The last train home

I

I missed the last train home. I had no choice but to walk, since there was no sign of any buses running either. The street lamps offered scarce light down the footpath I followed. The houses on either side of the path looked almost ghoulish, towering over me like sinister bystanders. I was already pretty drunk at this point, and so the full feeling of fear I would have felt had I been sober was kept at bay. I just walked and walked.

Every so often I came across another person walking past me. It was late, and I was tired. Seeing other people at that time of night had a weird, eerie quality to it. During the day, you’d see a stranger and maybe shoot them a smile if you caught their eyes. But at night, everyone’s a little too wary. No one wants to stop, hell, no one wants to see another soul in the fear that they might bump into someone unpleasant. This was especially true of women. You could almost feel the nervousness that emitted itself from their casual scurrying. Out of some warped sense of chivalry, I’d walk ahead of the women that happened to be walking in the same direction as me that night. I figured that would make them feel less anxious. Admittedly, even I get a little nervous knowing someone is walking just behind me. Feels like I’m being followed.

I remember bumping into this particular girl last night. I tried walking ahead of her, but she just sped up as I made an attempt to pass her by. So I slowed myself down to create a distance between us. The girl came to a sudden stand-still, and looked over her shoulder at me. This made my slow pace abruptly come to a complete halt. She looked right at me, saying nothing, with a pale expression. Maybe she wanted to get a good look at me to determine whether I was some sort of creep. In my drunkenness, I didn’t know what else to do but say “keep walking”. I didn’t mean it to come off as a command, but she did just that. She turned right back around and walked away.

I stood still until that girl disappeared into the darkness. It was really getting late at that point, and I knew I wouldn’t be home for at least another hour. So I decided I had to walk a little faster. Just as I picked up some speed, a bus whizzed passed me. I looked at that thing passing me by and cursed out into the moonlight. It was the bus I needed to get home. I felt unreasonably upset. But at that moment, I just knew I had to keep going because the next bus would certainly not be around anytime soon.

Well eventually, of course, I escaped the residential side streets and came up onto the main road. Ghostly cars rolled by every now and then but no buses. I remember thinking I could stick out a hand and get driven home by a cab or even a stranger. Even under the influence of alcohol, I knew this wasn’t the best idea. I had no money to pay a fare, and any person offering to drive me home for free would either have been a little mad or suspiciously kind. I didn’t want to take the risk.

The same girl I had seen earlier was loitering under the buzzing neon sign of an off-licence. The shop was closed so I couldn’t understand why she was just standing there. Conscious of the fact that I’d be coming across her path again, I decided I’d cross the road so we wouldn’t exchange strange looks again. Oddly, the girl followed me across. She made her way right up to me, as if she was about to start speaking. But as she got right up in my face, she said nothing.

At this distance, I could make out the features on her face. Two eyes, with some light make-up on them that gave them a smoky-orange hue. A pointed, narrow nose with a pierced septum. And thin pink lips. I tried to seem friendly, I think I remember saying “hello” in a passive, non-assuming tone.

‘Hi, are you looking for someone?’

‘No, just trying to get home.’

‘Well, are you sure?’

At that point I was quite bemused. It must have been something like 3am. I didn’t like how calm and collected this girl seemed.

‘Yeah, I’m sure.’ I said, half-scoffing.

I walked away and another bus passed me down the road. Unbelievable, I had missed the last train and now two buses that would have dropped me home right on my doorstep. To make matters worse, it started to rain. It was only a light shower, but I was in no mood at this point.

I turned back around to the girl, and I asked her a couple of questions. Firstly, I asked what she was doing out this late as if it was my business to know. And secondly, I asked her name.

‘My name is Anna.’

I waited a little for her to answer my first question, but after a few seconds I realised that was all she was going to say.

‘My name is Yasin. Nice to meet you.’

‘Are you sure you’re not looking for someone tonight? I live very close, and it is raining.’

I guess I was so down-trodden at that moment, so cold and tired that I said yes.

‘Yes, I am looking for someone actually.’

She flashed the smallest smile, before she started to walk and I assumed that we were going back to hers. We walked in silence, for what might have been five minutes. My brain was on auto-pilot, driven by a primal instinct to find shelter. It was laughable. But we eventually made it to her house, which was a flat above a barbershop.

I was audibly pleased to be in the warmth of her home. She lived alone, so it was just her and I at this point. She peeled my wet jacket off, and hung it alongside hers on a coatrack.

