Martin sat miserably on the bus. He was off to visit his mother just outside of Fitton and he made it a rule to only use the van when he had a moving job. Petrol was very expensive and Martin didn’t have it in his budget to use his fuel inefficient van for non-moving purposes. The bus service was infrequent at best, it came every half hour and it was often fifteen minutes late. It was pouring rain that day and his feet were feeling squishy with the damp cold of the water seeping into his shoes. He shook his miserable half-broken umbrella and half fumbled for his change to pay the fare. He should have counted his change while waiting for the bus, but it was always so awkward while holding a half broken umbrella with three collapsed spokes.
Most of the seats were taken and he was forced to sit across a very happy couple. Martin internally groaned. He always hated sitting across from couples like that. They weren’t doing anything as obscene as kissing and groping, Martin would have preferred that over their affectionate happy faces. The couple was young, maybe a few years younger than Martin himself. They were a non-descript couple, the sort you would easily forget within a day. The man had boring brown hair and gold-rimmed glasses and he had his arm around the girl’s shoulder. The girl was blonde, the sort of blonde who dyed her hair on a bi-monthly basis with her roots showing, revealing her to be another very boring brunette. She had her head on his shoulder and she was clasping her boyfriend’s hand.
They were smiling contently, looking at no one in particular. Sometimes they would whisper little things to each other, mundane things like dinner and the new boots the girl wanted to get from a shop. They had a large umbrella by their side and Martin could almost imagine how they would clasp at each other while walking in the rain, both of them holding the large umbrella between themselves. Martin could imagine it in Technicolor detail, the next scene could be them running in a field full of tall grass and daisies.
He wondered when it was the last time he was held like that. He couldn’t remember. It was always the first thing he wanted to do when he had a new girlfriend, to hold her so tenderly like that lucky forgettable man across from him. He had the misfortune of doing that on the second date once with a girl. She thought he wanted sex when he was too nervous to even think that far. He just really wanted to hold someone, but no one ever believes him. They think it’s a fancy euphemism for sex. He would like a warm body next to him, a gentle and soft weight gently crushing his shoulder. Maybe some soft hair to run his fingers through, he would delight in the way they would get tangled in his fingers. Maybe there would be sex, but he wouldn’t mind if there wasn’t.
It had been five years since Martin had a proper girlfriend. Five years. Five years he thought sullenly. Martin wasn’t normally one to mope about being single. He knew he had no time for a girlfriend. He had an unpredictable part time job and a stressful...well, he couldn’t call working for Carolyn a job. He would have to be paid for that. Anyways, he had no time.
His last girlfriend was a pretty redhead named Emily. He couldn’t remember much about her other than feeling very put upon and left-footed with her. She was always expecting something from him, but she never told him what. She often got mad when he couldn’t figure out what she wanted. He was perpetually walking on eggshells whenever he was around her and every time he wanted to hold her, she would rebuff him. There was something he didn’t do again, and there would be no hugs until he did something. Maybe apologize for something. Or to remember something. Or maybe he was supposed to be somewhere but forgot because he needed to review for his CPL test. He only remembered a handful of times when he held and cuddled her the way he wanted, but he could never give her what she wanted. He was always too busy anticipating her annoyance when he had her in his arms. He felt quite relieved when she broke up with him.
He concluded that he had no time for a girlfriend. Girlfriends seemed to expect all sorts of things from him that he couldn’t give. Most of it was his time and attention and maybe an odd expectation of a dinner or a gift. He disliked disparaging over his lack of money and a proper set of nice clothes that didn’t look like his uniform. He was hopeless with flirting and he was often teased and told that he inspired no confidence in anyone. It took a lot of energy out of him to even begin to talk to a girl and Martin was often too exhausted to bother.
He would never say he was happy being single (that would be a lie) but he wasn’t exactly desperately looking for someone either. He liked many aspects of being single. There was never an expectation to call anyone when he got home. There were no birthdays and anniversaries to remember. No parents and sisters and brothers to meet. Above all, he didn’t have to bother with making an impression with anybody. Caitlin and Simon often disparage him for his apathetic attitude towards dating and finding a nice woman to settle down with. It easy for them, they were already married and neither of them had an undiagnosed low-level anxiety disorder.
Caitlin and Simon had loud and happy family lives. Martin had a quiet empty flat with his flight manuals and old model aeroplanes to give him solace after a hard day’s work. He lived on pot noodles and coffee and he had a warm navy blue comforter to hug at night. He had no friends, his mother was the closest thing to a friend he had. It was why he was visiting her this weekend. It eased his loneliness a bit to see her. His mother was warm scones and all kinds of gentle worry. He would visit her more if only she wasn’t so worried. He wore his extra bulky jumper today. He knew she would make a remark about him losing another half stone if he didn’t. How he hated worrying her, it felt like a thousand little tiny indictments of his failure at life.
