Tinder – A story of shame and hurt

The big night had finally arrived, and as she exited the station and walked down the drying rain-washed pavement, she tried to calm herself down so she wouldn’t start to sweat. She was on the late side of fashionably late, and as much as she was in a hurry, the last thing she wanted was to arrive with damp spots under her arms.

She’d been getting ready since the late afternoon; a long bath after an exfoliation, an application of body lotion after the bath, a facial cleanse, tweezing, hair and make-up. She was a master in the art of make-up. The finer points of her face were all accentuated; the high cheek bones higher, the rounded, fine eyebrows finer, the pouty, red lips fuller and redder.

The match had happened over two months beforehand. She had been ready to swipe right after the first pic; that slick brown hair and hazel eyes, the strong, tanned forearms. He was just her type, but in any case she’d flicked through the rest of his pics, just to be sure.

Within a few minutes of walking she saw the bar on the other side of the road, as he’d said it would be; A patio area under a beige awning extending from the brick wall (crowded with people – the late twenties, early thirties crowd), and a corner door under a beige column with the name of the bar painted in white.

Her heart was pounding as she walked past the people on the patio, keeping her posture in check, with her back straight and her head high, one hand gripping the wooden, crook handle of her compact umbrella and the other, the padded leather of her clutch. A mantra was repeating in her head: Cool confident classy. A bit cheesy she knew, but it worked for her.

She scanned the patio for him while gauging by the other women’s outfits whether she was over-dressed, under-dressed, or just right, breathing easier when she’d decided she was on the better side of just-right. Confident he wasn’t on the patio (people can look slightly different in real life than in their photographs) she opened the door, taking-in the interior through its glass pane.

It was a small room with a bar at the back and benches lining the mirrored walls. Tables and chairs crowded the limited floor space. A chime was ringing out above the low music as she stepped inside and closed the door, causing a split-second gap in the hum of conversation as all eyes glanced at her.

The intimidation factor was almost too much, but her mantra did its job and she kept a calm front, and looked for Chris, who she saw (in the same muscle gripping, red, white and green top he wore in one of his photos on the app) sitting between two men. He didn’t look at her then, although she was sure he had as she closed the door. He seemed to be in deep conversation. She didn’t know what to do. Was he short sighted? Didn’t he recognise her? Did he not want to acknowledge her?

There was no way she was going to approach him, especially when he was in company. A part of her wanted to go straight back out the door again (the self-saboteur part, as it was called in so many of the books she’d read) but they’d been getting on so well that she wasn’t going to give up just like that. Spotting a lone stool at the bar, she took a seat, feeling the familiar weight of perspiration seeping through the thick foundation on her face and forehead. It had been brought on by the combination of the brisk walk, coming into a hot room out of the
cold, and the slight humiliation of not being immediately recognised.

Before she had even got comfortable the barman was over at her, but she sent him away to give her time to decide, and pushed the stool into the corner to use the wall as a back rest, and have an open view of Chris. She surveyed the wine list and ordered a glass of South African Dry White, and went hot in the face when it was poured from a screw-top in plain sight of everyone.

Sitting there, sipping slowly while looking at Chris from the corner of her eye, she subtly tried to gain his attention. He kept looking at his watch, and when he got up along with the others at the table, she bounced forward to the edge of the stool, her feet poised on its rung, ready to run after him, but after shaking hands, the others left and he sat back down, looking around the room as he did so. His eyes met hers and she raised her arms as if to say, ‘look it’s me.’ And after peering at her for longer than seemed polite or necessary, unless he had vision problems he hadn’t told her about, he came over and apologised for not noticing her.

‘It’s okay,’ she said, trying to sound charming and positive. ‘You preferred to stay with your friends rather than the woman you were supposed to be meeting.’

‘Something like that,’ he mumbled.
‘Your pint’s still on the table, should we go and sit there?’ They went to his little table and she was glad he gave her the padded bench and took the small and frail looking chair. She sank down in the padding and felt the frame digging into the underside of her thighs. ‘These seats are so small,’ she said after an awkward silence, and couldn’t tell if his laugh was one of sarcasm or a gesture of agreement. ‘How’s your day been?’