I was babbling like an idiot trying to thank her, but Anna just walked away mid-sentence to lay herself down on a sofa in the living-room. I thought I should follower her, so I did. It was an interesting house, decorated with dusty books all over the place. Bookshelves lined every wall, each packed with interesting titles from all genres.

‘You like books?’ I remember asking her.

‘I just like collecting them. I haven’t read much, but having them surround me makes me feel a type of way.’

It was peculiar, but I knew exactly what she meant. Anna must have been loony to drag me off the streets just to show her book collection, but I found it charming. She got away with it because she was a pretty girl, I suppose.

I don’t recall much of the conversation after that, but it probably wasn’t too interesting. I embarrassingly fell asleep right where I sat. I woke up in the morning and immediately let myself out. The barbershop was open downstairs, and I could see a wrinkly old man cutting a small boy’s hair. I stood looking at the barber for a while, before I heard someone come downstairs. It was Anna.

II

‘You were just going to leave without saying goodbye, huh?’

‘Sorry Anna, I didn’t want to make a fuss. Thought I could slink away without disturbing you.’

She didn’t look pleased at all. Almost hurt, as if I had betrayed her.

‘You think I should get my hair cut here?’ I said, hoping to be a little playful.

A small smirk grew on Anna’s face.

‘Come.’

She led me by the hand into the barbershop, where the old man greeted her with a familiar smile.

‘Hey Ernesto, you think I could cut Yasin’s hair after you’re done with that little boy?’

Ernesto played along and said sure.

Before I knew it, I was sat in that barber’s chair with Anna giving me an all-over buzz cut. My long black hair fell onto the floor and all I could do was grit my teeth.

When she was done, she helped me out of the chair and said ‘There, now we’re even.’

She paid Ernesto and disappeared back upstairs into her flat. I didn’t go after her. I just looked at my reflection in the mirror and started to wonder what the hell had just happened.

‘Don’t worry, she’s a weird one like that. She seems to like you, don’t you think?’ Ernesto said to me in a consoling, wise tone. The boy who had his hair cut before me was handed a lollipop.

‘Here, you can have one too.’

I accepted the lollipop. It was a sour cherry flavour, artificial but tasty.

‘Tell me about Anna. What does she do?’ I asked the old man.

‘She collects books, doesn’t she?’

‘Yeah, I’ve seen her collection. But she does that for a living?’

‘Think so. Every so often I’d see her with a great big box carting a new batch of books up to her flat. She’d often invite over a lot of strange guys, and if I didn’t know her better, I would have assumed all sorts.’

I felt my heart drop a little.

‘You mean I’m not the first guy she’s taken to show her book collection?’

My attempts to play it off as cool failed.

Ernesto looked at me right in the eyeballs and said all sweet and sincerely ‘Don’t feel too bad, it’s just Anna’s way. She’s an odd person. All alone. But maybe you should go back up to her, and ask her if she’s alright.’

‘I only just met her late last night. I was trying to get home, and it was raining. She asked me if I was looking for someone, but I took the question as an excuse to get indoors. I don’t know what happened after she invited me over.’

Ernesto laughed as if he was clearing his throat.

‘Not the first time she’s invited guys over like that’

‘Yeah, thought so. Maybe I’ll say goodbye to her and then head home.’

‘Doesn’t sound like a bad idea.’

And with that, I walked out of the shop and went back up the stairs. I knocked on Anna’s door. No answer.

‘Anna, are you here?’

Still no answer. I grew fed up of waiting, so I went downstairs again and asked Ernesto to tell her that I was grateful about Anna letting me stay the night. I then gave Ernesto my phone number so that Anna could call if she wanted to stay in touch.

I caught a bus home, subconsciously waiting on the phone to ring. No answer all day. I stayed up drinking home alone. No answer all night.

III

‘This girl sounds like trouble.’ My sister said to me, in a matter-of-fact way.

‘I don’t know Ama. She is a weirdo, but I kinda want to get to know her a little more.’

‘Can’t believe you let her shave all your hair off. Didn’t realise your forehead was so big.’

I had been massaging my scalp as I nursed my beer. I invited my sister over after feeling intensely lonely sitting by my phone waiting for Anna. She cooked me a nice warm dinner and sat with me, drinking a glass of wine.

