I carried a towering pile of items to the till and placed them on the belt.
“Hi!” said the cashier.
The friendly chirpiness in her voice was probably due to the fact that it was almost closing time, but that’s just a guess. I smiled and returned the greeting, and then focused all of my limited attention on placing the heavy items at the front of the pile so I could bag them the proper way.
Little known fact, but that’s actually what adulting is all about; trying not to smoosh the brie beneath tins of tomatoes. True fact.
The cashier made a comment about the weather, and my friend smiled and agreed while I expertly separated the items in order of weight. I dropped the cartons of milk into the bottom of the bag, followed by the tins of tomatoes and the packet of pasta. I eyed the brie and broccoli as the cashier scanned it through. I was determined to absolutely nail this bagging business.
As an unrelated aside – it’s amazing the things you can trick your mind into thinking are little victories when the going gets tough.
Five minutes later, everything was carefully bagged and paid for. The cashier handed me the receipt. She smiled warmly and said, “Have a good evening now!” to which I naturally replied…
Not an ‘oh hello, didn’t see you there’ type of hello.
Not a nice, friendly, ‘Hello!!’
Just a flat, short, “Hello” in the same tone you would use if you were to automatically mutter, “Thanks” to a cashier who had just handed you a receipt.
…Which is what I was aiming for when my mind panicked and “Hello” popped out instead.
Cue an awkward pause as the cashier narrowed her eyes at me, probably trying to determine if I had some form of short-term amnesia. I grabbed the bag, turned on my heel and walked right out of the shop while screaming internally.
All this to say that today is my one year blogiversary. I know this because WordPress sent me a little notification to remind me. Thanks WordPress! One year on and I am still having awkward interactions with strangers. One year on and I am still embarrassing myself so you don’t have to. One year on and I am still waiting on that damn manual.
But in the meantime, I’ve got you guys to keep me company.
I was buying 20 eggs and a bottle of spiced rum – a questionable grocery list at the best of times – when the young guy working the till stopped and looked at me expectantly. There were about five people waiting in line behind me, so as if looking for answers or permission I first glanced at them, and then back at him, and chewed the inside of my cheek nervously. Anytime I – for any reason – hold up the line at the checkout, I’m (I think not unreasonably) afraid that a riot will break out behind me and I will die, suddenly and ignominously, when somebody throws a bottle of Elderflower Cordial at my head.
After a pause that was probably only five seconds long but felt like the eternity of time compressed and squeezed into a matter of seconds, his mouth twisted at the corner and he said, “Sorry, but I’ll need to see your ID?”
As if it was obvious.
As if I pass for an 18 year old on any given Tuesday.
I can say with certainty that I don’t look 12 years younger than my age, so this came as a bit of a surprise. For a moment I wasn’t sure I even had any ID on me. I started to get preemptively annoyed about potentially being prevented from buying my bottle of rum.
The person behind me in the queue shifted his weight from one foot to the other and this tiny gesture (the first sign of the aforementioned riot; I’m sure of it) spurred me into action. I dug into my bag and pulled out my passport card, which I was only carrying by pure chance and have literally never used for any practical purpose.
I handed it over with a face that might have read ‘You have absolutely got to be kidding me‘ but might also have read ‘Please hurry up before someone lamps me with a turnip and I have to go to intensive care for the sake of two cartons of eggs and a bottle of rum.’
He took his time looking the card over. He tilted it to check the holographic shine, then scanned it for my date of birth. When he found it, his eyebrows shot up into his hairline and he looked at me and said, “OOooooooOOOOOOoooOOOOoooh!”
The man behind me shifted his weight again. I swear I could see his fingers twitching. He was probably having graphic, detailed fantasies of throttling the two of us.
My face started to burn and I turned an unnatural, almost-fluorescent hue that lit up the shop with a rosy glow. Unfortunately, not only do I flush red when I’m embarrassed, but I also find blushing to be absolutely mortifying, and so it becomes a cycle; I turn into a human traffic light stuck on red.
