Pilgrimage – Short Story

I walk into the bar and no one smiles at me. It is a world lit by the slit light of the disco ball. Toned torsos undulate in the screens on the wall, they possess no hairs, they barely possess faces but they do promise: they promise of all the things I could have, of a world of so much more than this. The room is full of bodies. Tightly clad, barely clad, expensively clad. I have entered the tribal realm, just gone ten on a Friday night, lots and lots of people, no smiles.

I navigate this labyrinth of skin, sweat and teeth, a tightrope walk between full glasses, outstretched arms and thrusting arses. We line up at the bar, ten green bottles. On my left a suited man, bespoke, he’s holding bright yellow bags in one hand and a credit card in the other, and when he catches my eye he drops it like it’s hot. A younger guy to my right, I can see his nipple through the gaping arm of his singlet, the hair on his head aims for the ceiling and when he catches my eye he throws it away. Even the bartender gives me a look that says I’m only here to try and fuck his boyfriend.

It’s taken me a long time to get here. A journey of years, the road did not relent and still I went with feet, hope, map and blood. At home no one ever guessed and I never told. I’d walk into the pub and the sweat smelt of beer, it didn’t smell of the sort of men who liked to suck cock. And my mother always told me that they spread disease, we shouldn’t be surprised, I would nod and carry on reading The Times. School was one of those places where we all got bullied for everything. We were all accused of being homos and even the teachers thought bad stuff was gay. We were all in it together just not in quite the same way.

I have an Aperol Spritz, it’s the drink of the summer – one part Aperol to two parts Prosecco topped up with soda water, on ice with a slice of orange. Sorry, I’m probably boring you. No, you weren’t listening. The glass is cold and wet in my hand, the condensation trickles down my fingertips as the drink passes my lips. I taste the bitter orange, the gentian and rhubarb, or at least I tell myself I do, I’d read it on the label once. I look at the faces and still no smiles, not even one for me.

One night, a few years ago, I had locked myself in the bathroom. I cleaned my teeth with Colgate Oral, the sensitive one, and I spat the foam down the sink. I then took my penknife out my pocket, its maroon case casing the blades, and pushed one of them against the back of my hand. I did not cut I pushed, I just wanted to feel the impression of metal impress itself into my skin. It left a long white mark. And then I washed my tears down the sink with Listerine, and then I went to bed.

The dance floor is a tribal place, our bodies sway and press, our bodies touch but we do not connect. I am not sure if there is a tribe reserved for me. My chin is not hairy enough, my body not muscled enough, my face not cute enough, my predilections not kinky enough. I admire these ready-made communities, what luxury, but not reserved for me, unfortunately. I find myself though and I start dancing, dancing on my own.

I think I felt at home once. He’d been on a gap year in Oz, a go-go dancer, and now he works with kids with special needs. We would wrap our bodies together in my bed, twisting into and out of the sheets, interlocking like jigsaw pieces, tracing the bumps and dips of our spines, travelling from neck to bum. I was a creature comforted when I was with him, nuzzled, cuddled, sweating, and warm. But I don’t see him anymore.

I have walked a pilgrimage of sorts to be here tonight, not far, just a few stops on the Northern Line and then pavement, my trainers are falling apart. And as I look through the dancing crowd all I see is our difference and our similarity, what a mix mixed in one place lit by a rainbow. We are not the posters, airbrushed, hair brushed, abs like marble and teeth like limousines. Some of us are near but they have hairs in their noses and moles on their backs and I think one of them just farted. We are not the posters but we are the people.

All this way to find a place so full of the likes of me and still no lips part and curl upwards. Yet I think I can see what’s hidden behind the faces, we’ve all been snapped, no concealer can conceal that. So I’ll keep dancing on my own and you’ll keep not smiling at me, distant in our proximity, bent out of shape and queer, but I think it matters that we keep dancing here.

And that’s how it ends,

unless,

we try being friends.

*

Performed at the event Let’s Talk Gay Sex + Drugs in Soho on 10th November 2016.

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