Please Note: This is Ep. 12
Please click here for Ep. 11
Welcome to season 2 of Confessions of a Merry Monk! I want to thank you all for your kind words and comments of love and support throughout Season 1. It wasn’t easy but we got through it together. Swami ji’s Grace and your kindness helps me write without fear and judgement. Ever grateful 🙏🏻❤️
(As everything I write is true, names have been changed to protect identities.)
“Tell them you’re 18, and you’re a model.”
“And by the way, tell them you’re eighteen, and you’re a model.” He looked at me lovingly and smiled as he straightened my scarf a little and neatened a stray wisp of hair.
But I wasn’t eighteen, and I wasn’t a model.
I was a nobody sixteen-year-old, a school dropout who smoked cigarettes and weed, who drank cheap cider, someone who’d just survived child molestation, bullying, domestic abuse, and a suicide attempt, and had left home. I wasn’t anybody special. I lived alone in a single room above a video-rental library and a fish-n-chip shop in ‘Molly Way’.
From October onwards, during the run-up to Christmas and the new year, the catalogue store, Argos, on the town High Street, always hired extra help, usually teens looking to earn a few extra bob for the festive season. I’d already figured out a place to live, all I needed was my first weekly pay cheque from them, and I was in.
An uncle of a school friend owned a small, video-rental library on Mollison Way (or Molly Way as we called it), in the parade of shops (the same parade of shops in which I’d started my sweet retreat), with a greengrocer’s, a bakery, and a post office, right next door to the local pub, about a 10-minute walk from my parents’ house.
Mollison Way — this endlessly long road, originally a runway belonging to the aerospace factory and flight school that were here before residential development took over, and named in honour of two pilots, Jim Mollison and his wife, Amy — was now my home. Amy had learned to fly here and had gone on to break several long-distance aviation records in the 1930s, including becoming the first woman to fly solo from Britain to Australia.
I wondered what Amy would have thought of this dropout, underachiever who now lived where she had flown once upon a time. Amy had been fearless, a pioneer, proof that women can do anything. It’s not what I’d seen growing up. Perhaps I’d fly too, one day, in my own way, I could only hope. But for now, I had only to survive.
I’d helped out manning the video shop some afternoons over the school summer holidays to earn a little cash. In those days, there was no widely available internet and certainly no Netflix. A movie on demand meant getting dressed, and walking or driving to the video library and picking up an actual video cassette with real tape inside (there weren’t even CDs then), and playing it on a VCR (Gen Z’s can ask Google Baba what that stands for).
While I’d been working at the shop, the conversation came up with the owner that a room upstairs was available to rent for £50 per week, bills included, no contract, no security deposit or first month’s rent in advance needed as he knew and trusted me. He could see I really needed it and said I could stay there for as little or as long as I needed. I told him that once I could afford it, I’d take it. He didn’t need a full-time employee at the video shop, I just helped him out by covering a few hours here and there, so to move out of my parents’ house, I needed a proper job.
Argos paid us ‘teen’ rates, not ‘person with rent to pay and food to buy’ rates. To me, it didn’t matter though. I was desperate to move out and felt lucky that anyone would hire me. As long as I had enough to cover my rent, I’d somehow figure the rest out.
After the Christmas rush, Argos didn’t need all that extra help, and they let most of us teenyboppers go back to our cushy lives of school, parents, and hot dinners on the table. But I had none of that, I had rent to pay. Luckily for me, Argos thought I was competent and kept me on part-time, but it wasn’t enough. I had to figure out a way to eat. The whole time I worked at Argos, I’d skip breakfast and survive on a McDonald’s children’s ‘Happy Meal’ for lunch (without the toy, so it was cheaper, although I really wanted the toy… really. They were promoting the Disney animated movie, 101 Dalmatians, and I really wanted a cute little Dalmatian! I think I did get one once. Anyway, I digress)… and a Pot Noodle for dinner. Sometimes the chippy downstairs gave me free chips at the end of the night; the ones that had been sitting in the fryer that nobody was going to eat anyway. I’d always been tall and slim, but now I weighed around 6.5 stones (around 41 kilos); I was underweight and malnourished.
