After lying in bed stewing for most of the night, I was shaken awake by Rachel an hour or so after finally getting to sleep.
“Why didn’t ya wake us? I thought we was going aaht?”
Red mists descended. “You think I didn’t try?”
“Oh, you should have just gone without us, silly.” Bev added.
So, not only were they blaming me for missing ‘The Biggest Party On The Southern Hemisphere’ but they weren’t even grateful that I missed out on it too on their behalf. I imagined myself slapping her angrily around the tits and setting her off like one of those executive desk-toys. But before I could shoot them down with my clever-but-cutting verbal assault I’d spent all night perfecting, they focused on a spot just above my eye and grimaced in unison.
That one syllable took all the angry wind out of my sails.
I’d forgotten all about the new piercing, and it seems that sleeping with my head furiously buried under the pillow was a bad idea. Bev handed me a mirror and I stared miserably at the massive grey lump that had erupted under my left eyebrow overnight. I crumpled back onto my bed and tried not to cry. Is it any wonder even lower-leaguers like Hamish reject me?
“I look like the fucking Elephant Man,” I groaned, squeezing gunk out of what was essentially an open head-wound.
“Nah, you’re not that pretty,” laughed Rachel.
The girls got dressed and skipped off, and I laid in bed sulking, unwilling to inflict my face upon the world. Instead, I flicked through my social media and felt increasingly sorry for myself because everyone at home was coping fine without me. When the girls returned I pretended to be sleep.
“Hey sweetie?” Bev ‘shook me awake’. “We’re heading back over to Victoria Markets in a minute if you’re up for it?”
“Or are you too busy enjoying your pity party?” asked Rachel.
I fake-yawned and sat up.
“Rach is getting some vitamins and fruit and stuff. She’s decided she’s fat.”
“You are looking a little chunky, now you come to mention it,” I snapped.
“We can do some talent spotting?” Bev teased, poking me in the bum.
I wasn’t in the mood for our usual game of ‘Shoot, Shag or Marry’, but I let her pull me up and drag me out anyway because feeling miserable and doing what I’m bloody told has always gone hand in hand.
The market was selling the same old crap as before, only this time there was no Hamish to distract me. No innocent stuttering Scot to reawaken my libido before fucking off with the first available alternative. The problem was I was now aware of other guys instead, and every single one of them was staring at me. Or more specifically, the oozing bruise around my eye. I groaned and searched the stalls for a pair of bigger sunglasses.
“Come on, put a fucking smile on it, luv.” Rachel grabbed my arm and dragged me forcefully towards the grocery stalls.
“What the hell, Rach?”
“Look, droopy drawers, I’ve had enough of your moping. You’re stuck with that face, disfigurement or otherwise, but there ain’t nothing stopping you from losing some timber.” She smacked my belly and we watched it ripple under my t-shirt. “Why don’t you use this time away to get fit. Eat better. Go home a new man. Or at least half the man you are now.”
“Correct me if I’m wrong, Rach, but your breakfast this morning was a curly wurly.”
“Well, we’re starting now,” she said, defensively. “Isn’t that right, Bev.”
“Uh uh, just you, Rach,” said Bev. “I’m out. That salad you made me eat for lunch tasted like I’d rather be fat.”
Rachel started handing me fruit. “Some ‘pink ladies’, they’ll be right up your street. Green grapes. Bananas…”
“I’ll be shitting rainbows at this rate.”
“You’ve gotta mix up your colours for maximum benefits.”
Bev nodded in agreement. “Yeah, my ex was a personal trainer and he told me that too,” she said, eyeing up the cucumbers. “So I had a fling with a black guy.”
Despite them telling me I was fat and disfigured, I actually had quite a nice afternoon. If I’m honest, it’s probably because they were paying me attention.
“So,” I began, as we headed back to the hostel, “last week I asked Twitter where we go from here, and it came back Sydney. You both up for that?”
The girls nodded, “whatevz”.
“Fancy going via Canberra? It’s the capital.”
A bit of enthusiasm would’ve been nice, but I’m glad they’re up for it. I’ve already booked somewhere. We’re off Wednesday. Separate rooms. Finally.
I figured the deadline would put a rocket under the girls, so conversation turned to what we wanted to do before we left Melbourne. I was all for some last-minute culture whilst they both wanted a bit of waxing.
“I need to get me downstairs sorted before Sydney,” said Bev. “It’s getting a bit wild. I got out the shower this morning and thought I was wearing shorts.”
“And I need me eyebrows fixed before we go,” cut in Rachel. “I’m SO underwhelmed with them at the mo. They look like two giant sperms.”
By this point, I was totally up for some more alone time anyway so we went our separate ways without any drama. They skipped off to have their lady-gardens manicured, and I zig-zagged about the city crossing a bunch of grown up stuff off my Melbourne ‘To-Do’ list. We met up again for dinner, where they introduced me to a couple of burly guys they’d got talking to at the beauticians. Stu and Graham are ‘just good friends’, with matching shaved heads, plunging necklines, and jeans that were at least one size too small. You could tell what religion Stu was just by looking at the outline. Rach kept twirling her hair and touching Stu’s arm. Bev was laughing at everything they said, even their menu choices.
Realising the girls thought they were on some sort of double-date, as soon as we were alone again I pointed out that my Gaydar was going off louder than a foghorn in a library. For a start, neither of the gents had once glanced at Bev’s ample cleavage, and I’m sorry but that’s hypnotic even for me. If Hamish had been on the road to ‘Queensland’ (which is where he may now be, for all I know), I’m pretty sure these guys were taking a swim up Denial.
