Chapter 1: Nadia
There are some people you know you are supposed to be with. You have a connection that can't be put into words and yet fate seems to be determined to keep you apart. Either you're single and she's not or you're seeing someone and she isn't. That's how it was with me and Nadia when we first met. As I would learn it's all a question of waiting for that right time when the two of you come together.
I met Nadia when I was a student at college in Bridgend. I was twenty at the time and she was twenty seven which effectively made her a mature student although she still had a radiant youthful aura to her. She wasn't one of those women who walked in through the door and the whole room would stop in open mouthed awe at her beauty. Don't get me wrong, she was beautiful but it was a different kind of beauty that only commanded the attention of those she chose to want attention from. The thing I always remembered most about her when we first met was her long, straight jet black hair that hung down over her shoulders. She had alluring yet playful green eyes that you just wanted to stare into all day. Complementing these features was quite a full hour glass figure that she felt no need to show off with stupidly skimpy clothing. She had the confidence but above all the self respect to say 'this is who I am and I don't need to pretend to be anyone else'. I've always found this type of confidence attractive.
We hit it off from day one. We talked for what seemed like hours during the initiation activities the college had put on for us. They were designed to help break the ice with our fellow students before studying began and just made you feel silly. She told me that she was originally from Bristol but she was now living this way after moving in with a friend. It seemed she never got on with her father and her mother lacked the confidence to stand up to him on her behalf thus forcing her to find her own way in life. I found it hard to believe she could not get on with anyone. She was perfect. She had the sweetest aura to her.
I was single at the time and I could feel the electricity forming between us. I knew there was a connection and I had every intention of trying to complete it with her that day by asking her out for a drink. I waited for the right moment which came as the day drew to a close. We were standing in the college car park about to say our good nights when my mouth began to form the words 'fancy coming out for a drink sometime?' However, before they could leave my mouth a black Audi convertible sports car stopped in front of us. This would be my first encounter with Dave; her boyfriend.
Imagine they gave out a Nobel prize for loving yourself. There would be no competition because Dave would pick it up every year. In all my days prior and since I have never met anyone who loved himself as much as he did. I always had this idea that he was the kind of bloke who would look at himself in front of the mirror while giving himself compliments at how fabulous he was and that the mirror should be honoured to portray his reflection. Every word out of his mouth seemed to be about how successful he was and what new business venture he was involved with this week. I will never understand why decent women such as Nadia go for such assholes. It can't just be the money! Dave was the same age as Nadia and looked down at me like I was some school kid whose only friend was the teacher. That just infuriated me more. I think he knew I fancied her because he would always put his arm around her like he was hugging some new trophy he had been awarded for being one of the masters-of-the-universe and smile at me as if to say 'she belongs to me'. It was disrespectful affection and I swore that one day I would wipe that smile clean off his face even if it was for nothing more than my own personal satisfaction.
More often than not the overly loud sound of his car speeding away was followed by the low sound of someone uttering some rather profane words about his mother for giving him life.
I knew I was tempting fate but I couldn't keep away from Nadia and I think she was the same. For the first two months of college we seemed to spend all our time together whilst on campus. I don't remember us ever having anything but a good time except of course when a certain Audi would pull up. At some point however I began to realize that I would have to give up on her. She seemed set to stay with Dave and I had pined over too many women in the past. At a club in town on a student night I met up with Rachel. Nadia was there and was encouraging me to keep dancing with Rachel even though I resembled a Hippo on an ice rink whenever I did.
There was no passion with Rachel right from the very beginning. Looking back, I think Rachel knew it too. We were with each other purely for convenience sake. If we talked on the phone it was just to arrange a meeting usually for something she wanted to do.
Christmas soon came and Nadia thought it would be fun if me and Rachel joined her and Dave at their flat for a dinner party - Hmm? Sitting with Dave for more than thirty seconds, yeah that sounds like fun! It did however give me the chance to see Nadia over the Christmas holidays so that was a bonus. When she opened the door for us I felt a hammer had struck me in the head. She wore an elegant green satin dinner dress that hugged her features in a way that complemented them while at the same time teasingly hinted at what was underneath. She really was beautiful. Beautiful in every sense of the word. I had to physically concentrate just to breath when I first saw her that day. The sight of her seemed to shut down every part of my brain and turn me into a drooling moron. Well, more so than usual anyway.
