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Text: World Copyright
Martin Foreman

Copyright of pictures acknowledged where possible

Turning down a natty

London, April 2008: 1 am. The gay bar in the centre of Soho is closing after another evening of good friends and adequate wine – too few of the former and too much of the latter. I’m coming carefully downstairs; slowly coming up is a large-bosomed, dark-haired, red-mouthed lady in her late twenties. She looks at me and asks: will you do me one favour?

That depends, I say.

She holds out her hand and says, tell me that my skin is soft and that you love me.

This is not a joke. There is longing and hurt in her eyes. I take her hand and kiss it. Then I lean forward and gently kiss her cheek as I tell her how soft she is – it is not a lie – and how much I love her above all others in the world. And while I say the words, that statement is also true.

I straighten up. She looks at me gratefully. That was so nice, she says. What’s your name? I tell her. She tells me hers. Are you having a good time? she asks. I nod. And you?

Instead of an answer, another question. What do you do if you think your boyfriend is gay?

Leave him. I say. Immediately. But I love him, she says. I don’t know if he’s gay; I just think he is.

Did he bring you here tonight? I ask. She nods. He's gay, I tell her. You must leave him. I know, she says.

The anonymous boyfriend. What would he say if it were he who stopped me on the stairway? Would he be asking me to kiss him? Would he ask if he should leave his girlfriend? Would I sympathise with him as I do with her?

Probably not. I’m already prejudiced against him. I imagine him loud and camp, downstairs with his mates, laughing, flirting, looking forward to his next affair...

It's a pity when your boyfriend wants cock, she says. Now I know who she reminds me of: Myfanwy, the bartender in Little Britain, just a little less confident and presumably not lesbian.

You know something? she says. You look scary but you’re really lovely.

I smile in thanks, seeing in my mind’s eye my bald head, bloodshot eyes over sagging dark skin, my downturned mouth. Another reminder of how others see me and why I seldom pick up strangers any more.

We continue on our way - she up to the ladies, me to join my waiting friend. Then she stops and adds: it’ll be messy. There’s the flat...

Her voice falters Suddenly she asks if I want a natty.

I apologise that I have no idea what a natty is. A line of coke, she says. Do you want to do a line of coke with me?

I'm briefly tempted. It would be a great idea if I staying going out, I say, but I’m going home. Thanks for the offer.

Are you sure? she asks. I’m sure. Then I won’t do it, she says. I won't do it alone. That’s good, I tell her. Then one last smile and we disappear out of each other's lives.

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