Arjan held out a bottle.
‘Ready for one?’
He forced its lid off using his lighter — one of his favourite tricks — and pressed it into my hand. His knuckles were rough, the beer was cold. We were sat near the canal bridge, at the edge of town, our Saturday meeting place. The late afternoon birds winged overhead, the sky was turning pink at its edges. I saw that the sole was beginning to come away from my trainers, that the laces were grey with wear.
‘How’s work?’ I said.
‘Looking for it.’
It was usually like this at the weekend, waiting for night to set in. Ours was a typical town, part gone to seed, part failed renewal. Talk was always of what people were going to do some other time, never the hour in front of them.
‘Someone’s been down there again.’
‘Under the arch — “Some people go to work to keep a dog.”’
I couldn’t lose the feeling that the scrawled characters looked out of place against the rest of the graffiti beneath the bridge, pithy as the sentiment was. It was better than the usual hate-notes, all the same.
‘The bus was weird tonight,’ Arjan said.
‘You know, when it starts out full, then empties almost completely at Town Hall.’
‘You’re sat next to someone, and when everyone gets off you don’t know if you should move to an empty seat. But this man I was next too … well, I could tell. He was one of those people who would be offended if you moved. Like you were trying to get away from him, rather than moving to give more space. You don’t need that, not on a Saturday.’
‘So there we were, sat next to each other, the only people on the bus.’
‘It’s worse when you’re in a waiting room. Everyone avoiding eye contact. Pretending they’re not there, that the moment isn’t happening to them.’