Her name could’ve been Eimear or Sinead or Siobhan. It could’ve been Aoife or Niamh or Cliodhna or Maeve. It could’ve been Bronagh or Caomihe and I prayed that it wouldn’t be Meabhdhgh and it wasn’t.
It was Katie.
I asked what her name was and she said Katie.
A name I could say and spell and repeat and repeat again and again. Katie. K.A.T.I.E. Katie.
I repeated it all the way from the train station to the pub where we were meeting. She had sent me a message to say she was standing at the bar and I walked in and looked around and there she was. Katie. I tapped her on the shoulder and she turned and went to hug me but she knocked her phone off the bar and I tried to catch it and watched it tumble to the ground instead.
She picked it up and I asked if it was okay.
She laughed and she blushed, I think. And she said she was sure it would be fine. We went to hug and kiss on the cheek except I realised, at that precise moment, that kissing on the cheek isn’t a thing here so instead we hugged – kind of – and kissed – kind of – and sat at a table next to the toilets. Then I said that I hated sitting next to the toilets so we moved to a different table. I felt like things weren’t going well, but we weren’t sitting next to the toilets so things could’ve been worse, and moments ago they had been.
I asked what she’d like to drink and she said gin. Then she said, ‘the cheapest gin.’ So I went to the bar and asked for a beer and the cheapest gin and the bartender gave me a look like I was a piece of shit and I added, ‘she said it, not me.’ And I pointed to Katie and instead of a piece of shit I felt like hot shit. The hottest shit.
It was the cheapest gin but it wasn’t a cheap gin. I took it to the table and we cheersed and she asked me if I liked Belfast and I told her I like it for the same reason everyone hates it.
She said, ‘The Catholics?’ and I laughed and choked on my beer and saw a thousand futures in which we are together.
I said, ‘Because everywhere you go, you run into someone you know.’ She said, ‘I hate that,’ and I said, ‘I know you do.’
I told her about Saturday night and how I went to the local pub with a friend. I told her that we had been watching his son play rugby that morning, and that we overheard a woman at the pub saying she’d been at the game too.
I told her how I interrupted the woman’s conversation and said, ‘hang on, what were you doing there?’ And the woman said, ‘I was serving coffee and I remember you, so I do. I remember your accent. You ordered two black coffees.’
And I told Katie how I looked at the woman and thought: I love this.
And I told Katie that the woman turned to my friend and they spoke about how they were in their fifties and both had teenage sons and then she told him that she had seen him on Tinder and swiped right and I realised that dating never gets less awkward. And my friend laughed and said, ‘oh really,’ and we all knew he hadn’t swiped right on her and me and him knew that he never would.
It’s strange to think that swiping is a romantic gesture these days.
There was a couple sitting next to us – next to Katie and me – and the girl was telling the guy a story, a story about the tattoo on her arse, a tattoo that says ‘shitcunt’ in Thai.
The girl told him that she was at a gay bar and asked this Thai guy to tell her what the tattoo said and he didn’t want to.
The Thai guy said: I don’t think you want to know.
She said: read it.
He said: it says shit and then a rude word.
She said: what word?
He said: it’s a bad word.
She said: what word?
He said: it’s a bad word for your pussy, the worst word.
She said: what does it say?
He said: it says shitcunt.
And in the story she cracked up and the Thai guy couldn’t believe she had that tattooed on her arse. Then the girl cracked up at the table and so did the guy she was with and then Katie and I started laughing too and Katie leaned over and said that’s the best tattoo story she has ever heard.
I thought: that’s funny.
Then I thought: we will never understand why other people do things.
And I watched Katie’s lips form the word ‘shitcunt’ and I tell you I have never seen anything so beautiful and I realised that maybe that’s the reason we’re here: to try and understand people despite knowing we can’t. And to laugh at shitcunts.
We left the bar and walked down the street and a woman tripped over the gutter in front of a Wetherspoons pub. I told Katie that the last time I was in a Wetherspoons someone set a guy’s hair on fire, and the time before I watched a girl vomit in the men’s urinal. I didn’t plan on watching, it just kind of happened.
Katie told me she used to go with her friends when they were in university and they would strawpedo these blue drinks and I said, ‘are we going to Wetherspoons?’ and she said, ‘are we going to Wetherspoons?’ and we looked at each other and we said ‘we’re going to Wetherspoons,’ and we walked in.
I ordered two blue drinks and Katie slipped between two men that looked angry, like someone had set their hair on fire, and she grabbed two straws. We hid in the back corner next to the kitchen and we strawpedoed our drinks and she turned away as hers went up her nose. We were 16 and in high school, and we were 22 and at university, and we were 29 and in a Wetherspoons, and none of that mattered because we were eternal and the only time that existed was the 3.5 seconds it took for me to finish my drink and win.
I looked at Katie and thought: I’ve won. And even though she lost, and even though her eyes were watering from the drink, she looked back at me with this look like maybe she’d won too.