We talked all night. I felt like a balloon, at risk of floating out off into the atmosphere but my sister kept me firmly grounded. Ama always looked after me, ever since our parents had passed away. But she had a family of her own now, a husband and two little children. I felt guilty for leaning on her like this.

‘Emotional labour’ Ama said, merrily. ‘That’s all you men ever put us through.’

‘Hey, who said I was a man? You know better than anyone, Ama, that I’m just an overgrown baby.’

‘I have two babies to look after already, don’t need a third.’

I knew she was just teasing, but she was right. What was she doing here, at mine, when it was a Saturday. She could be spending time with her kids. She could be doing anything else. But instead she was here, babysitting me.

‘Look Yasin, it’s okay. I am your older sis after all. Just hope you help me when I start feeling like a miserable git.’

I smiled, and gave her a hug after she opened out her arms. Ever since she had children, she gained a lot of weight. But it was nice, the hugs were warmer and the advice was wiser. Meanwhile, I started looking like a skeleton. I was empty, alright, in more ways than one.

‘Okay Yas, you can let go know.’

I let go of my sister and mumbled an awkward sorry.

‘It’s getting late, I think I should go home. Promise me you’ll go to bed soon? This girl probably won’t call in the middle of the night if she has any sense.’

‘Yeah, don’t worry.’

‘And make sure you don’t just go out bar-hopping once I’ve left!’

I let out a guilty laugh as I escorted her to the door.

She gave me one last farewell hug.

‘Seriously Yasin, I mean it. We don’t need you to be an alcoholic. If you really start feeling bad again, just call me alright?’

‘Yeah, thanks for everything. Honestly, you’re amazing.’

And with that I stood in the doorway as my sister walked away. Once she was gone, I grabbed my jacket, wallet and phone. I headed out.

IV

The Castle was a pretty nice pub. On my frequent solo benders, I’d always start with a few drinks here. A cute girl named Rani worked as a barmaid. She might have been a few years older than me, but she certainly didn’t look it. Rani had short, boyish hair and wore t-shirts and jeans all the time. She now knows me as the local loner that comes in to have pints by himself. It was pathetic, but I didn’t care.

I always sat in the same corner, in and amongst the couples that frequented the place. It was the perfect place for a date, the food was good and so was the music. I hummed along to the David Bowie song that was currently playing, trying not to stare too much at Rani as she pulled pints, poured wine and mixed cocktails. When I had ordered my first drink, she commented on my hair. She liked the look, said it gave me an edge. I told her I felt like a twat, but when she asked me why I had it cut so short I made something up. I didn’t dare mention anything about Anna. Didn’t feel right.

Determined to get drunk, I quickly finished my first beer and made my way over to Rani for another.

‘Same again?’

‘Yes please, thanks.’

I sweated as I waited for the drink to be poured out of the tap.

‘Sorry about this, but can I ask you a personal question?’

Rani giggled like a little school girl before saying sure.

‘What do you do when a girl doesn’t call you back?’

She considered the question for a while, before handing over my drink.

‘Well, before I started to get serious with my girlfriend, there were times when she wouldn’t pick up my calls. I guess that’s a little similar to what you’re asking. Sometimes, people are just busy. That’s all. I don’t know who this girl is, but I reckon you should give her some time.’

That wasn’t the answer I was looking for I guess. I thanked Rani and paid for the drink. I told her to keep the change as a tip. Before I could walk away with my drink, Rani opened her mouth again.

‘Why do you ask? There’s someone you’re waiting on?’

‘Bingo.’

Before she could say something else, though, another customer asked for a drink. I decided to let Rani get on with her job and sat back in my corner.

A deep bassline cut through me. I was sitting right under one of the pub’s speakers. I wasn’t bothered to move, but it was pretty annoying to have my thoughts drowned out by the music. I just sat there, drinking. My heart must have started thumping in time with the beat. I rocked my head a little to the colourful rhythms and felt quite a bit happier. My phone was buzzing. I pulled it out of my pockets and saw that I had four missed calls from someone. Immediately I stepped out of the pub to ring the number back.

‘Hey Yasin.’ An old voice croaked from the other line. It was Ernesto.

‘Hello, how are you?’

‘I’m fine. Probably not the person you wanted to call you, right? Anna said she’d give you a ring at some point. But what I was calling for was to ask whether you’d like to work with me?’

I was confused.

‘You’re offering me a job?’

