It’s not about me either, though there are some autobiographical nuggets in here.
To avoid too much messing about with finding pages, I’ve put this in as a straight post.
Celestine and Me. The Final Version
Since I was small, too small to have any real memory, I’ve had a friend, Celestine. Her Jamaican mother and my mother met in the Post Office. Celestine and I were in baby strollers. We just looked at each other, so I’m told, reached out and held hands. Not too surprisingly, our mothers noticed, smiled, became acquainted, became friends. The whole thing was nailed together on the basis of Celestine and me. Holding hands.
When our mothers met for a cup of tea and a natter, all they had to do to keep us quiet was put Celestine and me in a playpen, and let us get on with it. We held hands, gurgled at each other, sometimes puked on each other. Puking on each other. That’s what friends are for, right?
Celess is brilliant. Slow, not unintelligent, just measured. Give her time, she gets there. And sometimes she gets there way ahead of me.
When I was 18, I had a bad experience with a young woman. Yes I will, no I won’t, I’m off back to my boyfriend. Bad times. My head was banging around all over the place.
My mum was very wise. ‘Celestine will help get you through this. She will. She’ll do that for you. But don’t lie to her. Tell her the truth. She can take the truth, but lying to her will hurt her. She doesn’t understand liars. And if you do lie to her, I’ll come down on you like a ton of bricks. Her mother will be right behind me. Don’t hurt her. Ever. Be honest. Don’t lie to her.’
I wasn’t quite sure what she meant, apart from the threat.
Celess was amazing. She helped me through. As I wept and told her of my anger, and frustration, my sense of betrayal, she just listened, held me when I needed it. She just was there all the time. Never judged, never criticised, never advised. She listened. Occasionally commented.
‘Rick, maybe never meant to be.’ Lovely Jamaican speech patterns and occasionally word structure, coupled with a thick Lancashire accent. Slow but thoughtful. Quite a combination.
One afternoon I went to see her. Her dad has one of those gravelly Jamaican voices that suggest a serious ganja habit before he exited the womb. He’s avidly antidrugs,
‘Nice see you Rick. But I know you dint come see me. She upstairs. She havin a bath.’
Since Celestine and I had had baths together from year dot, we’d got over the whole embarrassing growing bodies thing, the oops where did that hair come from. Some of our best conversations have been had when one or other or both of us were in the bath. I sat on the lid of the toilet, looked at her half hidden in foam.
‘Funny time of day to be having a bath.’
‘Havin a bath, Rick, always helps me when I troubled. Whyn’t you join me? You troubled too.’
So I peeled off my clothes, Celess shuffled up a bit, and I climbed in. Let the water relax me, adjusted myself so the plug wasn’t too uncomfortable.The taps were still a complete nightmare, but Hey! I was still sharing a warm bath with with my best friend. What’s to complain about?
‘Where do I go from here?’
‘Can’t tell you that. You need to decide.’
‘So I guess I need to find someone else?’
‘Maybe. She turn you down. She done it for her own good reasons, Rick. Don you ever blame her. Maybe what you need is find someone else. Maybe. Maybe you spend the rest of yo life on your own. Can’t say.’
‘I loved her Celestine. How do I find that again?’
‘Can’t tell you that. You need to do what you need to do.’
‘Fuck. I’m fucked.’
‘Don’t like that language, Rick.’
‘S’OK. You hurtin.’
‘You said you like a bath when you’re troubled. What’s troubling you?’
‘You a clever man Rick, but you sure can be stupid.’
‘Rick, look at me.’
I looked. She is astonishingly beautiful. Chiselled from ebony by someone very skilful. But she was my friend. Things like looks tend not to count.
Then she sat up. Water and foam cascaded off her body
‘Look again, Rick. You seein but you not lookin. Juss what you missin? We bin friends a long time. Thass a good start, seems to me.’
‘Toll you I don’t like language.’
‘You mean it.’
‘Surely do. Never bin more serious.’
‘But we’re friends. I never thought of you in any other way.’
‘You could try thinkin now. If you want to. But won’t help much. Maybe juss try feelin. Can be a better way to do things. Sometimes better to juss feel.’
‘Feel in my head? Or, you know, feel?’ I made a few curved motions with my hands.
‘You could try both of em.’
‘Man, you stupid. What else you need to know? Both of em.’
How do women do that thing with towels after a bath or shower? They wrap a big one round themselves, wrap another round their hair like a turban, toss back their heads, and they look absolutely the bollocks.
Me, I’d look like Rick Moranis. More like Rick Moronic. I just would. I’d look deranged. Men in stab vests would be approaching me slowly, stunguns at the ready. ‘Stay calm, Mr Authaus. It will all be fine.’ Just behind them would be a man in a white coat armed with a syringe full of thorazine.
Celestine looked like an ebony goddess. Honestly, we could have walked into the Ritz for afternoon tea and grown men would have been having heart attacks, and frantic waiters wouldn’t even have bothered to notice I wasn’t wearing a tie.
‘We have a tactical problem here. I think your folks may have heard what went on. Not to mention the water probably coming through the kitchen ceiling right now.’
‘They be please fo you. An fo me.’
‘What, they wanted this for you?’
‘They sure did. They known how I feel bout you.’
‘But… I’m stupid. You need to explain this to me.’
’Wass texplain? Wanned you. There it is.’
‘Wanted me, or wanted me?’
‘You sure are truly stupid. Can be both things.’
‘You lost me there.’
‘S’cos you stupid. You a man. You do yo level best, but you don’t always get it.’
‘I’d better get this over with. I have to go downstairs, face the music. Would you like some tea?’
She smiled. ‘That be nice. Don worry. It be OK.’
I went downstairs. Her dad was in the kitchen arranging buckets.
‘Mr Turner, I’m sorry I just made love to your daughter in the bath.’ I didn’t actually say that. I was rehearsing, just in case things went wrong.
‘She waited long time fo that. Reckon you did too. Juss didn’t realise it’
‘I, err, I could re-Artex the ceiling. I’m not good at plastering, but Artexing is easy. Bang it on, sponge in a wet plastic bag to pull it out. You know…’
‘You babblin Rick.’
There was a steady plink plink of water into a bucket. Her dad filled the kettle, put it on the hob. Looked at me conspiratorily.
‘Good fo you?’
‘Good fo her?’
‘Seemed to be.’
‘Dat’s OK den. Dint see this comin, did you?’
‘Celestine always say you stupid,’ he smiled.
‘Errm, I need to go and ask her something.’
‘Awright,’ he gravelled.
I went back upstairs. ‘Celestine, will you marry me? You said we’re friends, that’s a good start. Then, well, you know…’
‘Yes, surely will.’
‘I need to go and ask your dad something.’
I went downstairs again.
‘Mr Turner, may I have your permission to marry your daughter?’
‘Kinda ol fashioned Rick.’
‘Well, I am kind of old fashioned.’ I thought back to recent events. ‘Well, mainly. I know she has a mind of her own, but, you know, just want approval from you. I don’t want her to marry me if you don’t approve.’
‘I approves Rick. She wanned you a long time.’
I went back upstairs. My legs were a bit wobbly by then, both from the running up and down stairs, and what I’d just decided to do.
‘He said yes.’
‘Known he would.’
She stood, dropped her main bathtowel, said ‘What you think Rick? Yes or no?’
‘Errm. Yes. Please.’