The guy still held my passport card, and was now grinning at me with one eyebrow raised. He slowly moved to hand it back to me, and although I itched to snatch it off him and sprint out the door, I forced myself to move at a normal pace. I took it back and busied myself burying it deep in my bag, hiding my face with my hair in an effort to get my skintone back to an earthly shade. He handed me my rum, still grinning, and I felt another wave of heat wash over me. I tapped my card on the machine and grabbed the receipt off him a moment sooner than might have been polite, and as I turned to walk away, he called after me:
“I hope you have a wonderful night!”
And then, when I didn’t reply straight away, he added (with a touch of innuendo):
Without turning, I lifted the bottle of rum in acknowledgement of his comment and continued out the door.
It’s cold in the Dublin evenings now, but not to worry; my flushed face kept me warm for a few minutes longer.
*I suspect he either thought I was a tiny alcoholic with a penchant for spiced rum and omelettes OR he thought I was on my way to get properly hammered and egg someone’s house**. Neither is particularly flattering.
I enjoy being with people, don’t get me wrong. I like spending time with people. People are great! I have a lovely time whether I’m out with friends or at home chatting over tea.
It drains me though, and it drains me fast. Fast like my Samsung S7 battery that runs down after a few hours of intense usage, not like ye olde Nokia 3210 battery that lasted five days if you played Snake on it constantly, and twenty-three days if you barely touched it at all. When I spend time with people, afterwards I need to retreat, relax, and recharge, and usually my recharging station is my home, where I work or study at the dining table next to the window.
This is how I first became aware of my neighbours.
My window overlooks their balcony, and every day out of the corner of my eye I would see a man and his dog – who we will call Frank for the purposes of this post – coming and going on their walks together.
I can’t fully explain my obsession with Frank. It started out as a pretty benign distraction from my day; I would see Frank (an English Bulldog) and Frankman (the name I gave his owner) exit the building, and then I would watch, amused, as Frank lay stubbornly down on the grass and refused to go anywhere.
Frankman would sigh, exasperated, and half-heartedly tug on the lead.
Frank would dig his barrel chest into the grass.
Frankman would grumble and pull with all his might.
Frank would duck his head and hunch his stocky shoulders, as immovable as a rock formation.
Frankman’s pleas would go from an exasperated, “Come on, Frank” to an increasingly desperate “FRANK! FRANK! COME ON! FRANK!”
Frank would stare implacably at his owner.
Frankman would yank on the lead in a sort of daily exercise in futility.
Frank would lie on the grass stoically refusing to go anywhere before he was ready. Then, as if he hadn’t just been making a scene for the past five minutes, he would calmly get up and trot off with a flustered Frankman in tow.
This would happen before almost every single walk. I would watch these scenes, and over time I grew fond of both Frank and Frankman. There was something really endearing about Frank, who made it clear that if he went anywhere at all it was only because he was allowing it, and there was also something endearing about Frankman, because he always looked so buttoned-up and serious but would lose all and any air of authority around Frank.
Frankman also has a wife (Frankwoman) and together the three of them were the Frankfamily. They brightened up my days considerably with their Frank-related antics. Even on his own, Frank would bring a smile to your face. Like a creep I would sometimes take photos of Frank’s more memorable moments. I have, for example, a video of Frank falling off a chair and quickly getting back up to look around and check if anybody witnessed it. He was a character.
And then one day, Frank was gone.
One week he was being his usual obstinate self, and the next there was no Frank, no walk, no tug-of-war happening in the garden. I barely saw Frankman or Frankwoman. Where was Frank? Considering I had never spoken to Frankfamily, there was nothing I could do but wonder. I rationalised it to myself coming up with a variety of reasons he wouldn’t be at home, but in three years Frank had never to my knowledge been apart from the Frankparents. If they were at home, so was Frank. The whole thing was worrying.
The following weekend, I watched as Frankman arrived home with a tiny bulldog puppy in his arms.
Frank was gone.
