Sunday, July 18, 2004


Saturday night.  
With London at our feet - the chains of bars, their ludicrous teenagers, all alcopops through a straw and dancing on the tables to pop music, hilarious; the little illegal bar in the out-of-the-way gallery - and which corner is it round again - and which button is it to get in - and anyone remember the code-word for the top of the stairs - and what the hell is that stuff on the wall - and is that record really meant to be at that speed - and; a call to a shady buddy, then finding the convoy of cars, poised in a quiet, shadowy car-park, waiting to power out to a warehouse, in the middle of nowhere and full of who-knows-what; the latino bars, all the wiggling hips, and a cigar somewhere going around, the limes happily fizzing away in the bottled lagers; the house parties in Notting Hill lounges where girls fondle each other and all the pretty young people pass around free drugs; the late night cocktails on a balcony, perfect to see the lines of the cars conjure the picture of a string of Christmas lights, as they charge down the street; at some point - inevitable - the swaying kids on the tubes shouting friendly hello's and staring at strangers with crazy hair; the party boats, gliding up and along the river, past Big Ben and around the bend, Canary Wharf towering, the lights towering, the monuments towering, everything towering, London massive and shiny, amazing, the quiet lick and sway of the Thames below us - yes, with London at our feet, its people, places, lights, things at our feet, this Saturday night at our feet, Alexa, 'Mitri & I, are closing our curtains. We're staying in. It's been decided.
'Mitri will cook. Meat and rice with sauce. A Greek special. Alexa goes to lie down for a bit. Her fiancĂ© starts telling me a long story about the girls in Finland. I try and listen. Alexa returns; he giggles. Some music goes on. A mobile phone gets answered. My housemates return to their home tomorrow, for six weeks: and this is our goodbye night, this Saturday night.    
I tell Alexa she's looking better. "Not better enough to go out," she answers emphatically. Her tired, irritated eyes, wander over to 'Mitri. "The rice - it's been on long enough, no?" She looks stunning still, I realise, even in her pyjamas, that skin of hers, olive and taut below the sleek black hair. Stunning, even with that hint of a line of hair above her lip, even without her make-up or designer clothes. And those dark, intense eyes of hers are well enough to shoot a sharp, questioning look at her loved one and the rice.  
"Addy! Try some, say if it's done. Or needs salt," answers Alexa's husband-to-be. With such a jolly smile he brings me a spoonful, lumbering his big old frame over from the hob, in his green shorts and bad t-shirt, which has some cartoon of a skate-boarder, big and bold, slapped across its centre.  
An hour or so later the table is cluttered with cigarette packets, a half-empty bottle, glasses, plates, ashtrays, kitchen-paper, crumbs, remnants, debris. Someone should clean up. Long pauses. The CD drones on. Suddenly Alexa says, "Anyone know a card game?"  
"I do!" I say. "Cheat."    
The cards come down from the shelf. The clutter gets stacked to the side. I explain the rules and no-one understands properly and we play a game anyway.   "Three tens," I say, putting down a joker and two threes.  
"One seven," replies 'Mitri, slowly, laying a single card face-down.  
"No," says Alexa, "nine, ten, or Jack."  
'Mitri nods, slowly. He looks over his hand. "Nine, ten, or Jack?"
We nod.
"Jack," he says unsurely, laying down a card. It has a little tear on its back.
Alexa says she's put down two Jacks.
"Three tens!" I say triumphantly, slapping down three cards.
And 'Mitri looks up. His head twitches a touch, and he stares at me.
"Addy," he says, slowly, picking at his lips. "You laid that before! I remember! Cheat!"
Alexa seizes the cards, turning over the top three: all tens.  Surprise and horror spreads across 'Mitri's face. He shakes it, laughing, as all the cards on the table are pushed toward him.  
Then, "four Aces!" declares Alexa, slamming down four cards.
"Two Kings," I answer nervously.
"King," says 'Mitri, not for a moment considering my double bluff.
"Four Aces!" shouts Alexa.
"Cheat!" says 'Mitri. The top four cards are turned over again. Alexa covers her smile with her hand. The pile of cards is pushed toward 'Mitri. He slaps his forehead with his palm. Alexa leans over and plants a kiss into his hair.
"Four nines," says Alexa. It begins again.
"One eight," I say. 'Mitri looks suspicious.
"Two eights," the Greek eventually says.
"Another nine!" announces Alexa.
'Mitri takes a sharp intake of breath, turns to her, goes to speak - then stops, picks three cards from his hand and lays them on the table. "Three eights!" he says.
"Cheat!" says Alexa, ignoring her mobile phone, chiming from her bedroom. He gathers up the cards glumly.
Much later on, Alexa will declare three fives, while emptying her hand of around fifteen cards, and her loved one will have his moment of revenge. And I will put down a certain Jack, declare it an Ace, get caught out straight away by the both of them. And that will keep me laughing as I fall into bed, around midnight; a pack of cards having blurted laughter and painted sudden grins across our faces, as blurted and as sudden as a Jack-in-the-box, jumping out into the glimmering realms of childhood games.
... and before whatever brilliant dreams claim me, I can vaguely make out the noise of laughter and kissing and undressing filtering through the thin wall. I think forward to next Saturday. To all the London Saturday nights to come this summer. London, mad and hot with alcohol and style. The women and partying and music and everything. And me, with the whole of the flat all to myself, four walls all to myself; with the cards boxed away, put back on their shelf, pointless and powerless, waiting for new cheating hands and new flowerings of happiness.