His eyes were always bright. Yet they were always slightly too wide, too open, too alert. That was what gave him away. That, and the way he would tap his left foot to an inaudible beat. Then, as if self-consciously, he would roll his shoulders back, grin widely and delve his hands into the musty jacket he always wore.
You couldn’t call him nervous. He was sure of what he was doing although perhaps not why he was doing it. Criticize him though, and he’d pause, and stare at you. Narrow his blue green-flecked eyes. And stare. It was enough to unsettle the most confident. He did it to me once when I questioned him if he ever kept in touch with anyone at all. You can’t live like this forever, I told him. It was the most still I’d ever seen him. Until they found his body on the edge of the Thames.
Living on the edge. It’s such a bloody cliché. I can’t help it if that’s what described him perfectly. It just seemed like he deserved something more. He was someone so vibrant that it was as if his body couldn’t quite contain his life. I half-expected it to jump right out, vibrate off lamp-posts and bounce its way down the streets, blacking-out the whole city. He sapped my energy – I couldn’t breathe trying to keep pace with his walk; my head ached trying to keep pace with his conversation; and my nose bled when we spent another night cutting coke with the edge of a razor. He’d be at triple-speed then of course, and my nervous twittering would go up an octave, especially when I peered at the spattered mess I didn’t want to call my face.
He turned up at my flat the day before he disappeared. I could practically taste the trouble in that manic smile. I begged him to tell me what was going on, too afraid even to cringe inwardly at my own hysteria. Please, Michael. Please. Please. His eyes were wider than ever as he gabbled through his placatory script; I’d heard his talking-by-numbers approach before. Then he threw me his jacket, told me he’d see me soon, and left. I want to say that it was a grand exit and that he strode forth as if into battle. But it wasn’t.
When I got the news a week later, I repeated his last words to me. See you soon, I murmured. I spent a few days staring into space but it is only so long before space can stare back at you. And there he was, as vibrant as ever. Startled to see me, he yelped my name and launched a fantastical tale, hoping I’d snap at the bait. After a while, he noticed I was silent. We looked at each other for a long time. You won’t see me soon, I said.
The next day I chucked his jacket into a skip, went to work, and thanked the gloomy sky for being completely unremarkable.