‘Sure. I’m getting a little older now and I need someone to help me here and there. I’ll pay you a fair wage. Just need someone to keep the place clean for now, but after a while I can teach you the trade. If you’re any good I’m sure you can run the shop for me.’

I can’t lie, my mind was on one thing and one thing only. I decided to take Ernesto up on his offer just so I had an excuse to get closer to Anna.

V

‘You’re quitting your job at the office to do what?’ My sister wasn’t impressed, judging by her sharp tone.

‘To help out Ernesto the barber. Sure, it’s a massive pay cut but I was getting sick of working in middle-management. At least with this new job, there’s a chance I can take over the business and be my own boss.’

‘What the hell do you know about cutting hair? Honestly, Yasin, you’re insane. How will you afford to pay rent with those wages?’

‘I can make it work. I have savings too.’

‘Yeah savings you’ve been burning through because of your drinking habit.’

I was getting slightly annoyed.

‘Ama, I know what I’m doing.’

‘Yasin, I don’t think you do. You said it yourself, you’re a baby that needs looking after. You’ve made that clear with this career move haven’t you?’

‘You know what, I don’t need this right now.’ And just like that, I hung up the phone on Ama as she was mid-sentence.

I told Ernesto that I could start as soon as possible. Which was helpful, considering that by the time Monday rolled around the old man was admitted to hospital for his deteriorating health. Ernesto’s wife, Anita, had dropped me the keys to the shop on the Sunday. She didn’t look so good, dark circles around her eyes and frazzled grey hair sprouting from a fashionable bandana. She spoke very little English, and so explained to me what was going on with her husband in a deep, Spanish accent.

It turned out that Ernesto had been in bad health for a while now. The couple were childless so there was no one else to help the poor old man. I felt a little sorry, but assured Anita that I would do as good a job as possible in being a care-taker for the shop.

As I put the keys through the door that early Monday morning, I came into the shop to see a handwritten note laid on the table amongst all the magazines customers would peruse. It was written by Ernesto, who gave me clear instructions on what to do. I wasn’t expected to cut anyone’s hair today, just do some cleaning. I kept my eyes peeled for Anna, but I didn’t see her all day.

I finished all the deep-cleaning by 4pm, and felt proud of the job I had done. I rang Ernesto to tell him about all the chores I managed to do, and asked him whether he needed anything else done. He said no, and added that he’d be around tomorrow to give me a crash course in cutting hair. After he thanked me a few times, I said goodbye and sat in the shop alone. Every young woman that passed the shop window seemed to tease me. As if they were in on an elaborate gag to give me hope about Anna passing by. Slowly, I was becoming obsessed. I leapt into something two feet first, casting caution to the wind with no guarantee of any payoff. Ama’s words swirled in my conscience. She was right, I had made a bad decision. Leaving such a comfortable job at the office on a whim, who does that? Only the insane. At times like this, I would let my thoughts beat me up. I deserved it. There was no going back.

VI

‘The trick to cutting hair is to be patient. You’ll make your mistakes, sure. Even the best barbers do. But don’t let that make you nervous. You make your mistakes, your mistakes don’t make you.’ A rather philosophical Ernesto was trimming a gentleman’s sides as I stood and observed.

Tuesday, Ernesto explained to me, was to be spent just watching him. I thought I was back at university, in a lecture or something. It felt like I ought to have been taking notes. But that would have been silly.

It was raining on Tuesday, just like it had been on the Friday I met Anna. A light shower that made you want to be indoors. I told Ernesto about not hearing back from Anna, and he told me that she’ll eventually get around to it. He had seen her in the morning as he was opening the shop. I felt uneasy, since I didn’t see her all day on Monday but here Ernesto was catching her first thing in the morning the day he’s back from hospital. A thought loomed over me: was Anna avoiding me?

Ernesto didn’t have many customers, and all the clientele he dad have were locals who had been going there for years, or who were sons of locals who had been going there years before them. The business didn’t have very many expensive overheads, the shop had been bought outright by Ernesto years ago so he didn’t pay rent. Everything in the shop was kept simple and I thought that was beautiful. No unnecessary décor, no fancy equipment. It was the type of place you’d go to because you knew there’d never be a queue. The customers loved it. Men could come here and sit down, meditating on their own inner voices as Ernesto worked his magic. And Ernesto took his time too, not because he couldn’t cut hair faster, but because he enjoyed going at a gentle pace.

A black and white picture of a young Ernesto and Anita, who looked like a model in her youth, was framed and hung up on a bare wall adjacent to the shop’s door.