He stared into his pint: ‘okay.’

She waited for him to continue, but he didn’t, so she spoke again: ‘Just okay? weren’t you going to the game? Who was it? The Bees?’

‘The Wasps against the Quins,’ he said, taking a big gulp from his glass. ‘Quins won.’

‘Thats good. That’s your team isn’t it?’ He still hadn’t looked up, and began fiddling with the beer mat:

‘Yes, it’s good. They have a chance of winning this season.

‘Cheers to that,’ she said, raising her glass. And without looking at her, barely lifting it from the table, he clinked his glass against hers then took another big gulp, leaving his glass half empty. She laughed nervously. This wasn’t going well. He had been so chatty on the app, how could he be so different in person? But knowing there’s a big difference between a written conversation, where one has the safety of time, distance and an electronic device between them and the person they’re talking to, she put his lack of social skills down to shyness, and decided to push harder. ‘You know, in some cultures its very rude not to look into each others’ eyes when you clink glasses together.’
He gave a chuckle and sneered as opposed to smiled. ‘So, who were the men with you? They went to the game?’

‘One of them went, the other must have watched it here, he was here when we arrived.’

‘I’d imagine the atmosphere there would have been a little bit better.’

‘Yes, of course.’ He brought the glass to his mouth and she watched in amazement as the rest of the lager disappeared.

‘Let me get you another,’ she said.

‘No, thanks, I’ve had too much already,’ he said, getting up. He shoved an arm into his jacket.

‘Come on, we just sat down.’

‘Really, I have to go. I have an early start tomorrow.’

She was determined to get a round in: ‘Please,’ she said. ‘Just one.’

He dropped his shoulders and sat back down with a sigh.

As she got up her stomach rumbled. She hadn’t eaten since lunch: ‘Hey,’ she said, an idea popping into her head. ‘I noticed they have wonderful looking scotch eggs at the end of the bar.’ A vision of his tanned, masculine hand easing a fork full of creamy scotch egg into her mouth, then dabbing her chin with a napkin, flashed in her mind. ‘How about we share one?’

‘No thanks,’ he said without looking at her.

She walked towards the bar, aware that there was an off-chance that he might be checking her out, and tried to project an image of sexiness as another mantra from one of her books replayed in her head: Sexy in, sexy out. She imagined tripping over and falling flat on her face. That would be something to tell the girls about, but it would be even better to let them know how he came to her rescue, wrapping those big muscular arms around her and helping her to her feet.

The toilet was to the left of the bar and she decided to use it while she was up, turning back to see if he was checking her out; she saw him shaking his head and laughing to himself in the mirror. As she struggled to pull down her jeans and reduction underwear in the tiny cubicle, she thought about how he hadn’t looked in her eyes since he saw her, how he had said he was going to give her a great big hug and a huge kiss whenever they met, but hadn’t so much as touched her; she considered his strange laughter and dull demeanor. It was all making her very uneasy.

She called the flat. Sarah answered. ‘He’s probably just shy. Keep calm and don’t get paranoid,’ she said. ‘Make sure it’s not a boring date. A good date is good and a bad date is a story to tell. Only from a boring date do you gain nothing.’

She really wanted to like him, and wanted him to like her, and Sarah had a point, so she decided to go out and suggest they start over, to tell him to forget whatever was troubling him and start afresh. She brought a pint of lager and a Sauvignon back to the table.

For the first time of the night he spoke unprompted: ‘What, no scotch egg?’ He might as well have stabbed her in the heart.

‘What’s your problem?’ she asked, slamming the glasses down. Her aggression caught him off guard and he reclined in his chair, creating distance.

‘Look,’ he said, ‘it’s just that, well…’

She stood, looking down at him. ‘Come on then, spit it out.’

He looked away. ‘Let’s just forget it. Come, have a seat.’

‘No I won’t have a seat. You’ve been weird the whole night. You were going to say something, so be a man and say it.’