In hindsight we were both a little rude to our partners that night. The two of us talked so much to one another that not even Dave could get a word in about his latest deal to import exotic Latvian digital projection alarm clocks and so found himself trying to talk to Rachel who didn't even pretend to have an interest. Dave eventually got fed up and invaded the brandy bottles in the kitchen while Rachel sat and watched the Doctor Who Christmas special leaving me and Nadia at the table. I never wanted that day to end. It was like we were having our first date then and there even, if it was in a roundabout sort of way.
If anything, that day finally spelled the end for me and Rachel. The two of us agreed that this wasn't going anywhere and she was becoming interested in some amateur footballer named Scott. Why are they always called Scott? My thoughts were now almost always on Nadia and this made things awkward when we went back to college in January. Something had happened between us that Christmas Night at her flat. Our relationship had changed somehow. We still had our laughs but we were now closer than ever. We began to turn to each other for support whenever serious issues arose in our lives. Some might have seen this as a burden but I relished in it and wanted to hear about everything that was going on in her life. One snowy Tuesday in February she finally admitted that she felt closer to me than with Dave but it never went any further than that.
However it was that very weekend I found myself in the local video store renting a movie about scantily clad women who hunted down aliens on Earth while wearing only a bikini through much of the film. Renting a film like this was a dead giveaway that I was single - Or a virgin still living with his parents, I can't be quite sure which is more accurate. It was as I drove up to my rented flat that I saw Nadia walking down my street away from where I lived. She knocked on my door and when she saw that I wasn't in she decided to give up. I called out to her just in the nick of time and she began to walk back to me.
"Interesting movie," she said as she saw the cover of the DVD I had in my hand.
"This?" I said rather embarrassed. "Oh uh, this isn't mine. I found it. Honest." I am the worst liar in the world. "Everything ok ?"
"Yea why wouldn't it be?" she asked rather defensively which caught me a little off guard.
"Well it's a Saturday night and you're not out with 'Super Dave' at some trendy, ridiculously-expensive-but-I-can-afford-it restaurant."
"Ah well," she said smiling brightly. "Doctor told me to lay off the red Lobster for a while."
I laughed before asking her if she wanted to come in. She followed me into my bachelor pad, an apt euphemism for what can only be described as a tribute to Hiroshima post-Atomic attack that was my flat. She had known me well enough by then to know what I was like and very politely ignored the mess. I quickly noticed that she seemed to have something more important on her mind than the cleanliness of my home but was stubbornly keeping it to herself. She said she wanted to just hang around with me for an hour or so but she didn't say why. Of course, I was more than happy to spend time with her but I wanted to know what was wrong. I tried asking a few times but she refused to answer me.
After about half an hour, at her insistence, we put the DVD on. It was truly awful but I don't think either of our minds was on the ludicrous movie as we sat on my sofa. Before long I felt her head tilt to the side and start to rest on my right shoulder. She was slowly falling asleep and so I very carefully lifted my right arm around her and she tucked in under it before dropping off leaving me to watch the end of the movie.
As the credits rolled up the screen she began to stir slightly and feeling uncomfortable she moved her head from under my arm and down onto my lap as her legs curled up at the opposite end of the sofa. I was extremely uncomfortable having her lay this way and so, very carefully, I lifted her head up and squeezed out from under her before letting her head down onto a pillow. I fetched a spare blanket for her and left her to sleep on my sofa before making my way to my own bedroom.
Before I switched out the light in the living room I whispered, "Good night," even though I knew she couldn't hear me.
It was now one o'clock in the morning and the boredom of the movie had caught up with me. I yawned as I got undressed and climbed into bed. I was about to turn the lamp off when my door opened and she slowly walked into my room before closing it behind her. During the time I had spent getting ready for bed she had taken off her own clothes and was now only wearing my extra large Evil Monkey t-shirt that was by far too big for her and so was an excellent substitute for a night gown. She must have gathered it up in the rubble of clothing lay across my floor. The bottom of the t-shirt reached down to the top of her legs covering up her entire upper torso.