Since I never spoke to Frankman and Frankman never spoke to me, the mystery was unresolved until one day when my father dropped over for a visit. As I walked in with him, we met Frankman and the new addition walking out. Unaware of the delicate neighbourhood ecosystem in which nobody directly addressed anybody else, and instead only ever communicated through comments directed at each others’ pets, my father asked Frankman what had happened to “the big dog”. Frankman looked down at the ground and explained that Frank had had a heart attack while they were out for a walk. A congenital heart defect, undetectable until it was too late. He said it casually, scuffing the toe of his shoe into the grass as he spoke, but his voice was gruff with emotion.
The new addition was called (let’s just say) Ariadne.
Ariadne was adorable, but she wasn’t Frank. She was too small, too cute. She bounded out for her walks with great enthusiasm. She didn’t know Frank’s trick of standing up on the chair and placing both paws on the balcony railing to survey his domain. She didn’t bark as often. Her best moments came when she attacked Frankman’s shoes and when she waddled off with a leaf or a stick she’d found, proud as punch.
We switched Frankwoman’s name to Ariadnewoman, but Frankman remained Frankman.
You know, in memory of Frank.
A year on, Ariadne is almost Frank-size. Oscar and Maya are fascinated by the way her stocky little body romps around the garden. She’s a fan favourite. She still doesn’t know the trick of standing up on the chair to look out over the garden, but she has been starting to show sure signs of stubbornness. The other day I had to retreat to the back of the apartment laughing because she wriggled under a bush, sat down, and no amount of begging, shouting, pleading, threats, offers of treats or cajoling would coax her out. Ariadnewoman eventually sat, defeated, on a bench to wait out this episode of hard-headedness.
And now, Frankfamily are moving away.
Naturally, I didn’t get this information from the source – I still have never had an actual conversation with the couple – but the information is legitimate. They are leaving. When I first heard this, I was more upset than anybody should be about strangers moving house.
“They should have warned us,” I muttered darkly to Scrubs.
“Don’t be weird.” He said.
“Do you think we could start a petition for them to change their minds?”
“We should be able to lodge an objection. Do they not know Ariadne is essential to neighbourhood morale?*”
Scrubs sighed and eyed me with considerable alarm. “Please hide your obsession with their dog for just a little while longer.”
Of course, I couldn’t do that. How could I let Frankfam move without letting them know they would be missed? I decided to buy a card. I went into town and bought a card that said, “Sorry You’re Leaving” on the front and, “Wishing you all the best” on the inside. Perfect, I thought… But then the overthinking started.
Ariadne can’t read, I reasoned. A card won’t make her happy. I bought a dog toy – a white, fluffy alpaca – and a gift bag to put it in. I nodded, satisfied with myself.
Maybe I should add a dog treat, I thought.
I grabbed a pack of chicken twists from the shelf.
Maybe two, just to be sure she’ll like one of them.
I grabbed a Jumbone.
I turned towards the till, but it was too late.
I had lost the run of myself.
I can’t just address the whole thing to Ariadne… My brow furrowed. What about the humans? What about Frankman and Ariadnewoman? Is it rude to exclude them?
A couple of lollipops, a bag of fizzy sweets, a couple of chewy bars and a box of maltesers got swept into the basket.
When I got home, I wrote the card to Ariadne and her humans. I thanked Ariadne for brightening up the block, told them we (the humans and the cats) would miss seeing them around and good luck with the move. I threw everything into the gift bag, took the maltesers back out because they seemed like overkill, and left it on their balcony.
Then I went home, sat down, and realised that:
Having never had a conversation with them ever in my life, it might not have been the most reasonable thing to go so overboard with the goodbye present.
They probably wonder a) who I am and b) how on earth I even know they are moving.
I now have no choice but to avoid them until they leave because I am so embarrassed.
When I told Scrubs he groaned and asked why – WHY – I would have done such a thing without consulting with him first. He is naturally mortified by association, but at least he can claim ignorance since I am obviously the nutter who wrote the card.
I am still sad that they’re leaving our neighbourhood. They just seem so lovely and I like to think in another life they would have stayed another four years and eventually we might have worked up to greeting each other with actual words and eye contact. Who knows. Dream big!