But to him, I guess I looked like a model (makeup did wonders for me), and here I was at a swanky bar in London’s famous West End where a single drink cost more than I spent in three days on food, and with the most gorgeous man I’d seen in my life; a privately educated professional, eight years my elder, and about to meet his friends and their girlfriends for the first time.
And how on Earth did I end up here?
Well, on Friday nights at a particular bar in Park Royal, they’d charge a £1 cover at the door and all my friends and the young, mostly ‘Brit Asian’ crowd in London flocked there. It was my favourite kind of music: old skool RnB, hip hop and swing. My friend Tina and I would make sure we had £1 saved up at the end of each week, then we’d jump the train barriers when no one was looking as we couldn’t afford the ticket to Park Royal station. Within minutes after the tube ride, we’d paid the £1 entrance fee, and we were in, ready to dance the night away.
There were always people and friends around who would buy us drinks and give us a ride home at the end of the night. We weren’t bothered about picking up men, we weren’t even looking; we went there to dance. It’s what I loved more than anything, that music that you just couldn’t sit still to, and downing a couple of drinks and losing myself on the dance floor without any inhibitions whatsoever. For me, there wasn’t a better high than that. I didn’t even dress up; forget heels or a dress, I wore a crop top with baggy jeans, worn at my hips, and a pair of trainers so I could be as comfortable as possible and just dance.
It was on one of these nights that I caught the eye of someone. He looked at me and beckoned me over with a finger. Cocky move, but it worked. I had no idea then that this someone was going to love me, care for me and shower me with affection like I’d never thought possible.
Maanav was the perfect gentleman, exactly the Prince Charming, Knight in shining armour that any girl could dream of. He was well-spoken, polite, very chivalrous and extremely cheeky. We had a great night of witty banter, drinking and dancing. I told him how old I was; it didn’t seem to matter to him as he gave me his business card anyway and asked me to call him the next day.
I didn’t have a phone, but I knew a trick with the Molly Way payphone on the street. You had to put in a pound coin and dial the number as usual, but before the money ran out, you pressed *, a particular number, and then #, and then you hung up and the coin would be automatically returned below. You could keep doing this and make as many free phone calls as you liked.
And so, courtesy of British Telecom, I called Maanav the next morning, and after downing a litre of water and a couple of paracetamols (because I’d made him keep up with me at the bar the night before), he came to pick me up to take me out for a bite to eat the same afternoon… and then the next day, and the next day, and the next. Lunches or dinners every day.
He said he loved to watch me eat. And boy, did I eat. I loved the crêpes and Mississippi Mud Pie in Hampstead Heath, and my favourite was the cannelloni at Pizza Express, I could eat the whole thing myself, plus starters and a cheesecake, and a slice of his pizza, and, of course, a glass or two of wine. The conversation flowed and there was never an awkward moment. I told him all about what had happened in my life, about my parents, my hospitalisation, and why I lived where I did now. There wasn’t a thing he didn’t know about me.
Inevitably, within the first week, I fell deeply in love with him, just as much as the cannelloni, well, alright, a little more than the cannelloni (although I really loved the cannelloni). And it was absolutely that head-over-heels, sixteen-year-old, all-consuming, nothing else exists in the world kind of love. I thought of nothing but him every waking moment, and at night my dreams were filled with him.
I remember he’d given me some photographs of himself and I’d stuck them onto the wall next to my bed and surrounded them with little hearts and his name that I’d cut out from pink paper. I’d kiss his photos goodnight, I’d kiss them good morning. At the end of our first glorious week together, when Maanav didn’t have work the next day, he slept over in my little room in my single bed with me and we cuddled and slept in each other’s arms all night. He was patient with me and we didn’t get intimate at the start of our relationship. It was pure, it was perfect, it was beautiful… and then I saw where he lived for the first time and tried to break up with him.
Please click here to continue to Ep. 13
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