How To Make New Friends

By Phil Whitehouse (Flickr: New office) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

“All about the arse mate”

“Yeah decent, but you saw her tits right?”

“Like melons rolling around in a grow-bag”

They burst into that grating laughter you can hear in any office in London where there are more men than women.

Like chimps, beating their chests in a savage display of dominance. Visceral. Raw. Masculine.

I never learned to laugh like that. Mother told me it was uncouth. Ungentlemanly.

I never beat my chest like a chimp either. Or is it gorillas that do that? I suppose that makes sense. They’re the big hulking alphas of the simian world. Yeah makes sense. I never beat my chest like a gorilla either. Or a chimp. Which ever it is. I have a documentary about apes at home. I haven’t watched it yet.

I never learned to laugh like that, or to talk like that. I suppose I never really learned how to make friends either, not normal ones anyway. The ones I have are… well. It doesn’t matter.

They didn’t like me much in the office. I couldn’t really understand why. I hated their stupid jokes and the way They looked at people, the way They’d analyse you, judge your worth on what They could get out of you.

The easily intimidated guy They can harass into giving them what They want, into doing their work and then taking credit for it. Upper management for payrises and free lunches and golfing afternoons. Women either to ignore in the meeting or to take home and… you know.

I haven’t done that yet. They call me The Virgin. At first I asked them to stop, I told them that I just wanted to wait for the right person.

“He’s actually a fucking virgin!” They laughed

“You’re not waiting mate, it’s ‘cos no-one wants to fuck you” They laughed

They were right. So I laughed. I laughed it off and went back to work and hoped They’d drop it, just drop it and leave me alone.

They didn’t like me much because I was a virgin. I heard Sarah call me a Creep once. She said it right in front of me. Well, she whispered it, but she had drank a few glasses of wine so I could hear everything she said. My boss doesn’t like me either, I think he thinks I’m creepy too, but never says anything. I guess he thinks he’ll lose his job if he fired the hardest working person in accounting. The human calculator he says. Which is stupid, because I use a calculator like everyone in accounting. It’s standard equipment. They gave me one on my first day. I named him Reginald.

Numbers work better for me than people you see? They’re easier to understand. I’ve heard people say they find numbers too confusing, but they have rules you see? People don’t have rules. But I’m meandering, I guess this is just a cliché. The simple fact is I don’t really get people, and people didn’t get me. That’s all.

Rebecca was the new girl. She was the one They were discussing so charmingly.

“What do you reckon Virgin? Tasty right”.

“She’s pretty” I mumbled. It was better to be quieter. Being loud gets you attention and I’ve never seen anything good come from attention. Attention is for Them, for people like me, life is something to be endured quietly until I can go home to my friends.

“What? Speak up Virgin”

“She’s pretty”

Wheyyyyyyyyyyy

Oh I’ve done it now, I’ve gone and absolutely done it now. They’re all cheering and I’m getting hot in the face again and I go so so pink when I get hot in the face and They laugh more when I do that and I can feel the hot wet tears and everything’s blurry and everything sounds blurry but They don’t see that, or maybe They do and They don’t care. I don’t know. I don’t understand Them. I never have.

“Got a crush on Rebecca have you?”

“Reckon she’s The One, Virgin?”

“Oi lads, we’ll have to come up with a new name for Virgin after this”

“Here she comes Virgin, it’s your girlfriend Rebecca”

For some strange reason I felt my stomach quail. For some strange reason I thought that maybe me and Rebecca could be friends. Real friends. Not like my friends at home. Oh I hope they don’t hear me say that. I just meant… different friends.

She had the kindest eyes. My mother said I couldn’t trust a woman with kind eyes, but she said that about every kind of eye, so I guess that means I can’t trust anyone with eyes at all. But I wanted to trust her, I wanted to believe she would be as kind as her eyes.

Of course she wouldn’t be — no-one is. But I wanted to believe it, that’s why I didn’t want to talk to her, I didn’t want her to notice me, except maybe a little wave hello every now and then, then I could tell myself she was kind because she wouldn’t have shown me otherwise, then I could tell Mother all about her, my new, kind friend, and she wouldn’t say anything but I’d know she’d be proud of me, all my friends would.

“Rebecca, babe, have you met Virgin yet?”

“Yeah, he has a crush on you, reckons you’re well fit”

But it was over now. Sarah would tell her I’m a Creep. They would all laugh, and she’d look at me the way They do, and the most I could hope for was a sort of disgusted pity at this point, but she was too pretty to be that generous, but that’s ok, that’s ok, because I have my friends and they’ll be waiting for me at home, and they’ll tell me it’s all my fault really, for thinking silly thoughts. They’re the only friends I have. The only ones I need.

“Did you say that?”

I close my eyes, screw them up, screw them up as tight as I possibly can and just wait for the world to collapse in around me like my eyelids, just crush down with its infinite weight and wink me out from existence. I screw them up tight so the tears don’t fall.

“Ahhh Virgin’s got all shy”

Just waiting, waiting, waiting for it to end. Its all going to end, it needs to because I can bear it oh God I can’t bear it.

“Well that’s very flattering. Thank you sweetie”

Her hand brushes mine and dusts all the weight away. I haven’t been touched like that in… I haven’t been touched like that. It was so light, so tender, but oh it was filled with all the loving kindness I saw in her eyes, oh I knew it I knew it she’s so kind, her eyes, so kind, oh yes I’m going to tell all my friends and maybe they’ll be jealous of my new friend but to hell with them.

I’m smiling on the inside.

They’ve stopped talking.

She’s walked off.

I have work to do and it passes by in a golden daze.

I’m in that same daze when I come home, where they’re all waiting for me, my friends.

I greet them all, one by one. I’m excited to tell them all about Rebecca but I need to go through the same ritual every night. That’s the key to life you see. You do the same things over and over and nothing can really go wrong. Really truly wrong I mean.

If you eat the same breakfast each day then you won’t have a bad breakfast. If you watch the same films you know what’s going to happen and you won’t feel sad or get too excited and then be unable to sleep. If you drive on the same road every day you won’t get into any accidents. That’s the secret. I learned that a long time ago.

I was so excited to tell them but first I had to say hello. They got very grumpy if I didn’t and they wouldn’t speak all night. They never said anything anyway, but I like to imagine they’d get grumpy if I didn’t say hello first.

Hello Mother. I nod at her urn.

Hello Annalisa. I nod at hers too. It’s smaller because she was only a baby.

She couldn’t speak yet but I like to think she does that lovely gurgling chuckle babies do when you talk to them nicely.

Father.

His urn is around the same size as Mother’s.

I’m more curt with him. We never got along Father and I, he told me I was too feminine, I was too weak for the world. But here I am, and there he is.

Anyway, now wasn’t the time to dig out old family fueds. Sometimes you have to be mature and put those silly things aside. I sat down instead, and I smiled. I told them all about Rebecca. I didn’t tell them about Them, because I don’t like to tell them about bad things because I don’t want them to worry about me, but soon enough I’d forgotten all about Them, because I was talking about Rebecca and how kind her eyes were and how I knew she was kind from the second I saw them. I told them all about it, and I felt the happiest I’d felt in a long, long time.