You can tell a lot about a man

One of the first things he asked me was what position did I play in football.

“Centre defence,” I said.

“Right, okay,” he replied. It came off kind of odd, like he thought it explained something about me.

“I’m a midfielder myself,” he said. “The Gerrard type. So I’ve got to be everywhere. I don’t just mean running all over – although you’ve got to do that too. No, I mean everywhere up here.” He pointed at his own eyes then waved the V-shaped fingers to all corners of the pub, as if that was the pitch and everybody else was the opposition. I supped my pint.

“Whereas you, you’re at the back taking care of business, yeah? You can’t do anything crazy. If I’ve gone up attacking and they hit us on the counter, I need you not to – what’s that, babe?”

Caroline was tapping at him. She was after a photo with him and another girl. I watched as the three of them lifted their drinks and smiled. The flash went off. Then they all huddled round the camera to check the picture was all right.

I liked the guy I’d just met, I think. He was friendly enough, and looked like he would’ve chatted for a while if he hadn’t been pulled away. Mind you he didn’t come back to our conversation. Next time I saw him he was talking into the face of a very tall man that nobody knew. It was clear nobody knew him when Caroline turned to Abi and said, “Who’s Adam talking to?” and Abi had no idea and they gave each other an amused look as if to say that’s Adam for you.

There were six of us that night, going as a group from pub to pub. At the third place I decided I’d drunk enough and would go home.

“I’ve got work in the morning,” I yelled at Caroline by way of explanation, while hundreds of Friday night voices bubbled around us, the noise like the one that fills your ears when you dive into a pool.

“Oh, come on,” she went. “Don’t go yet.”

But I insisted. I said good night to everyone and was all but out the door when Adam appeared with a set of black-looking shots between his splayed fingers.

“You’re not off are you, mate?” he said, pushing a heavy little glass in front of everyone in turn. “Here, I got you one of these.”

“No, you’re all right.”

“Why not? You haven’t got work tomorrow.”

“Actually I have.”

“Ah…” he went, and rolled his head to one side. Of the six of us, he was by far the drunkest. “Okay. Well, we’re having a match on Sunday if you want a game. Just a friendly like.”

“Sunday – yeah, Sunday sounds good.”

We swapped numbers and shook hands, and I said good night again. Just as I was off, Adam raised the shot he’d bought me. “Central defender,” he said. “Taking care of business.”  He swallowed the drink and saluted me with the empty glass. I left.

(c) Martin Cornwell 2011

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