On the other hand, at least once they leave I can stop feeling myself turn red with embarrassment every time I see them, now that they know without a shadow of a doubt that I am their number one fan.
Swings and roundabouts.
*Not complete hyperbole; for about a year somebody in our apartment block named their wifi ‘CAN WE PLAY WITH ARIADNE PLS”
Over the weekend, after reading a message that had just come through on my phone, I let out a small huff. It was the kind of huff that acts as a tiny, audible exclamation point; the kind that tells you something has been noted that doesn’t deserve the energy or attention of actual words.
Across the table from me, my friend raised an questioning eyebrow, and I turned my phone so she could see the screen.
“Why does my ex-boyfriend always show up as active on Facebook messenger?”
She leaned forward to examine my ex-boyfriend’s smiling face and shrugged.
“Hmmm. Are you still friends with him on Facebook?”
“No!” She may as well have asked if I regularly abseil down the side of my building instead of taking the stairs. The very idea was so ridiculous that it made me laugh. “Definitely not!”
“You must be,” she insisted. “Otherwise he wouldn’t show up.”
“He’s not. There’s no way,” I assured her. “He just always shows up there for no reason.”
She didn’t believe me, so together we checked my Facebook page.
Definitely not friends.
“You SEE?” I said triumphantly. “And yet, he always shows up there in the ‘active now’ list. I don’t get it. There are so many other people I’d rather see there. Why don’t they free up that slot for somebody else?”
We both stared at the screen, puzzled.
“Maybe if I block him, he’ll be replaced?”
My friend shook her head, baffled. “I don’t know. That’s very strange. I’m pretty sure people who you aren’t friends with shouldn’t show up at all…”
I took my phone back and idly scrolled and tapped, searching through Facebook messenger.
“Where’s the block button? Why is this so counterintuitive? Where- Oh, found it.”
I had reached a screen with a long list of all my active contacts and, next to their names, a little hand. For the briefest split second, I wondered at the decision to make the block button an ambiguous hand emoji. Was it a hand block, like, ‘HALT in the name of Caesar!’ or was it a ‘Bye, Felipe’? Without giving it too much thought, I pressed it with a little sigh of relief-
… Which was immediately followed by a despairing, “Ohhhh no!”
My friend, jolted by my reaction, tensed. “What?!”
I turned the phone so she could see the message that had immediately popped up on my screen:
‘You have sent *ex-boyfriend* a wave!’
There was a frozen moment as we absorbed this new information; a beat of silence as we both internalised what had just happened.
Then we locked eyes, and we burst out laughing. We laughed so hard I dropped the phone. We laughed so hard actual tears were streaming down our cheeks.
She finally managed to gasp out, “What? HOW?”
“I just … I pressed … the hand emoji!” I was laughing so hard the words squeaked out of me in bursts.
“But… but what did you think it meant?!”
“I thought it meant, like, “BYE!” or maybe “See you later!””
This sent her into fresh hysterics.
Whenever the laughter started to subside she would lift her head and give a stiff little wave of her hand, and we’d go back to giggling so hard we almost fell off our chairs.
My phone pinged to alert me of a notification, and I wiped my eyes enough to see a message from my ex-boyfriend appear on the screen.
“Hmm.” It read.
Then, immediately afterwards, “Typo?”
Still laughing, I typed a simple “Yes.” I finally located the block button (not actually an ambiguous emoji, as it turns out) and firmly pressed it. Then I folded my arms on the table, lay my head on my forearms and laughed until my sides hurt.
Once we could speak in sentences again (rather than trying to communicate in a pitch only audible to dogs), we leaned back in our chairs and wiped the tears of laughter from our cheeks.
“At least he recognised I would never actually have contacted him on purpose,” I said, looking for the silver lining to my cloud of idiocy.
“True, true,” said my friend, nodding sagely, “And now you know that waves are a thing. And you know how to send one. And you know how to block people. And at least now he’s actually blocked, so he won’t show up anymore! You can just pretend this never happened!”
We reached for my phone and looked at my Messenger.
An incredulous laugh bubbled out of me as I looked at the screen. Guess who was first in line in the ‘Active Now’ list?