‘I think I was around your age in that photo. It was a great day, I remember it so well. Anita and I had just come back from our honeymoon in Santander. I bought the business around then too. So full of hope, my whole life ahead of me.’

I could see a rare glow emitting from Ernesto as he said this to me.

‘How did you meet Anita?’

‘It’s a long story but her brother, Javier, was a childhood friend of mine. When I was about 15 years old I broke up with my first girlfriend. I was so sad, I’d spend all day in Javier’s company trying to put myself together. I remember Anita comforting me through that time.’

Ernesto paused for a while, just smiling, before he continued.

‘And day by day I fell more and more in love with her. Eventually I looked forward to coming over to Javier’s house to hang out with his sister rather to see him! Javier was a good sport though, and he wished us well as we began courting.’

A solemn tear rolled down Ernesto’s leathery cheek.

‘Yeah, a great man. He passed away just last month. I think I’ll be joining him soon. My poor Anita, she’s going to be so alone.’

And as he finished his sentence, Ernesto went up to the framed photograph and took it off the wall.

‘Here, take this photograph and give it to Anna.’

I was caught off-guard.

‘What?’

‘Anna has always asked me for this photo. I’ve always told her no, and that she was a silly girl for asking. But, I think she can have it. Please, go upstairs and hand it over to her. Your shift is done for today, so I guess I’ll be seeing you tomorrow.’

Before I could ask Ernesto any more questions, he walked into the back. I knew better than to disobey him at this point so I made my way to Anna’s door again.

I knocked, just like I did on Saturday, and half-expected no answer again. And I was right. No answer at all. I waited and waited. I decided to leave, but just before I did so I sent Anna a text.

Hey Anna, just so you know I’ve left that photograph of Ernesto and Anita that you like so much on your doorstep. Hope you’re alright. Bye.

Not even a minute after I sent this text, the door is flung open and I see Anna pick the photo off the floor. I see Anna and she sees me. A silence follows.

‘Come in.’ She says, breaking the silence.

‘Please.’ She adds.

I follow her in.

VII

I sat all bashful on her sofa. Anna had been crying all weekend, it turns out. She held the picture-frame tight in her hands before pulling it abreast as she let tears trickle down her pale, puffy face. The girl I met on Friday looked so different to the snotty, sobbing woman that was sitting opposite me now. I felt like I ought to have comforted her, but I didn’t know how. We both just sat there, not saying anything to one another.

Eventually, I mustered enough courage to ask Anna if I could get her some water from her own kitchen. She nodded without looking at me.

Anna’s kitchen was just as I expected. It was as pretty as her, with all sorts of cute little things laid across the marble counters. Her spice rack was as exceptional as her bookshelves, overflowing with a variety of rare seasonings and knickknacks. I looked for a couple of tumblers, and found them clustered among various other types of glasses in one of her many cabinets. I got the impression that Anna hosted often, as there was enough cutlery, crockery and glasses to host several dinner guests. As I went to the tap to pour some water, I decided that Anna would be the type of girl to only drink bottled. So I opened her fridge to seek out some Evian or something when I saw a half-bottle of vermouth tucked in between almond milk and a jar of jam. I got carried away, looking for some gin and lemons to make martinis. But when I couldn’t find any, I just poured two straight glasses of vermouth and returned to the living-room.

‘What’s that’ She said as I handed her the drink.

‘Your vermouth.’ I felt like a massive idiot.

She grabbed the glass and downed it all.

‘Bring me the bottle, please.’

I didn’t like where this was going, but not one to turn down a drinking session, I complied.

We both drank very liberally, until the entire bottle was finished. By this point, Anna was no longer crying but her sadness certainly lingered.

Feeling fairly tipsy, I grew the balls to ask her what was wrong. She immediately started crying again. But this time, she wailed out something during a sob.

‘He’s terminal!’

I knew instantly that she was talking about Ernesto.

I got up to embrace her. She was as scrawny as I was. A pair of skeletons held each other tight. And she cried and cried until my shoulder was soaked. But I only held her tighter. She shook as she let out all those emotions, as if she was shivering from hypothermia. I ran my hands down through her curly brunette hair, trying to get her to calm down. Slowly, she did stop crying. It took a while, but eventually it was peaceful. She then pulled away, but only so she could take a good look at my face. I saw the fear in her eyes, like I was a ghost. But she leaned in for a sensual kiss, and I made out with her savouring all the subtle movements of her thins little lips. I pulled her in closer and closer, and slowly she reached over to pull off my t-shirt. I reciprocated her actions. We entwined our bodies together in a sort of slow dance, and I let myself get lost in it all.