“But they don’t even look gay!” Rachel snapped, her eyes narrowing suspiciously as she clocked them disappearing into the toilet together.
“Where did you say you met them?”
“They were in the bleaching room having their bums done.”
I started to laugh. “That’s not the way straight guys change their ring tone!”
She was fuming. “Why do ya have to spoil everything? Not everyone is a bleeding bender.”
“I know that better than anyone, Rach, but there are definitely more of us about than you might think,” I told her. “One in eight, they reckon. And that’s an actual fact because I learnt it at school.”
I’ve never forgotten that little statistic, mainly because it was the only reference to ‘the dark side’ in our entire sex education class and I’d grabbed at it with both hands. My old teacher had blurted out a few words from a book, red-faced, before showing us a video of a bearded man with syphilis.
“It is estimated that one in eight men and women are homosexual.”
That was it. Nothing L, G, B, or T at all, and if you were that one in eight, like me, you were going to have to figure it all out for yourself. Even that single sentence had caused a scandal at the time, as there’d been eight of us around the table. We’d eyed each other suspiciously until I pointed at Stinky Matt and told everyone it was him. I’ve always felt guilty about that, especially as I’d run straight to my girlfriend’s house to imagine her brother naked.
After dinner, Stu and Graham politely turned down Rachel’s subtle offer of ‘a nightcap’ (she even used air quotes) and headed back to their shared apartment.
“Oh well, it’s probably just as well,” Rachel grimaced, limping a little as we headed back to the hostel. “That waxing proper chapped me lips.”
Wotcha, ya dags! (I’m not being rude, just speaking the lingo.)
Today, I squeezed in more touristy bits because we leave Melbourne next week. I headed over to the Arts Precinct to satisfying my inner-Intellectual, rubbed my chin appreciatingly at the wonders of the Victoria Arts Centre, nodded thoughtfully at the Flinders Street architecture and instagrammed the hell out of urban graffiti in Croft Alley. After a pause for breath, then came the Melbourne Concert Hall, Shrine of Remembrance and the Victoria Art Gallery, the largest and oldest gallery in Australia.
After two weeks of beaches, bars, and bargain-hunting, my brain was in need of something a bit more substantial to nibble on. Feeling suitably cultured, and a tad pleased with myself, I then rushed back to the hostel to catch up on Australian Idol.
Rachel has decided she is now on a health kick, and that therefore we must be too. It caused all sorts of confusion earlier when she grabbed a salad and doused it with vinaigrette. Seems Bev thought it was Viagra for women. You’ll be pleased to hear I’m making an effort to get healthier too, and have just finishing a salad of my own.
OK, it’s a potato salad.
Ok, it’s a potato.
OK, it’s vodka.
Love Kev xx
Mum – You’re right. I’ll apologise.
Dad – Drink responsibly? You mean, don’t spill it? Ha!
Michael – The most action I’ve had so far was when the shower curtain grabbed my thigh.
I got a stroppy text from mum. She didn’t appreciate my previous email home, where I’d slagged off the girls.
“Menstruation is not a laughing matter. Period,” she’d said, ending the message with a grumpy emoji. That was a major technological leap for her. I don’t think she even realised she made a joke.
Well, sorry ma, I’m rebelling. I’m not apologising to the girls for something they don’t know about. It would make a shitty situation worse. Like kicking a dog poo. I just need to bite my tongue and get to Wednesday, when I’ll finally have a room to myself.
I can only think of one time that I’ve rebelled before. It was before the divorce so I can’t have been more than five or six. I ran away from home. I can’t remember why, probably to get away from the shouting, but I didn’t get very far. I knew mum would be angry if I crossed the road without an adult holding my hand, so I just stomped angrily around the block. I’d been back home in less than ten minutes, totally traumatised by the whole thing, and no one had even noticed I’d gone.
I didn’t get a chance to rebel again. Before I knew it, Dad was moving out, Mum was struggling to cope, my big sis went off the rails, Gran’s health went downhill, and I grew up quick to become ‘the man of the house’. Cut to my twenties, and I think the only rule I’ve intentionally broken is when I’ve filled the kettle above the ‘max’ line. I’m not sure that counts.
Anyway, where was I. Once the girl’s had finished intimately creaming their newly bald lady-bits (“it looks like a plucked chicken!” screamed Bev), they put themselves to bed and left me frustrated and bored in an empty common room. It was barely dark, everyone was out, and I played a game of pool on my own and still lost. I’m now sitting on the fire-escape, cradling a cuppa like some proper old fart, wishing for a discarded ciggie or stuttering Scotsman to distract me from my own thoughts. There is a steady flow of revellers heading past on their way into town and I’m trying to figure out what it is stopping me from joining them.
I’m perfectly happy exploring the city alone in daylight, but as soon as it gets dark something changes. Everything seems more intense, like there is a pressure to act a certain way. When the sun goes down, I stick to the girls like they’re some kind of security blanket, a tether to my life back home, because in England I knew who I was and how I was supposed to behave. Without them with me, out on my own in Australia at night, who knows what I’ll get up to? The thrill of anonymity, that rush of excitement I’ve felt since we got here, it’s never left. I’ve been bottling it up ever since I sat topless in a park.
I think, deep down, I understand that the moment I head out without my girls the genie will be let out of the bottle. I will be on a mother-fucking rebellious rampage, more than twenty years in the making. The person I am now will no longer exist.
It will happen. And I am terrified and gagging for it in equal measure.