His eyes fixed on the table and his shoulders dropped, he spoke in a hushed voice: ‘It’s just that I thought you would be smaller.’

She spoke through clenched teeth and unblinking eyes. Her hands balled into fists. ‘Smaller? so you’re saying I’m fat?’

He sighed, and after remaining silent for a while said, ‘I should have asked… I mean you only had face pics on there. I should have known you’d be a big girl, it’s one of the tell-tale-’

She slammed her hand on the table, thought about slapping him or throwing her wine in his face. She stared at him and he looked into her eyes with genuine compassion.

‘Maybe you should think about putting a full body pic on there, or a normal photo, not one taken from some obscure angle, and I think it’s best to remove, “what you see is what you get” from the caption. Quotes are silly anyway, all girls do it for some strange reason.’

She was in a rage now and wanted to scream at him but could only force a whisper through her clenched jaw and strained chest. ‘Fuck you,’ was all she said, and as he said sorry, she picked up her bag and umbrella and left, flinging the door against the wall with a thud that silenced all conversation in the bar, and left the chimes clanking together in semi-harmonic chaos. She held it together, walking in the same confident stride as she had walked in with, past the patio, past the takeaways and bus stops, through the gates of the station where a solitary guard nodded hello in his navy with red trim jacket, until she found an empty carriage, then cried her eyes out all the way to the apartment.

She had tried so hard, so fucking hard; the five AM runs through the empty streets so nobody would see her, the aerobic DVDs, the celeb diets, the self-improvement books; confidence building, conversation guides, philosophy, and she had come so close to being the confident, thin, celebrity-like person she wanted to be, but now this.

She thanked God that her flatmates were asleep when she got in, giving her time to come up with a suitable lie for what had happened tonight. In her room was her own personal fridge with its door barely visible behind meal plans, a forbidden food list, an exercise regime and magnets of topless male pop-stars, actors and models and bikini clad women.

She pulled off her skinny jeans (that she had to order online as her size wasn’t available on the high street), pulled off her reduction underwear and her brassiere, scrubbed the make-up from her face and opened the fridge. Behind a half-eaten cake, fizzy drinks cans, cheeses and biscuits was the freezer compartment. She picked out an ice cream tub that was missing its lid and grabbed hold of the spoon stuck inside, bending its handle until a frozen-solid lump broke away.

She stuffed it into her mouth and looked at herself in the mirror across the room. All five foot three and fifteen stone of her was illuminated in the darkness by the soft yellow light from the fridge, all her body’s folds and cellulite exposed, the contouring make-up removed along with any hint of a cheekbone or jawline; she admitted that he had had a point, that she had deceived him by hiding her true self behind the image of what she wanted to be.

The ice cream acted as a gag, preventing her sobs from reaching the ears of her flatmates. Her warm tears helped soften the ice cream in the tub, making it easier for her to dig the spoon in.

P.S. I wrote Tinder a long time ago. to read something serious, try my novel Vagabundo.

Native Son by Richard Wright

Native Son by Richard Wright was first published on the 1st of March 1940. It is said to have been written for a white audience. Bigger Thomas, the main protagonist, has been criticised (or identified) as a caricature lacking the depth and truth of other black protagonists found in that era.

SETTING

Setting is the most important part of this novel. It’s 1930s Chicago and the Jim Crow Laws are in full force. Black people are corralled into the Black Belt, living in cramped, rat infested apartments that cost more to rent than the white people’s apartments across town; bread is more expensive but not as fresh as white people’s bread; It’s America at a time when black people are unknown and unwanted by the whites ruling class. It’s a country where black people feel completely alienated; a world where a murdered black woman’s body is considered with such disregard that it is used as evidence in the murder trial of a white woman.

It’s over 15 years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat and 17 years before Elizabeth Eckford and The Little Rock Nine met with such hate when they went to integrated high school for the first time.

