This is the eleventh part of a fiction serial, in 865 words.
Being on my own again was something I adapted to quickly enough. Not that I was over Justina, far from it. She is someone I will never get over. The first woman I truly loved.
The dating scene at the time was going through a huge change, driven by mobile phones. The guys at work were showing me photos on their phones of girls who had matched them as possibles or definites, and it felt as if everyone was dating someone different most nights of the week. Just going to a bar in a group, chatting up some girls and getting a name and phone number no longer seemed to be happening. It was so ‘last year’.
I did try it, and more than once. Sitting opposite an attractive girl who spent most of the date looking at her phone, talking to friends on her phone, or taking photos of what she was about to eat. Others told me about how many dates they had been on that month, what their ratings were on the dating apps, or sneered at my old phone for being out of date. This was the start of something that was about to change the way everyone dated, whether they were twenty-one or seventy one.
And I didn’t like it. Not one bit.
Then something happened that made dating seem unimportant. We got hit with the big financial crash. While traders were not exactly jumping out of windows in despair, many of them were making downcast exits from the office, holding cardboard boxes full of personal stuff, and escorted by security, as a ‘formality’. That was the time of paranoia. Nobody had any friends anymore, and we were getting a crick in our necks from looking over our shoulders. Some banks had to be bailed out by the government, and many other financial institutions just collapsed.
Looking back, I suppose I was lucky to be working for one bank that never needed a bailout. I was also low enough down the pecking order that my salary didn’t warrant them having to do away with me. In the midst of the whirlwind that was sweeping through The City of London, I survived. House prices were tumbling, and houses were being repossessed. That sadness for home owners spelt out profits for anyone with the guts to cash in on it.
I was sent for retraining, and then moved to the mortgage department, six floors below. I had to start again from scratch, but my salary was the same, less the occasional big bonuses, and I had a job. I breathed a sigh of relief the day I started back, as most of the faces I had known around that huge office building had vanished. Those of us that were left kept our heads down, and worked hard. I had a good few years invested in the pension scheme, and every intention of sticking it out as long as I could.
One day I got a text from some of those who had been let go. They were having a farewell drink in Soho, and I was invited. I wasn’t that bothered, but one of them was my former floor manager, a nice guy who had given me recommendations for promotion. I replied that I would be there. At least it was a Friday, so I wouldn’t have to get up for work the next day.
By ten that night, I was already on the way to getting really drunk, and when someone suggested moving on to another bar I cheered the idea along with the rest. Wandering through Chinatown on the way, some idiot decided to start playing football with a discarded can, and I heard a shout of “On your head, Frankie”. Of course, I missed the can completely, and my enthusiastic jerk of the head connected with the underside of a metal fire escape instead. The next thing I remembered was my suit and shirt covered in blood, and two of the guys arguing with a taxi driver about taking me to hospital. One of them calmed him down by stuffing a few tenners through the window, and a few minutes later, I arrived at University College Hospital.
A Friday night in any London Emergency Department is always going to be busy. Luckily, I had got in before the big rush later on, so only had to wait for an hour. I was seen by a male nurse who told me I would need stitches and an X-ray. He stuck a flat bandage on my head, and told me to wait outside again to be called through. The first call was well over another hour later, and by then the place was filling up. I was taken down a corridor and X-rayed in a room, then sent out to wait again.
By the time I heard my name called for the third time, it was close to two in the morning, and I was struggling to stay awake. It made me jump as I heard it, and I stood up fast, steadying myself on the metal seat back.
There she was, beautiful red hair flaming in the lights, and such a lovely smile.