Standing at the train station, I checked my phone for the hundredth time. Still no texts or calls even though the arrival board said his train was due in a few minutes. I tapped my phone to my lips and looked at the forever changing list of destinations and times. Then my phone pinged and I hurriedly checked it.
Here, the text message read.
I looked around, trying to recall his photos on the dating website. He had glasses and dark hair, I think. And a wonky smile, at least it had looked that way.
My phone pinged again. Where R U?
Glancing around, I texted back, Outside W .S. Smith’s.
Then moving towards it, I lent against the window and looked hard at the people passing me by. It was hard to pick a single face out from the crowd as everyone was moving quickly. A man in a business suit carrying a briefcase strolled by as if on some important mission. A tried looking middle aged woman dragged her crying child behind her whilst pulling a suitcase in the other hand. A group of chatting teenagers flapped by, their colourful clothes a nice difference amongst the normal blacks, whites, blues and greys of the workers.
I saw him. Or at least it seemed to be him. Standing outside another shop, looking confused and checking his phone. He did have short black hair and large glasses on. I debated going over and ran though what I’d say if it wasn’t him in my head. Pulling a face, I risked it and walked over.
‘Ben?’ I said.
He looked up, ‘yes?’
‘Harriet. Nice to meet you,’
‘Yeah, erm you too,’ he uttered.
‘Let’s go. I thought we’d take the free bus some of the way and the rest is only a short walk to the art gallery,’ I explained.
I paused, having heard his tone of voice.
‘Or we can do something else if you want? There’s lots to do in Manchester,’ I added with a smile.
He shook his head and rubbed his fingers over the screen of his phone, ‘It’s fine, whatever you want to do.’
‘Are you sure?’
He looked at me properly for the first time and sighed deeply, ‘To be honest I thought you were going to be a man.’
He shrugged then ran a hand through his hair.
‘Why would you…?’ I trailed, not sure what to even think.
‘You know what the internet is like. Anyway, I’m glad you’re not.’
‘Erm…thanks, I guess, mmmm,’ I spoke then we fell into silence.
Around us everyone still seemed to be in a hurry to either get to a train or get out off the station. It remind me of the sea and waves rolling back and forth. I saw more business people, groups of young people and families each locked in their own world with only their destination on their minds.
‘I’m just glad that’s all,’ Ben suddenly said.
‘What?’ I asked turning back to him.
‘About not being a man…I’m glad you turned out to be you.’
I shook my head slightly, still feeling confused about this whole conversation.
‘So…’ he muttered.
‘Oh, yeah, the bus. Come on,’ I gushed.
Turning, I walked out of the station and he had to double step to keep my pace. A part of me wonder if I should ditch him right now. Could I make up some story he’d believe on the spot? I had a headache? I felt sick? My gran was locked out of her house and I was the only one close with a spare key?
The bus was at the stop awaiting us and I just couldn’t say anything to him. We joined the three people queuing to get on. I held my hands together, toying with my ring. There was something comforting about the feel of the ring against my skin.
I looked at him and realised he was a head shorter then me. He was wearing a plain green polar shirt and jeans. He was also playing with his phone again and it looked like was texting someone. He was probably telling whoever it was the good news that I wasn’t a man!
We got on the bus and sat awkwardly down together. I thought about grilling him about his past girlfriends or if he’d meet up with anyone else from the dating website yet. I tossed my wheat coloured hair back off my shoulder and looked down at him. Ben was still looking at his phone, now checking a social media site.
‘So, is this your first time in Manchester?’ I asked.
He nodded, but didn’t looked up.
‘And…did you get here okay? Was the train busy?’ I added.
He shrugged, ‘it was okay, I guess.’
I pressed my lips together and waited for him to ask me something. When he didn’t, I looked out of the window and watched the city centre going by. The stop we wanted couldn’t come soon enough. We got off the bus and I led the way to the roman temple style building. He seemed totally uninterested.
I opened the door of the art galley and walked in. The gentle smell of old paint, dust and cleaning stuff chased away the air pollution. I didn’t stop at the reception desk, but went right up the grand stone staircase. The walls were lined with a large 1800’s paintings, depicting all kind of things. I carried on going, right to the top and into the rooms that were marked 1600’s.
Not bothering to see if he had followed me, I started looking at the paintings. Moving from each in turn after a few moments of taking them in, I sensed he was following me and I wondered if trying to engage him in talk about the paintings would work. I stole a few glances at him and saw he was still looking at his phone. What’s with this guy?
‘What do you think of this one?’ I asked nodding my head to a scene from the Bible.
He looked up at the painting and at me, ‘I don’t believe in any of that,’ he said.
‘Even if you don’t, it’s still interesting to look at,’ I pointed out.
‘What art do you actually like?’
He frowned as he thought, ‘any, I don’t mind.’
‘Really?’ I drawled.
He nodded and looked around the room, ‘Maybe not these though…’
I stared at him through narrowed eyes then turning, walked away. I wondered through the other rooms then went downstairs. We walked through some more galleries then I guess he must have found something that interested him. I looked around, not spotting him. Then I checked the room I had just left and he wasn’t there either.
Shrugging, I went to sat down a low wooden bench then decided I needed the bathroom. I looked towards the doorway again and he really wasn’t there. I thought about backtracking and going to find him to tell him. The hell with it. I walked out of the room, into another where there was a sign showing the way to the toilets.
I followed it around the corner, down some steps and into another corner. Just as I had sat down, my phone rang. I dug it out of my bag and looked. He was phoning me! I went to answer, my phone flashed no signal and the call was cut off.
He called again, my phone rang loudly. However, as I went to answer it the same thing happened. I tried to send him a text, but it wasn’t liking that either. Putting my phone in my bag, I went to wash my hands. The phone started ringing again, but I ignored it. my ring tone cut out again.
I walked out of the bathroom and back into the gallery I was in before. He standing in the middle, looking wildly about like a child that had lost his parent.
‘Hi, sorry. Had to nip to the-‘
‘Where did you go? Why didn’t you tell me? I thought you’d left,’ he shouted.
‘It’s okay. I couldn’t find you and I had to got to the loo. I’m sorry,’ I said in a low voice, aware that an older couple were staring and so was a young Japanese woman.
‘You didn’t even bother to find me did you? You could have text me or something. I really thought you’d gone and I told you I don’t know Manchester. Why would you do that?’ he rushed loudly.
‘I had to pee,’ I hissed at him, I grabbed his wrist and tried to led him out of the room.
We were now getting very disapproving looks.
‘Let me go!’ he cried and snatched his arm back, ‘I’ve changed my mind. I want to leave!’
‘Okay, okay,’ I said, ‘that way then,’
I turned and walked out, down the stairs and through the double doors. Standing on the doorstep, the sounds and smells of the city came back to us. I took a few deep breaths and felt the calm of the art gallery leaving me.
‘Which way’s the train station?’ he asked.
‘That way,’ I pointed down the long road which ended in a three way crossing.
‘You’ll have to take me,’ he puffed.
Growling under my breath, I stalked off. Ben followed in my wake. I took him back to the train station, which was just as busy as when we had arrived. Pushing through people, I led him to the timetable board. He looked up, muttering under his breath.
‘See you then,’ I said.
‘Get home safe,’ I added.
He mumbled something then said louder, ‘bye’ and walked off into a crowed of school children.
I watched for a few seconds as the world of the train station moved around me. I shut my eyes, took a few deep breaths then headed outside again, glad that it was over.