Timothy was one of Pablo’s cronies, by which I mean that they both took drugs together. At parties, you would sometimes see them covertly signalling across busy rooms, like bodyguards. They were with each other in those mysterious absences during and between parties and they usually disappeared together in the hours before dawn. There was an intense friendship between them which, to the mild surprise of anybody who studied it, turned out to be not quite a friendship. You could tell immediately that there was a ready understanding and familiarity amongst the two, but somehow no real warmth or enduring interest. If one of them ever threw in the drugs, they would probably, like office workers after retirement, never hear of each other again.
Timothy was a disconcertingly dainty man. With his scared, laughing eyes and a permanent tint of fuchsia pink on each cheekbone, the drugs appeared to have kept him preternaturally boyish. If he ever stopped, his metabolism would most likely slow down, he would grow stout and dull, he would acquire an equally stout wife, and by some point a boy would have died.
I was looking for somebody to rent my flat and Pablo nominated Timothy.
“Timothy? Is he English or Scottish?”
“He’s… like what they call a chav. That means very similar to Scottish.”
“So he’s English? In Scotland they call them neds.”
“An acronym for Non-Educated Delinquent. It’s used by the Scottish middle class to describe the poor. They’re both as bad as each other – any remotely educated person would call them Uneducated Delinquents.”
Pablo waited patiently for me to finish. “Forget the chav, Timothy’s Irish,” he decided all at once. “He has money from his parents. He drinks whisky and takes drugs and goes to nightclubs every night, and he thinks he lives like a prince. He does not realise but he actually spends nothing. He is like the little moth that eats a tiny hole in the jumper – that is his spending.”
Two months previously, Renata had abandoned my apartment along with her love for me. It was as if she had taken the play and I had been left with the bare scenery. I was becoming increasingly conscious that I should have never taken for granted the dexterity and generosity with which the whole world had colluded to produce our relationship. Now, in my own deliberate way, I was frantic for my life to begin again. It seemed like a resource which had run out.
My depression had found Pablo’s eye and he had invited me to Leith, to keep him company whilst his girlfriend Magda was in Poland for the summer. He always conspiratorially intimated that his buddies knew the true, authentic Pablo, whilst he had pawned off a flavourless substitute on to his girlfriend. We reckoned that because we had partied together when we were younger, the same happiness would be waiting whenever we needed to return to it. In reality, we would end our drinking sessions gazing at each other in silence, with the vodka abandoned. Like many people who swim effortlessly in drugs, Pablo regarded alcohol as being coarse and even somewhat barbarian. He was a dolphin, not a chimpanzee.
I first met Timothy when he came to collect the keys to my apartment. I recognised him straight away as a fixture of the sort of parties which I go to, where he appears to be laid on along with the sangria and the stereo. There was an evening in April when I had hovered in a doorway and watched him pressing a dose of vitamins on to one of the few people at the party who was younger than himself. The kid was uninterested in the drugs and sarcastically snobbish towards the dealer. Timothy gave the impression of being distant or bored, but then, brilliantly, he had turned the full golden glow of his attention on to the kid. He was wheedling, laughing, confiding, and offering credit, as if the kid was an amusing little brother who it was impossible for him not to indulge. I could not help admiring Timothy’s skill, but I was repulsed.
He glanced without curiosity over the rooms and promptly accepted all conditions. He told me that he was being driven out of his old flat by hallucinations. When he was in his kitchen he had the unnerving sense of a spindly black arm swiping at his feet from underneath the workstations. At night, he heard tiny, shrill Pakistani voices whispering under his bed. He would listen intently and almost hear them distinctly, which made him jump and flip on the lights and run across his room to stand stricken in a corner.
In his old flat, he had needed to keep his mouth shut tightly at all times. He reassured me, rather unnecessarily, that he had trained himself to breathe always through his nose and to consume soup through a straw. The reason for these procedures was that a bat, deranged by sunlight, might dive in through a window or down the chimney and shoot into his mouth and get jammed hard in his throat.
Automatically on his feet and staggering flabbergasted, his arms windmilling, he would try to push back against this leathery dumpling which was burrowing into a lather of bloody foam. If the bat broke through into his lungs, at the first brush of its whiskers against the texture, the pain would rise like a dazzling ocean.
I nodded sympathetically.
So I could see what it was like, having these hallucinations.
“What makes you think they’ll stop if you move to a new flat?”
Timothy scowled, albeit with his beautiful daintiness, and reiterated that moving would solve the problem.
I consulted with Pablo on the wisdom of keeping a maniac in my flat. Supposing that Timothy injured himself whilst trying to gouge an imaginary bat out of his lungs with a screwdriver. Pablo replied that these things happened.