An alternate-angle view of Elizabeth Eckford on her first day of school, taken by an Associated Press photographer. Hazel Bryan can be seen behind her in the crowd. (Credit: Bettmann/Getty Images)

Bigger stays in a one room apartment with his mother, brother and sister. He and his brother share one bed while his mother and sister share another. They avert their eyes each morning to allow the others to get dressed without “feeling ashamed.”

Like his humanity, Bigger’s manhood is under constant attack, both at home and outside. To the white men in society he is a boy. To his mother he’s also boy, albeit in a different way:

‘sometimes I wonder why I birthed you.’

We wouldn’t have to live in this garbage dump if you had any manhood in you’

How is his manhood realised? In violence. When a helpless rat appears in the room, it’s Bigger who must kill it. He corners it and its fangs tear a three inch hole in his trousers. This happens in the first few pages and is a metaphor for the story to come, for Bigger is also helpless but cornered. He holds up the dead rat to his sister – his manhood and dominance made tangible, just as the state will hold him up to the white mob.

CHARACTERS

I will focus only on Bigger Thomas because to include the other characters: Mr. Dalton, Mary and Jan, Bessie, Max and Buckley, would be to turn this review into an essay.

Bigger Thomas

Bigger’s acts of bravado and violence hide his fear and make him feel, momentarily, as big as those he commits the acts upon. His ultimate act of violence though, that of taking a white life enables him to see clearly while those around him are blind. He sees the heavy burden his mother carries, his brothers naive innocence, his sister’s fear, her “shrinking from life.” However, in his clear sightedness he can only contrast his family against the white people he has met – His Mother/Mrs.Dalton, Buddy/Jan, Vera/Mary.

Committing murder and taking the subsequent actions is the first time in his life he’s acted fully on his own accord even though he feels forced into it to avoid being found in the girl’s room by her blind mother and being accused of the usual things that black men got accused of in those days.

He becomes obsessed with his ‘creation’ and constantly wants to read the newspaper to find out what’s being said about it and him, to read about his relevance in the world.

It’s not easy for me to separate Bigger from setting and plot. While I was reading, I highlighted a number of sentences that help characterise him:

“He hated his family because he knew that they were suffering and that he was powerless to help them.”

“he could take the job at Dalton’s and be miserable, or he could refuse it and starve. It maddened him to think that he did not have a wider choice of action.”

“Half the time I feel like I’m on the outside of the world peeping in through a knot-hole in the fence…”

“God, I’d love to fly up there in that sky.”

“His entire body hungered for keen sensation, something exciting and violent to relieve the taughtness.”

“In all his life these two murders were the most meaningful things that had ever happened to him. He was living, truly and deeply, no matter what others might think, looking at him with their blind eyes. Never had he had the chance to live out the consequences of his actions; never had he been so free as in this night and day of fear and murder and flight.”

“It was when he read the newspapers or magazines, went to the movies, or walked along the streets with crowds, that he felt what he wanted: to merge himself with others and be part of this world, to lose himself in it so he could find himself, to be allowed a chance to live like others, even though he was black.”

PLOT

The novel is set in three parts.

Book 1 – Fear: Bigger Thomas is the man of the Thomas household: a one room apartment in the Black Belt of 1930’s Chicago which he shares with his mother, brother and sister. He’s chosen by the ‘Relief’ as empoverished enough to be given a job as a driver for Mr Dalton, owner of a real estate empire, who is particularly charitable towards the poor black people in town. Bigger accidentally kills Mr Dalton’s daughter, Mary, on his very first night on the job.

Book 2 – Flight: Bigger tries to evade capture by implicating Mary’s friend Jan in the murder, then opportunistically writes a ransom letter in an attempt to gain $10,000 for the safe return of the girl. He engages Bessie in this plan against her will, and in the process gets found out, goes on the run, kills Bessie to save himself, then get’s caught.

Book 3 – Fate: Bigger’s lawyer Mr Max explains to the court how Bigger, a product of his surroundings came to kill, and pleads leniency. However, the state and the mob it incited are out for blood and have already made their minds up.