He was finally at his mother’s house and he was very relieved to be away from that hugging couple. The sight of them shouldn’t make him feel so lonely. He was off to see his mother. It felt incredibly unfair to visit her while he was having such lonely thoughts. His mother lived in a modest terrace house in Wokingham. His mother greeted him warmly at the door, tutt-tutting his choice of footwear and why didn’t he buy a new umbrella? The poor thing hardly kept the rain off him, he would catch his cold! Come in. Come in, Martin!
He gave her a small kiss on the cheek and asked her not to fuss. He could take care of himself. She ushered him into the kitchen where tea and scones were ready for him. He graciously accepted a cup of tea with a bit of sugar. His mother turned off the television, there was a rerun of Foyle’s War on television. His mother was handsome woman in her mid-fifties who took solace in church, tea, Agatha Christie and Jane Austen. She read Pride and Prejudice every January, it kept her heart light and cheerful she said. Martin would blush whenever she would mention how handsome Colin Firth was, she always mentioned Colin Firth when she spoke about Pride and Prejudice. But enough of that, she would say. How are you, Martin?
“I’m fine mother. How are you?”
“Oh you know, the same old thing,” she replied while placing a large scone in front of him.
Martin took the hint and took a large a bite with his tea.
She smiled cheekily and Martin felt himself groan inside. “Is there a new girl?”
He barely swallowed his scone when he muffled “No, mother.”
Her smile faltered. “I worry about you. I’m sure it gets very lonely in between your jobs.”
Martin swallowed his scone. “I’m fine.”
His mother continued as if she didn’t hear him. “Mrs. Cooper has a nice girl about your age. Her name’s Emily. You dated an Emily once, didn’t you?”
Martin hoped that his short answers would stop this conversation. No such luck.
“Whatever happened to her? She had such nice manners.”
Nope. No such luck at all.
“We had...uh, irreconcilable differences.”
His mother laughed gently. “Martin, that’s what people getting a divorce say. You don’t have a clue, do you my boy?”
“Your father liked her.”
“She was the only thing my father liked,” Martin replied sadly.
“That’s not true,” she said gently. “Just because he didn’t like your flying didn’t mean he didn’t like you. Your father adored you in his own way. You always had the habit of dwelling on the negative in life, Martin. I imagine life is very disappointing for you.”
Martin said nothing to that. He was not in one of his better moods. That damn couple on the bus put him off his tea and scones. There was not enough tea and scones in the world to erase that hollow feeling of longing he had. He felt it in his fingers and elbows. He vaguely wondered if he should meet this Emily his mother mentioned. But he did so hate to be disappointed. Right now, what he really wanted was his flight manuals. He had a collection of old ones from the 1970s that he found in the recycling bin once. He would imagine what it would be like to fly one, the feel of the controls and the softness of the pilot’s seat. He wondered if this Emily his mother mentioned would share his love of old aeroplanes.
“Would she be interested in planes?” he asked uncertainly.
His mother sighed. “I hardly think that’s a good subject to talk about on a first date. Start slow with the weather, films and food. My mother always said those were bullet-proof topics at hand when on a first date.”
“I’ll think about it,” said Martin. Which was Martin-code for, I’m not interested.
His mother knew it too. “Oh, Martin. Please reconsider. It’s been a long time since we’ve met a girl of yours. You’re a young and handsome man, bright and responsible. I know a lot of my friends’ daughters are looking for someone like you. You would be a wonderful partner for anyone that would have you, I can’t imagine who wouldn’t.”
Martin rolled his eyes. “You’re my mother, you’re supposed to say that.”
She sighed again. Martin seemed to make her sigh a lot. “Please, just meet her. You’ll like her, she’s the daughter of one of my oldest friends. You might have even met her as a child. It couldn’t hurt. I imagine it must be lonely in that drafty flat of yours. Aeroplane manuals can’t hug you warmly on the sofa on a dreary day like today.”
Martin felt the itchy loneliness in his chest acutely when he heard those words. Hugs on the sofa. A bit of bad telly. Some hot tea. And a nice warm and soft heavy weight against his arm. He wondered how long Emily’s hair was. Not that other Emily, but this nicer one his mother wants him to meet.
“Does she have long hair?” Martin blurted out.
His mother smiled brightly. “The poor girl can’t be bothered with a haircut. She always has it in a loose messy ponytail.”
That was enough for Martin. He vaguely wondered if that was a sign of strange desperation that long hair messy hair was the deciding factor in seeing her. She could have dead kittens hidden in her cupboards for all he knew. Enough of that. He would never have a nice warm somebody against him under his lonely navy comforter on his sofa if he continued to think like that. And his mother was beaming so happily at him.
Martin smiled. “Alright, mother. I’ll meet her.”