The train halts. His raised brows ask if this is my stop. It isn't. What's the body language for High Street Ken?
Friday 21 July 1995
Panic, pleasure, low-key paranoia (is he/isn't he?): black hair, boyishly messy. It keeps falling over his forehead and he keeps pushing it back (I wonder how it would feel between my fingers). His tan, considered but serious, is as brown as his eyes - contact-lenses-Optrex-moody - and he'd be what bodice-rippers call "broodingly intense" if he didn't smile so often. Even white teeth flash every few seconds, a beam as regular as the illumination from a lighthouse, guiding lost ships through the night into safe waters.
The carriage is packed tight. Rush hour. No one but me notices when he looks over again. I tilt my face up. I know it's one of my better angles - boyish and eager. I know because, alright, I've practised with a hand mirror at home, watching intently - no, clinically - over the months as the weight dissolved, leaving behind this person who hadn't been seen in slightly over a decade; blinking, stunned, uncertain about being in the arena, at the carnival, joining the three-ring circus again.
That person isn't used to cruising. The sport of queens. Sideways glances, secret signs and signals, frank interest held a beat too long and a beat more, out there in the open but set apart, deliciously exclusive, running parallel with the mundane everyday. This silent, intricate minuet that wasn't taught but simply was. Had to be if you didn't want your love to howl its name.
My move. Your move. Contact. Desire and promise. Right under their noses.What a rush.
That person remembers the rules of the game but doesn't much want to play. That person actually considers leaping off the train and running fast in any direction, away from the threat of ...
The train stops. Embankment. He raises his eyebrows into perfect twin arches. He's asking if this is my stop, I think. It isn't. What's the body language for High Street Kensington?
Doors slide open. Bodies spill on and off, pushing and shoving. Holding on to the overhead rail, he twists, adjusting to the ebb and flow. The muscles in his arm stand out. They've been nursed into definition. I imagine they would be hard and smooth and warm to the touch.
Another look. I try a blank face, but find myself looking down, then up, then down again. The doors close.
There was a time when this was addictive and I was a junkie. It was necessary reinforcement, proof I was not alone, that everywhere in the city other men like me went about their daily business, but that we were all in this together. It was ego massage, too - instant evidence of sexual potency, living proof of the obviousness of attraction. We here on the most wanted list, no matter that the list existed solely inside your own skull.
And it was so easy. No flowers, no chocolates, no dinner, no dancing. It wasn't even as if the sex was central; it was usually frantic and fierce, thank you, but somehow irrelevant. Coupling was closure. Cruising was anticipation, limitless opportunity, eternally exciting in a fashion with which the rude flesh couldn't compare.
The supermarket. Him. Over there. Next to the oranges, rough hands on his buckle belt, legs apart, midnight cowboy posing. Is he the one? Score. Game over. Please try again.
The museum. By the Hockney. Three-piece suit, glasses, ex-public schoolboy. Him. Is he the one? Score. Game over. Please try again. Again and again. Once more with feeling ...
Then once more without feeling. The hunter gets captured by the game. Sometime the idea of love, the search for love, has to yield to the real thing. Or the nearest equivalent.
Next stop. Passengers swarm from the carriage. He looks over, smiles again, waits, steps on to the platform. His destination, not mine. He makes for the escalator. People clamber on and are carried aloft, but, at the last moment he pauses, turns, looks right at me and sweetly shrugs. I shrug back: I'm sorry, too. Then he's gone.
Brief encounter. Might have been ...
The doors close. The train picks up speed, surges forward - on to whatever's next.
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