Missing You by Chris Green
Helen often comes this way. A short ride on the light railway and she can walk the whole length of Harmonica Way, along Mandolin Avenue and into Dulcimer Street. It’s not the most direct route to the office, but this way, she feels there’s a chance she might see Youssou. If she has time, she walks up and down Timpani Terrace past their old house, number thirty-three. They used to laugh about the unlikely road names. A progressive council in the 1970s came up with them. Why not name the streets after musical instruments, some bright spark of a councillor must have said? The influence, perhaps, of Tubular Bells, a big hit at the time. With the embryos of political correctness in the air, the old road names like Colston Road and Parr Street were considered to be unacceptable as they honoured Transatlantic slave traders so had to be replaced. Youssou had had to explain the mechanics of the slave trade to Helen. It made her sad to think that such terrible things happened not so very long ago.
Helen likes to take a walk around the instruments estate in the evening too, after her visit to the gym or her Reflexology class. She might sit awhile on the seat by the statue of Brian Eno and let her reverie run wild. Random memories of her life with Youssou come flooding back. Sitting on a Dakar beach with him watching the sun come up out of the sea on their one and only visit to the land of Youssou’s forefathers. Stolen kisses in an intimate bistro in Montmartre on their first New Year’s Eve listening to the church clocks striking twelve. The time the car broke down and they were stranded on Bodmin Moor and had to sleep on the back seat. Things that were bad at the time now come back as happy memories. She looks back in fondness to the time they burned their landlord’s furniture to keep warm after the power had been cut off. This, of course, was while they were still renting. Before her Premium Bond win enabled them to put a deposit on their three up, two down. The family that they planned to have never came to fruition. Might children have made all the difference? She will probably never know.
In his best-selling book, Getting a Grip, legendary life coach, J. D. Rhodes explains that change is the only certainty and when something catastrophic happens, you must adjust to the new set of circumstances within fifty-five minutes. It’s been close to nine months now and Helen hasn’t adjusted to her new set of circumstances. She still misses Youssou. What was that line in the song they used to play? Like the deserts miss the rain? Her old English teacher, Ms Spinster, would probably say this was a poor simile, but it’s exactly how she misses Youssou. Often, on the street, she catches the lingering aroma of a French cigarette or a whiff of Aramis and imagines that Youssou must be close. She only has to see a red Alfa for her heart to skip a beat. They went the length and breadth of the country in the Red Devil, as Youssou’s battered 147 was affectionately known.
Unable to keep up the mortgage payments on number thirty-three after Youssou left, Helen had to sell the house. She could perhaps have taken in a lodger to make ends meet, but what’s done is done. She does not feel settled in her new flat in Grimwade Close. Not only is it in the wrong part of town, but it is small and dingy. She usually waits until she is really tired before returning home, sometimes stopping off at The Richard Burton for a nightcap. But all it takes is a mournful Nick Cave number to come on the jukebox or a Tom Waits tune to set her off blubbing. Or worse still, Seven Seconds Away by Youssou’s more famous namesake. When fellow drinkers come over to comfort her, she feels embarrassed and has to leave.
Helen tends to put off going to bed. She has become ambivalent about sleep. While in her dreams, her life continues as if Youssou is still with her, on waking she finds he is no longer there. This is the time she misses him most. She misses his morning embrace. She feels she’d like to phone him just to hear his voice but when she does, she gets the number unobtainable message. It’s not the despair, she is able to deal with the despair, it’s the sense of hope she cannot bear. There’s no benefit in having something if you know it is going to be taken away.
Each morning that she takes the train, Helen finds herself once more in denial. But is it denial? As she makes her way towards number thirty-three, she tells herself, it will be today. Youssou will be coming down the steps. He will be walking towards her, arms outstretched to greet her. It will be as it always was. Timpani Terrace is so familiar. They lived at number thirty- three for six years, three months and nineteen days according to her spreadsheet. They were inseparable. With Youssou, even the bad days were good.
Like any couple, they had their difficulties, but these pale into insignificance compared to the joy she felt when they were together and things were going well. There are so many happy memories. So many times, Helen has said to herself, this is the best day ever. Why did Youssou have to go off like that? On that fateful evening, they had a senseless argument about who cooked the best Creme Brulee on Celebrity Masterchef. Was it the actor who played Lucas in EastEnders or the dark-haired dancer from Steps that no-one remembers? Youssou drove off into the night. He said he was going to buy a bottle of blanc de blanc from the off-licence and perhaps a little yamba from a friend of his. He did not return. It was not until the following morning that Helen got the call asking her to come and identify the body.
Helen feels the dead are not so very far away. She has read that their essence is all around us. It’s just a question of tuning in to their wavelength. Youssou, therefore, is just a whisker away, in all probability, trying to reach her too. So she will continue to take the short ride on the light railway, walk the length of Harmonica Way, along Mandolin Avenue and into Dulcimer Street. She will continue to walk up and down Timpani Terrace and keep a close eye on number thirty-three. One day, she is certain, they will meet again. Until then, Helen will be missing You.
Copyright © Chris Green, 2021: All rights reserved