"Do you mind?" she asked indicating to the t-shirt to which I shook my head. Of course I didn't mind but I had to wonder why she had decided to put it in and, in my naivety, why she was in my room.
I sat up in my bed with only the blanket covering my nakedness as I watched her walk over to me and proceed to climb in next to me. My mind was running wild trying to make sense of what was happening. Once she was under the blanket with me she reached over and turned the light off plunging the room into darkness once more. Again I was uncomfortable with her being so close to me. I was more than aware of my feelings for her and so I was desperately trying not to let my mind come to any conclusions. I'd often heard that women were closer to their friends than men were and perhaps this was just an expression of that?
I slithered across the bed to give her more room. Once we were both comfortable, or as I could be anyway, we found ourselves instinctively reaching for one another. I put my left arm under her and she rested her head against my shoulder before I wrapped her up with my right. She moved in so close to me I almost thought she was trying to climb inside my skin.
Now – I've never been one to know what to say at truly important or pivotal moments. My mind just goes blank or worse is corrupted by some piece of confused, barely legible garbage that ruins the moment. I felt like I had to say something to her but my mind was turning over and over again as to what. Do I make a joke? Do I ask her how she's feeling? What? Please, somebody tell me what?
"Thank you," she whispered to me.
I'd suddenly come to realize that a lengthy period of time had gone by without me saying something and she was apparently grateful. She took my attempt to figure what to say as my understanding that she needed some quiet time. Guess it worked out ok in the end.
My hand had subconsciously began to stroke her hair. I was surprised that my touch could be so tender. It seemed I was learning things about myself through this experience but just what was wrong with her? I had to ask her. I just couldn't leave it like this.
"Nadia..." I said but before I could finish my question she cut me off.
"I have cancer," she said as though she was telling me she had lost a five pound note on the way to my place.
Wait a minute! What just happened?
My entire world seemed to just fall away from me at that point. Everything was gone. I was in a vacuum of nothingness, an eternal purgatory, except for the woman in my arms. I wanted to cry although for some reason the tears would not materialize. I was caught just on the verge of breaking down and unable to go back or to get it over with.
I'd like to say that it ended there but it didn't.
"And I'm pregnant."
People often tell me about seconds that feel like lifetimes. I'd never really understood that until that particular moment. That night, as I lay there with her in my arms, I experienced twenty five thousand and two hundred lifetimes for that was how many seconds I lay there awake with her trying to get a handle on this. Seven hours.
The morning came with a bright light bursting through the breaks in my curtains. At some seemingly random point she asked me what time it was.
"It's just gone eight," I replied.
"I should go."
She seemed to peel herself away from me and climb out of bed before walking slowly towards the door.
"Nadia," I called out my voice almost pleading with her to stay. She stopped just as she began to open the door and looked back at me. "What does Dave..."
"What does Dave think?" she said finishing my question. "He thinks I should get rid of it. He doesn't want to be left holding the baby if I die. When I die."
"What are you going to do?"
"I'm going away for a while," she explained. "I don't know when I'm going to be coming back."
"Where are you going?" I asked devastated after today I wouldn't know when I'd ever see her again.
"Scotland, my aunty lives there. She said I can stay for a while."
She smiled gently to herself before answering, "He can do you a great deal on Latvian digital projection alarm clocks."
"Don't go," I pleaded solemnly. "Stay here with me. Just for today."
"I can't," she said.
"Why not? Give me one damn good reason and I promise I won't say another word."
"Because it's too hard for me to see you anymore. I know you Brian. You'll want to keep me here and look after me but I can see the hurt in your eyes even as you look at me right now. I can't bear to see that. I'm sorry." There was a pause in her voice as if it were her turn to ponder what to say next. Finally her lips began to form words that I will never forget. "I sometimes wished that I had met you sooner but now...I'm just glad we had this time."
And with that she was gone. Not just from my room but from my life. Over the next few days I repeatedly sent her texts and e-mails as well as phoning all of which amounted to nothing. I replayed that last conversation over and over in my mind trying to picture a better outcome but again it came to just a blank empty void that she had created by her departure.
To me it was as if she was already dead.