VIII

As I laid there, stretched out on Anna’s sofa with her lying her head on my chest, I couldn’t help but feel how deep both our emotions ran. I was sure I was in love, there was something so magnetic about this girl that it made me abandon all logic and reason. I just wanted to be with her. But clearly Anna was in a vulnerable place, and I couldn’t help but feel that none of what we had just done together came from a genuine feeling of wanting me. I felt like a trespasser, an outsider only welcomed for the night.

Anna had fallen asleep, and I was trapped under her. I didn’t want to wake her up, and I certainly didn’t want to slink away again without saying goodbye. So I laid there. Her breathing was irregular, an apparent side-effect from all that crying she did earlier. I didn’t have a clue how close her friendship was with Ernesto. As I began to slowly sober up, I started to think about the old man. Although I had met him less than a week ago, it was in fact profoundly sad that he was at death’s door. Ernesto wasn’t even that old, maybe only in his mid-fifties. I was curious to learn more about him, the enigma that surrounded him was rivalled only by that of Anna’s.

I then started to think about Ama. If she had any idea that I had agreed to take over Ernesto’s barbershop just so I could get closer to Anna, she’d lose a lot of respect for me. But that was the truth. Had I learned anything in my 26 years of life, it’s that the truth always comes out eventually. But Ama could never understand. Her love-life, her marriage, it was all so calculated and sensible. Ama practically laid out a blueprint for her life and followed it to a T. Good grades, good job, good husband and now good children. Part of me was definitely envious, but understanding, as a certain pressure fell on my sister when we were orphaned. She had to mature way before her time, and there is a sad quality to that. But for that very same reason, she would never understand the spontaneity of my love for Anna. It was all unplanned and out of the blue, but it made great sense to me. All my life, something was missing. Right here, laying on my chest, is what’s filling that hole.

I stroked Anna’s soft back. Right there and then, I made a promise with the universe to take care of this girl, no matter what happened. It was something to give my life meaning. Something I could die for.

IX

Breakfast was unusual. Anna served me a bagel with eggs and a side of cherry tomatoes. She also had a bottle of prosecco from her last birthday which she popped open. We sat down in the living room eating and drinking in the nude. I had told her about Ernesto expecting me for work, but she swatted the problem away by saying he would understand. I didn’t question her, after all the job was merely part of my plan to be with Anna.

Anna’s messy beauty was unlike anything I had seen before. I’ve had girlfriends in the past, but with Anna everything seemed so effortless. She didn’t have the prettiest face, the biggest breasts or the shapeliest body. But everything was perfect. I only just noticed the feminine rasp that rattled in her voice, since we hadn’t had much of a lengthy conversation up until this point. But we talked and talked, unhindered and openly. I learned that Anna was living off a trust fund, and she collected books as a hobby. She especially liked the older books because of their histories. When I asked about her friends and family, she said that she had given that all up when she moved to our town a few years back. I couldn’t understand how a pretty girl like her could spend so much time alone. I knew that when I was alone for extended periods, it almost felt like I was drowning.

I told Anna all about my plan to work at Ernesto’s as a means of getting closer to her. I told her about how much I liked her, and how I wanted to spend all my time with her. She nodded politely as I spoke, before giving me a faint smile once I had finished. I expected her to say something along the same lines back, but she didn’t. I must have looked a little sad right then, because she made sure to put her hands around me and kiss me to make me feel better. We explored each other’s bodies all day, until it was night again.

Right before it got too late, I decided to leave.

‘Can’t miss work again tomorrow, unfortunately.’

‘Are you sure? I really don’t want to be alone Yasin.’

‘I’m sorry baby, but Ernesto really needs me. But I’ll be up here again as soon as my shift ends.’

Anna started crying again, looking at the floor letting tears hit the ground silently. As I fawned over her to cheer her up, I accidently smashed something. It was the photograph of Ernesto and Anita. Anna bawled like an upset infant, and screamed at me to just go home.

I dressed myself and ran outside. I didn’t understand. As I looked at my watch I realised I had just missed the last train home. I made sure that I waited for the bus this time.

X

Thursday morning.