CONCLUSION

I enjoyed reading Native Son and learning more about American history in the process. It shows how fear, hate, repression and alienation can force someone (or an idea of someone) into drastic action. Any animal or human forced into a corner by someone or something with harmful intentions will fight to free itself. It’s an important novel and despite or perhaps because of the criticism has introduced me to more works from that period in a way that To Kill a Mocking Bird didn’t. Thanks to the Ayana Mathis article linked in the introduction, I’ve added the following books to my reading list:

I give Native Son 4 stars.

I finished this book in Bali. Click here for my Ubud travel blog.

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Portmanteau

Psst… I’m working on a new novel. It’s called Portmanteau.

Photo of a graveyard with the words 'Archibald 'Baldie' Summers is dead.' in the corner.

Baldie Summers, who obviously needs no introduction – Literature’s poster boy of the 1980s is found dead in a hotel room in Bangkok. Nobody even knew he was there.

Unexpected because he hadn’t been in the region for many years, but unsurprising because he was Archibald ‘Baldie’ Summers, he was working on new material in the region that made him.

Julian Rowntree, unknown writer living in Putney, West London, author of Terrarium, a novel that was well received by the very few who actually read it but has already run out of print, is asked by Baldie’s publisher to travel to Asia, follow in Baldie’s footsteps and finish what will be Baldie’s final novel.

Want to be one of the first to read Portmanteau? Add your email and I’ll let you know when it’s done.

Haven’t read my first novel yet? Check it out Here.

The Honourable Schoolboy by John Le Carré

The Honourable Schoolboy was my first John Le Carré book and second spy novel. I was not disappointed. It won both The James Tait Black Memorial Award and The C.W.A Golden Dagger Award.

Plot

The UK’s Secret Intelligence Service has been decimated by a Russian double agent. The meditative George Smiley sets out to rebuild the department and take down a Russian spy in Hong Kong which will take him closer to gaining his revenge over Karla, the Russian boss who drove the department’s downfall. Jerry Westerby, the Honourable Schoolboy, son of a Lord, writer and part-time SIS man heads east to ‘shake the tree’ and catch whatever falls out.

Characters

I loved the main characters and after a while didn’t want the Westerby scenes to end. He was an affable and intelligent James Bond character thrown into an Apocalypse Now(-ish) setting. I enjoyed learning more about him as the novel progressed and loved how his Sarratt training and own intuition guided him. Secondary characters were well placed and round enough to make them memorable and interesting.

I particularly liked Charlie Marshall, and the quite tender scene he and Westerby shared, Keller the American, who smokes with a welded claw and even Tiu who had just enough colour to make him seem real. The only character I didn’t take to was Fawn, Smiley’s plastic henchman who seemed a bit pointless. As this is the second book in the Karla series, I wonder if he played a bigger role in the first or was used to add some flavour to the Smiley scenes; towards the end I found Smiley’s quiet thoughtfulness and reticence a bit tiresome and wanted more life out of him.

Setting

The scenes along the Mekong, Bangkok and Phnom penh transported me straight back to that area and let me reminisce about the Sultry nights, rainy days and hazy sunsets. Different to mine however, Le Carré’s Mekong was gripped by the chaos of war with the Khmer Rouge. Hong Kong and its inhabitants were also well depicted. The author paid a lot of attention to detail.

Conclusion

Although I really enjoyed this book, the ending wasn’t all I had hoped for; what happened seemed out of character for one of the protagonists and I feel like the author rushed to get his theme out which was along the lines of exploring the battle between personal desire, loyalty and ambition with the bigger-picture sacrifice of your wants for the needs of your team and country and with politics linked throughout.

The Honourable Schoolboy is the middle novel in The Karla Trilogy, so the author will be setting up the third. Therefore, this may have detracted from the ending to make for a more thrilling third book.

I give this novel 4 stars.

Photo of paperback copy of The Honourable Schoolboy by John le Carre surrounded by leaves collected during the reading.

I read this book in Tokyo, Thailand, Amsterdam, Scotland and Kazakhstan. The mementos around in the picture were collected from those locations – the leaves are from Shinjuku Gyoen, Yoyogi Park and Long Beach on Koh Lanta.

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