Manchester Piccadilly was packed on a Saturday afternoon. How was I going to spot my date in this mass of people? I went over to the arrival boards and suddenly realised that I didn’t know which train he’d be on.
At least we had remembered to exchanged numbers. I sent him a text and tried to recall the photos of him. Was his hair black or brown? Did he have a beard? What would he be wearing?
I sent another text. No reply. Twenty minutes had gone.
Pressing my back against the cold glass of a cafe window, I realized he’d stood me up. Sighing, I started walking away. My phone beeped. A message from him; Is that you in the blue coat?
I glanced around and saw a man staring at me. He looked vaguely familiar. As I went over, the nerves flooded back.
‘It is you then,’ he said.
‘It’s nice to meet you…in person.’
‘You too….I thought you were going to be a man.’
Did my photos look that bad or had he been expecting a nasty surprise?
‘This is my first internet date…I thought you might have led me on or something…I just didn’t know what to expect. Guess I prepared for the worse,’ he explained.
I frowned, ‘but you wanted to meet….’
He paused and my defensives rose. I tried to tell myself he was only being honest. We were having a bad start and it could only get better. Remain calm and stop being so self-conscious.
‘So…where did you say we were going again? I’ve never been to Manchester.’
‘To the art gallery,’ I replied.
‘It’s free, right?’
‘Yes and there’s a coffee shop.’
‘I don’t like coffee.’
‘But you like art right?’
Fixing a smile, we walked to the exit. It was a warm day and the streets were busier than the station. I thought over our passed conversations and tried to select a subject. We didn’t have a lot in common and looking at him, he wasn’t that cute. He was avoiding me too.
About ten minutes later, I stopped. I didn’t recognise the back street we were on and I wasn’t sure that this was the right way to the gallery after all. Before I could figure it out and set off again, he spoke out, ‘I thought you knew the way.’
‘Yes, but I think we turned early…or too late…just give me a sec.’
I walked back and looked about. There were no signs. The crowd of people seemed to have thinned and there less shops here.
‘I really don’t like this,’ he muttered.
Feeling panicked, I stopped a woman and asked. Helpfully, she pointed me in the right direction. Calling to Nick, we walked on and I tried to make light of getting lost. He seemed uninterested.
Arriving at the gallery, we spent the next hour gliding through the silent rooms of paintings. When we came to one of my favourites; The Chariot Race by Alexander Von Wagner, 1882, I sat down on the bench before it. Nick followed. I pointed the painting out and begin talking in a whisper.
‘I’m going to the next room,’ he replied.
I pulled a face, which I hope he noticed.
He got up and left. I’d been wrong about things getting better. Maybe it was time to end this? It was clear things were not going well and I doubt there’d be a second date. Also, I needed the bathroom.
Getting up, I walked after him and found the room empty. Maybe he’d left already or just walked into the next one? Doing so, I found it empty too. I walked out onto the corridor and saw that the bathroom was just below. Making up my mind, I headed downstairs and into the toilets.
Just as I’d sat down, my phone rung. Digging out, I saw he was calling. I answered and my phone cut out. There was no signal. As I put the phone down it rang again, but the second I picked it up it stopped. Sensing that he’d keep trying, I hurried up and walked out.
He called another three times, before I was able to phone him and actually get through.
‘Where are you?’ he demanded.
‘I had to go to the bathroom. Are you still upstairs?’
‘Okay, I’ll be right there.’
I turned and saw him coming down the stairs.
‘Sorry. Do you want to go for a drink?’ I asked.
‘No…can we…can you take me back to the station?’
‘Sure. It’s not really worked out, has it?’
‘Guess not. You seem nice, but to be honest with you, I don’t think I’m ready for a relationship.’