrived at last! We hadn’t seen each other for a good long while, but I knew exactly how it would be. As usual, it would seem like one of us had left the room to boil the kettle while the ads were on and come back two years later to carry on the conversation. We still treasure our friendship now we are in our fifties, rediscovering it after long absences, like a favourite winter coat retrieved from the loft. We were just eighteen when we clicked like soulmates in our student days and we became partners in adventure. One of our favourite tales is about our serendipitous meet up in Berlin one summer. We had chosen a day to meet on our travels and the plan was to check every hour at a famous Berlin church until we found each other. It turned out to be much easier than that. I was sitting pillion on a BMW at the very last traffic lights of a terribly long journey from Sheffield, when I spied him in his beat-up VW right next to us at the end of his very long trip from Spain. The famous church towered to our left. “Hey Roland!” I called, and he grinned back at me through the smoke of a Marlborough light. All around me people simply carried on about their business as usual in the face of this small miracle.
“Hey Roland!”, I called through the glass pane in Bridgette’s door. “Hey Chris, let me in, it’s freezing out here.” came the familiar voice of friendship. “You’ll have to get me up early, or I’ll get clamped in the morning.” he said, pointing to his VW on the London street. I waved him in and shut out the cold. “But the flight’s not ‘til 4 in the afternoon,” I replied, knowing Roland would never get up in time. All the way through university our lecturers had mistaken us for a couple. To get him to lectures I had always banged on the peeling paint of Roland’s front door or thrown a stone at the sash windows and waited for him to appear in the doorway for a chilly ride in on the back of my yellow Honda 250. We probably looked like a couple, sloping in the back row with our helmets. That bike had more rust than chrome, but it did the journey just the same. We had been pioneers; the first cohort to study for a Bachelor of Science Dual Honours Degree in Modern Languages and Marketing. But Roland had already done half of his degree before his first fresher’s pint. He was bilingual from birth, born to a German mother and very British father. He could have added a different language to his portfolio, had he not been born half lazy as well.
This time Roland was my driver and he was getting me to the airport, but I still had to bang on his door to wake him. I packed the gift Bridgette had left out for Steve on the table and squeezed it down the side of my overstuffed rucksack. “To Steve, with love from B,” said the note. She wasn’t in love with him anymore, but we all loved Steve, in spite of the things he did to make us scream inside at each sabotaged day that started so well and ended in shards of shattered joy. A man of extreme highs and lows. He’d been my teenage lover and my friend. My mentor and my foe. I’d briefly worn his sapphire and diamond ring. I’d once slept by his side in a barn of hay and stars. I’d once asked him to wait for me to grow up. That day in December 1991, Steve was my destination and my salvation. I’d lost my way and I was headed to Nigeria to find a path home to me again. My dad was dead, my job was gone and I had nothing to lose.