A week later the agency sent me to wax floors in the St James Centre. My sheet was signed at five on the dot and I raced out of the complex, like an American schoolboy when school’s out for the summer, to intercept the bus to Leith. Half of the bus was standing and it looked like a tree laden with starlings. My money trickled into the glass, I ripped out the ticket, and then walked straight into an encounter with Renata.
She was either coming from or going to a meeting, and she was dressed as if for important clients. “Biggy!” she beamed at me, her eyes darting and flirtatious. Leaping with the warm scent of perfume was an exuberance, an immense freshness.
I turned my back on her. “I want to get off!” I yelled.
The bus was already coasting along. The driver made some observation to himself, something in a voice which was as clear as glass and yet too faint to catch. I stamped my foot in warning and then braced myself. Luckily, the doors opened as I crashed through them.
I walked for a mile, fuming, as hundreds of buses passed me.
When I reached Pablo’s flat I heard sharply raised voices. I paused for a second to listen, before plunging in.
Standing with his tiny chest thrust out, Timothy seemed to fill the centre of Pablo’s dingy living room as stunningly as an archangel, all aflame with righteousness. He accosted me and then with a spin of his wrist flooded into my face, clambering with furious monkey energy. Despite myself, I took a step back.
I had been in his flat. With a girl. The landlord could not just visit like that, not without phoning first. He was very shocked and upset!
I gazed at him in appeal and for a moment we resembled two actors whose eyes have met in the middle of reciting feeble dialogue. But then Timothy shook his head and continued to harangue me. I wrung some more of his story out of him and began to relax. It sounded like another of his hallucinations.
Timothy had been drowsing in bed that morning, washing up on the shores of wakefulness, but with the tides of sleep still lapping around his head. Suddenly, I had been standing over the bed in a pair of boxer shorts and then a woman had stepped out from behind me. I had eased myself out of my shorts and she had knelt down to give me a blowjob. Timothy had pressed his eyes shut and murmured vehemently. A tide of sleep had immersed him and then he had washed up again and opened his eyes. The room was empty.
I gestured at Pablo, who was sitting impassively in an armchair as if our argument was playing out on television. “I was in this flat this morning, miles away from Newington. Pablo spoke to me when I was shining my shoes for work.”
Timothy was nonplussed and for a moment he had lost concentration. Yet he shook his head as if to restart himself and his mood spilled out again. “I know what your cock looks like man,” he spat. “If I saw your cock now, I’d know what it looks like.”
Pablo looked up at me merrily. He was then absent-minded and responsible. “He also knows what your girlfriend looks like. He described to me that stripy top she always used to wear.”
“He’s seen somebody wearing that stripy top in the street. My girlfriend is hardly the only…”
“You’re right, Renata is not my girlfriend. Besides, when you get to our age, you can usually tell what somebody’s partner will look like before you’ve met them. Timothy, have you experienced any other hallucinations since you moved to my… your flat?”
His cry was unnerving for an adult and for a moment Pablo and I were startled. “I’M OKAY! There is NOTHING WRONG with me!”
Pablo was now on his feet, crooning to Timothy and slopping an arm around him with an almost motherly affection. They were retreating into a back room. I was slightly put out by this: although they both know that I don’t take drugs, I could not help feeling that there had been a lapse of courtesy. I had been excluded.
Two weeks later and Tori and her partner Toby were due to dine with me and Pablo. It was not the best idea to invite Timothy because Toby was going through a stage in which, after dabbling briefly with drugs, he was bored with them, and then suddenly affronted. Toby had recently requested that Pablo leave a party in which Pablo was, I had duly gathered, attempting to sell drugs to Toby’s friends. In the middle of parties, Toby was now rounding everybody up and leading them out into the garden or to a local park to play football. He had destroyed several parties in this way.
Whilst preparing to cook in Pablo’s rather limited kitchen, I realised that there was no ground basil to hand. Or maybe there was, but it was not apparent where. I had broadly an hour’s window and so I decided to take a bus across the city to requisition some basil from my apartment. There was also a certain china dish back there which was a good, snug size for serving vegetables. I would have to submit to the trial of meeting my tenant and I hoped, rather wistfully, that he would be out. Part of me also wanted to confirm that his corpse was not shrivelled up on my kitchen floor.
When I reached the bus stop, I was dismayed to see Tori getting off the bus which I was about to board. She had told me to expect her at some point between three and eight, and I had gambled on her coming nearer to eight, just as I was gambling on Timothy being absent from my apartment. But there was no time for explanations and so I swept Tori back on to the bus with me…