Better Late Than Never — flash fiction
London — the 60s
Dark-skinned Benny (23) and light-skinned Pinkie (35) were in a festive mood. They wore washed-out-looking blue jeans and white T-shirts which bore a large, printed Guyana map on the front. It was late summer, and on the tube, the two men began to chat up two girls with backpacks. The men invited them to tag along to the Notting Hill Carnival, but the girls — Fleur and Tess, 21 — were heading for the airport.
There was an exchange of addresses, and Benny wrote to Fleur, while Pinkie wasn’t much for letter writing. He was an out-of-sight-out-of-mind person with women.
During the Christmas break, Benny went to see Fleur in Holland. She lived with her mother, and he was allowed to stay with them instead of at a hotel.
Fleur took him to some tourist spots in Amsterdam, like the leaning houses and buildings.
She said, “The city’s on a bit of a tilt, and the foundation has a problem.”
“But it’s still a beauty,” Benny said.
“I’m glad you like it.”
“Sure,” Benny replied, his shyness highlighted by his good looks.
“Not like London, though,” fine-looking Fleur said with a bright smile. Her dark hair fell to her shoulders.
“No. Not like London. But that’s good,” Benny said, briefly glancing at her.
Benny liked the city’s scenery of canals and wandered along cobbled walkways, some nearby, bridges and dikes.
They visited the Van Gogh Museum with Fleur as his guide, which he seemed to enjoy. Then to a coffee bar where Fleur bumped into Pieter, one of her fellow college students of philosophy. Benny disliked Pieter’s nerdy behaviour on Existentialism, which he knew nothing about except what Bertrand Russell (the British philosopher) said that it made no sense to him or something of that effect.
Acquainting himself later, Benny wondered whether Shakespeare flirted with Existentialism, allowing Hamlet to pose the most famous existential dilemma in Western literature: to be or not to be that is the question.
One morning she had quietly approached his bedroom and told him they should siege the moment and be done with it.
Benny quickly obeyed the woman’s command, lowering his pyjamas and briefs before mounting her, attempting to find his way. Then he got going and appeared to be giving a one-sided performance before coming to a halt. He seemed nervous, with knitted brows and shuddered shoulders
“I can’t do it,” said the young male. “Afraid of your mum barging in. Sorry.”
“I understand,” the woman said. “My fault for putting you in this awkward situation.”
He assured her that no one was the blame. Fleur hugged him and remained so for a while.
Benny didn’t feel welcome in Fleur’s mother’s home, and he expected the mother to burst in at any time they were together and out of her sight. But there had never been such a breach of their privacy.
He distrusted anybody who said little or nothing and carried a blank face during his effort to converse. Fleur explained it was because her mother was like that to strangers, and her English wasn’t up to the mark.
They did much hugging and kissing during walks.
Then Fleur’s menstrual cycle started.
Benny’s time with Fleur passed quickly, and he was sad on the ship from Hoek van Holland to Harwich.
Fleur and Benny remained pen pals. He didn’t mind because her letters brought warmth, letting him escape London’s Metropolitan City, where biting winds and human apathy reigned supreme.
In early spring, Benny met a Swedish woman at Speaker’s Corner, and he got to date her, Lisa, once before returning to Sweden.
Benny promised to write, and Lisa replied.
He had also promised to write to a Spanish nurse he met at a West Indian Student Centre dance. But Benny didn’t bother because he drew to Lisa, who invited him to spend a few days in December.
His situation took a turn for him that spring. A Jamaican friend, Gary, invited Benny to Surrey and introduced him to Angelia. Gerry was dating her older sister. And at a party in Surrey, Benny met Michelle. He became infatuated with Angelia, who was nineteen and looked like the younger Barbara Streisand.
Michelle was thirty-three years old, brunette and attractive, married, and a mother of two. Elton, her husband, was often away during the weekend. Benny and Michelle would meet in London to spend time together, like eating in an Italian restaurant, attending the cinema, or doing it in his single apartment. Benny’s luck changed when Michelle assisted him in losing his virginity. The situation went smoothly for him with Angelia, who regarded him as her boyfriend. He took her to see Golden Boy — a musical — starring Sammy Davis at the London Palladium.
Lisa was willing for him to come to Stockholm, and Benny was over-excited by the idea but wasn’t sure Sweden was where he wanted to settle for good. Lisa found his work in a hospital and the opportunity to learn the Swedish language two evenings a week.
Benny decided to try Sweden, reasoning it would be an excellent idea to distance himself from the English capital for a few months at least.
Going to Sweden meant he would be away from his two English lovers. He wasn’t too happy but knew he couldn’t have it all his way.
Angelia then called one evening to say she hadn’t had her period. He could hear and feel his heartbeat.
But she called him a few days later to tell him she wasn’t pregnant.
That was a close call, he thought and thanked the gods.
Benny couldn’t believe his luck had turned around for the better; it felt surreal. He couldn’t rely on good fortune to stay forever.
He reflected on all his years on the shelf: Dating attractive ladies. Benny was never able to complete his journey. His romantic nature could have been the source of trouble.
Benny recalled following friends to engage in sex at nineteen with a prostitute because the girls he dated never allowed him to go beyond petting. But he couldn’t bring himself to go through with it. And the girls who didn’t mind doing it with him were doing it with anyone. However, he wasn’t tempted and couldn’t understand why. He pondered if being reared by two women had influenced his masculinity. But Benny wasn’t swayed by the logic.
Pinkie quipped that in his desperation, Benny may have entered into cahoots with the Devil in exchange for good luck, causing the gods to postpone good fortune. But Benny laughed it off as foolishness.
Benny promised his two English lovers that he would keep in touch now and might even make a surprise visit to Surrey.
While in Sweden, two aunts who were his guardians growing, following the demise of his mother through second childbirth — had sent money for him to visit them in America and perhaps settle there.
With his heart set on going to America, Benny’s thoughts became muddled. Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, seemed likeable for him to settle in compared to London’s dog-eat-dog existence.
Benny gave up his hospital job in the Sterilisation Section and returned to London but was reluctant to return to his career as an industrial X-Ray Technician because he gave the impression that he was quitting the UK for good.
However, he returned to work after being on the dole for three weeks. His workmates were happy to see him.
The American Embassy denied him a visitor’s visa.
Benny married in Sweden later that year, but he and Lisa returned to London. Both worked for a year in London before returning to Sweden for good.
He had written to the Fleur about his decision to marry and wasn’t overconfident. Benny wrote that he considered himself insecure and immature but hoped the situation would turn out well.
He never heard from Fleur again.
Benny was easily affected by guilt (and shame) but was proud of his honesty. He didn’t want to reveal his desperation to get his life in order by leaving the English environment, and with Lisa, as someone, he could trust and rely on.
While Benny was in Sweden that summer working in the hospital, Fleur visited London to see him. He had it down to be a misunderstanding because he had written to her about working in Sweden.
During moments of nostalgia, Benny wondered how his life with Fleur might have turned out. They had a friendship going but made no promises. He was twenty-four, and she was twenty-two, and she knew he had a job in London and was “studying”. Having a job was true, but his studying wasn’t consistent. Fleur wrote about wanting to go to South Africa to teach and protest against Apartheid.
But Benny advised Fleur not to go because of the danger.
After Benny wrote to her about getting married, he imagined Fleur might have decided to go to South Africa.
Benny’s unconscious guilt might have prompted the thought.