‘I’m really sorry about not showing up for work yesterday. Genuinely, I just…’

‘It’s okay. I understand.’ Ernesto said, interrupting my attempt at finding a good excuse.

‘Didn’t open the shop yesterday at all. There’s a lot of work to be done today. I expect you’ll be finishing your shift quite late.’ And with that, Ernesto handed me a list of chores.

‘What about watching you cut hair?’

‘Well, I’ve been thinking.’ Ernesto’s tone didn’t sound too promising.

‘Maybe it would be better to find someone experienced to take over the shop after I’ve…retired. Not that I haven’t appreciated your help, but I don’t think I have the time to teach you.’

I felt a generous stab of disappointment.

‘I see.’

The rest of the day was spent with neither of us speaking. Ernesto focused on cutting hair, and I focused on cleaning up around him. The list seemed endless, and by the time 7pm struck I was barely half-way through the list. I found this infuriating, considering the shop was only open until 6pm. After serving the last customer of the day Ernesto sat in the chair reading the newspaper. The least he could do was help me. That warm and wise spirit Ernesto first had was replaced by a cold, distant spectre.

By 8pm, I decided to protest.

‘You know, it is getting late and I haven’t done all these chores yet. But do you think I could call it a day and carry on with what I’ve missed tomorrow?’

Almost as if he was anticipating what I said, he replied without taking his eyes off the newspaper.

‘Maybe if you had shown up yesterday, you would have been finished with all the chores tonight.’

I contained myself.

‘Maybe.’

He looked up from his newspaper, finally.

‘Alright, you may go home. But please understand, that this is an urgent time for me. One day lost is a big deal. I am grateful for your help, but if you don’t have the time then it might be better if I found someone more committed to this business.’

‘It’s okay, I won’t miss another day.’

And with that I grabbed my things and left. I was quite upset with Ernesto. I decided to go straight up to Anna. I knocked on her door but there was no answer. Furious, I smashed on her door three times as hard as I could. Eventually she opened the door, screaming at me.

‘Why do you never open your door!’ I yelled back at her.

She went dead silent. She looked terrified. I gained composure and put my arms around her waist.

‘I’m so sorry baby. It’s just been a bad day.’

XI

I woke up with Anna sleeping on top of me the next morning, as my phone buzzed away. I reached over for it and saw that Ernesto was trying to call me.

‘‘Hello?’ I said, trying not to sound sleepy. It was only 9am. I wasn’t due in for work until another hour.

‘Yasin?’ A woman’s voice replied.

‘Yes, speaking. Anita? Are you okay?’

She was in tears. It was hard enough to understand Anita with her accent, and this difficulty was only compounded by her crying.

Eventually I deciphered that there wasn’t any work today as Ernesto was taken back into care at the hospital.

As Anita hung the phone up on me, Anna asked me what was going on.

‘Ernesto’s back at the hospital. It sounds very serious.’

Before Anna could start crying again, I gave her a hug and started making out with her. She mirrored my actions, trying her hardest to stifle the tears but this only resulted in her breaking down midway through sex.

‘I’m sorry.’ She sobbed. And she repeated sorry again and again.

I laid her down and stroked her hair.

‘It’s okay. We don’t have to do anything. We can just lie down together.’

I whispered into her ear, telling her it was all going to be alright. I tried my hardest to soothe her but she was only getting worse with her crying. Eventually she broke down completely, and started wailing in hysterics. I didn’t know what to do with myself so I decided to leave the room for the kitchen. Surely there was some alcohol somewhere.

But there wasn’t any. I was desperate, and seriously considered popping out to a shop for some beer. But as I went to put my shoes on, Anna screamed that if I left her she would surely kill herself.

The situation was getting out of control. I panicked.

‘Okay, okay. How about you come with me, huh? We’ll go outside and take a walk. It’ll clear your mind. You’ve been in this house for days now. I won’t leave you. I’ll stay with you all day, I promise, but we can’t stay here.’

Slowly Anna nodded. And began clearing herself up. She showered for the first time in ages. I helped her put on an outfit and a bit of that smoky orange makeup I had seen her wear that first night. I tried my hardest to make her look alright, but her inner feelings permeated through all my efforts. After a couple of hours, she was in a passable state to leave.

I dragged her to the one pub I knew would be open this early. We got on the train and made our way to the Castle.

XII

‘Drink this, it’ll make you feel better.’ I handed her one of the two martinis I had just ordered. I asked for extra vermouth in both.

