It is 2:30am when Graham spies me from across the road. Uh-oh. I said goodnight to Graham about an hour and a half ago so I could go and finish the night off in the gambling parlour, and now I needed an excuse. I decided quickly I had better take the head on this conversation, but fortunately, Graham seems too drunk to really care.
-Hey man, what’s happening, you still out?
-Yeah, it’s all good! Just walking up the road, down here in South Belfast, it’s all good. What you up to?
-I’m excellent. I just won ninety pounds.
This is a lie, almost. I made forty pounds profit, at the risk of putting in fifty quid and quickly saying goodbye to it. Anyway, ninety sounds better.
-No way, how did you do that?! I don’t believe you.
Graham snorts a little and laughs. I point in the direction of the gambling parlour and then take my wallet out and display the notes.
-Wow, you did. Well done, man.
I’m showing off now. These guys are young, and ninety pounds is a lot of dough to them. It’s a lot to me too, but I can’t let on that it is, I have to tell myself I can afford it, otherwise I wouldn’t be gambling at all, I’d have gone straight to bed like a good boy.
We’re standing at a bus stop outside Methody College, just across from the gambling room. Graham and a few others of us had been at a reading earlier on, then on to some bar. I couldn’t even remember the bar now, all I focused on was the money and the winnings.
It’s pretty busy for this time of night, but I figure it’s still pretty early, and as I get older, the night becomes younger for me.
-You’ve met Tim and Rob?
-Yeah, I think I met you before.
I nod to Tim, a ginger dreadlocked guy who I was willing to bet played in a band. Rob had an impressive beard for an eighteen year old, or he was older than I thought.
-You going to join us mate? We’re heading for a kebab.
-Aah, no thanks, I already got something earlier.
-You’re the poet, yeah? I saw you read in the Safehouse. It was pretty good.
Tim mentions something about us working together on something, and I say the same thing as always when offered projects: sure, yeah and then soon forget about the whole thing.
Graham is milling around behind us as we talk. He can’t keep still, and it’s not because of the drink. He’s exactly the same when sober, a dervish of a teenager, all rambling philosophy beautifully phrased in struck motions of physical whimsy.
-Eurgh, look at this.
Graham brings us over to the bus stop and points behind the plastic seat. There’s something sticking out the side, and as I edge closer, my nose wrinkles up with suspicion. Whatever it is smells like vodka vomit. It wouldn’t be the first time someone treated the metro stop as a toilet.
-There’s a dead cat in here! Woah. Will you look at that?
Sure enough, some sorry feline was laid out, tucked behind the seat. Its front paws stretched out in front of it, as if in prayer. The smell gets worse as I lean down, and my caution must be a sign that I’m sobering up. It smells exactly like puke, but all the vomit is the same in this city, expelled from the heart of another punter coughing up the ruins of a Friday night.
-You still feel like getting that kebab?
I say my goodbyes to Graham and his friends, explaining that they were heading one way, and I had to go the other. I can’t see out the small hours to the morning, I’m an old, tired man now and I want to go home, but Graham and friends seem to be ready to keep on going.
I walk down the road, thinking about that dead cat. I’m ready to be stretched out on the pavement, ready for the maggots and the city to come and get me. I pat my jeans pocket to check I’ve got my wallet okay, and head home, forty pounds richer, but flat broke in direction and aptitude. There is always the expectancy of tomorrow here: the sun will come out, the bins will be collected, the dream job is open. Oh, to gnaw through my ropes and reach out to it all.