We worked our way through a great deal of alcohol, and the last of my savings. By 3pm, we were completely drunk. I stumbled over to Rani to order more alcohol.

‘Erm…’ Rani said, coyly.

‘What is it?’

‘Your card, it got rejected.’

‘Are you serious? I have no money?’

I reached into my wallet to find some cash. I had nothing to my name. I couldn’t take it. I needed another drink.

‘Hello, Ama?’

‘Hey, what’s up? I haven’t had a call from you in ages, what’s been going on?’

‘Nothing. Listen Ama.’ I slurred my words down the phone.

‘I need money. It’s an emergency.’

There was an excruciating pause.

‘…What’s happened?’

‘I’ve ran out of money. I’m broke. I need money to buy…food.’

‘Yasin, you’ve got to be kidding me. How drunk are you right now?’

‘I’m offended. I’m not bloody drunk. And if you aren’t going to help me then goodbye.’

‘I’ll give you your money. But Yasin, I’m worried. You need to stop whatever is going on right now and come back to reality.’

‘Okay.’ I said, not meaning it.

‘This game has been going on long enough. But eventually, you’ll need to think hard about your career, your life and your health. You’ve been aimless for a while now, and it breaks my heart to see…’

I interrupted her.

‘To see what?! Someone who lives their life like a real human being? You know, I’ve always kept my mouth shut, but the God’s truth is ever since our parents died you’ve lived like you died too. Your life isn’t genuine at all, it’s all a calculated farce. In fact, you’re probably just as unhappy as I am. The difference is, I don’t hide my sadness behind a masquerade!’

I prepared myself for my sister’s quick wit to hit me back.

‘Yasin. I love you. I’ll transfer you some money right now.’ And the phone line went dead.

Ama was true to her word. She sent me over enough money for a whole month’s rent. Immediately I bought some more booze.

When I turned around to walk back to Anna, however, I saw that she was clear gone.

XIII

I went straight back to her flat to see if Anna was there. I knocked hard on her door but there was no answer at all, and soon my shouting turned into hopeless crying. I slumped down in front of Anna’s door completely distraught.

My phone rang. It wasn’t Anna, it was Anita. She called begging me to come over to Ernesto’s ward, apparently Anna was there acting frenzied. I made my way as soon as I could.

The time in-between getting from Anna’s to the hospital was as dark and empty as waking up from dreamless sleep. Complete nothingness. I was strictly focused on finding Anna. She was all that mattered.

As I arrived, I stormed down the sanitised white corridors in search of Anna. Eventually my aggressive striding caught the attention of hospital security. They delayed me considerably, but eventually I could string together a sentence about how I was looking for Ernesto and that he was on his deathbed. The guards grew sympathetic, and led me to the correct ward.

The scene I arrived at was surreal. Anna had torn all her clothes off in a manic episode. Anita just stood over her, horrified. Ernesto was on what I assumed to be life support, out cold.

‘Anna! Anna, why did you run away from me baby!’ I ran over to her but she screamed as I approached.

Hospital security grabbed me tightly, and I never felt so intensely angry.

‘Let go! I love her! I fucking love her!’

‘Sir, calm down. You are going to be removed from this hospital.’

‘Anna, Anita, tell them! Tell them to let go of me!’

Anna wouldn’t look me in the eyes.

I was dragged away kicking and screaming.

XIV

Dear Anita,

My sweet angel. I write this letter to you as my confession. You are simply too perfect for me. I can’t help but feel that I do not deserve you deep in my bones. Maybe that’s why I’ve done what I’ve done.

I have been unfaithful. You were right to be suspicious. I am sorry all the way to my core. I ruined a good thing we had together.

I won’t go into the details, but yes, it was with that girl. We have been seeing each other on and off for years, and our savings went missing because I used the money to move her into the flat above the barbershop.

I never truly loved her. It was all an act of lust. I know it sounds unbelievable, but I only realised this once I saw her for what she really was. Just a pretty face. She does not possess any of the real qualities you have. She’s just an immature, naïve little girl.

But I have broken things off with her permanently. She has been trying to make me jealous by inviting strange men over every other night. But it won’t work. Not anymore. I’ve realised the value of a true woman. But more importantly, I have realised my failings as an honest man.

If you find it in your heart, please take me back. If not, I understand.

But know that I will always love you.

Yours forever,

Ernie

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