The pouring rain made it uncomfortable to walk. The distance itself wasn’t great by any stretch of the imagination, but despite the rain jacket and the relatively water-resistant boots, my being wasn’t resilient to the ravages of rainstorms. The hood of my jacket served its purpose, but the splashes on my eyewear obstructed my already impaired vision. All that could guide me in this hour was the distant sound of music; a bass note here, a cymbal there, some electronic music growing audible with every step, the distant sound of partygoers now merely muffled behind the unnecessary tall and dark wooden door I found myself at. I stood under the porch wiping my glasses with the edge of my jumper.
I was first hit by the smell of fresh beer followed by a mix of lynx body spray and perfume Amidst this lingered the distinct whiff of something indistinct. The house was dimly lit, the hallway somewhat packed with the attendees and a big sign at the bottom of the staircase read:
‘BATHROOMS TO YOUR LEFT - KEEP OUT’.
With my coat joining the many already hanging on the rack to my right, I slowly made my way to the epicentre of the chaos, my boots landing on a puddle, making that distinct peeling sound as they pulled away. Between the sensual chaos and the physical journey of pushing past the bodies, I barely had time to register the faces that were part of the room.
Amidst this chaos, a conversation started. I found myself within a circle of people and started talking to the person on my left. A cheap disco ball suspended from the ceiling barely lit the faces around me but managed to the extent that I could make out the person I was talking to.
“What are you meant to be?” she asked
“Unapologetically me, there are only so many outfits that can go with glasses so I decided to go my authentic self.”
“Could have gone for Clark Kent OR a gender-swapped Velma!”
“A gender-swapped Velma does sound great!” I replied.
“See, you have your costume for next year!”
“What are you meant to be anyway?” I asked, looking at her yellow rain jacket, paper boat in her hands, wondering who or what she was meant to be.
“Just the one!”
“You might want to avoid the hallway in that case.”
“There is a guy dressed up as pennywise that I would stay away from… just in case.”
Before she could reply, an attendee walked right between us, bumping into her, apologising with a quick “sorry mate” and carrying onto wherever his destination was.
“For fuck’s sake,” she muttered, moving to the side and attempting to wipe off the drink that was spilled on her jacket by our mysterious friend just moments past.
“Want me to hold your drink?”
“Yes please” she replied
“What a prick, am I right?”
“Haha if only drunk people could watch where they were going”
“Kids these days, no sense of direction or courtesy!” I replied, putting on my best impression of a posh British accent for some reason.
She just looked dead straight at me and broke into a laugh.
“Yeah, I regretted it soon as the words left my mouth”, I replied, hiding my face behind my palms, the very real-world equivalent of the monkey hiding its face emoji.
“No, no, that was an… effort”
“Wow! That bad huh?”
“Well, a decent effort, how about that?”
“I’ll take it .”
She took her drink back, her yellow jacket now draped across her arm.
My phone buzzed.
A single notification - “Let me know when you’re on your way”
“Somewhere you need to be?” she asked
“Just another party a couple of minutes away”
“How very rude, what would the host think!?”
“Truth be told, I don’t even know the host. I’m actually here because my friend invited me, and I’ve been rather unsuccessful in finding him.”
“Unsuccessful you say. How come?”
“Well, just got harassed by this girl in a yellow jacket.” I rolled my eyes as soon as the words left my mouth.
“Is that what you call this? Being harassed?” she replied with a slight chuckle in her tone.
“I’m not complaining, but just so we’re clear I wasn’t expecting to flirt with the first person I spoke to.”
“Is that right?”
We stood there, looking at each other.
With the limitations of the barely lit room, I couldn’t tell if she was blushing but I sure as heck was! Like fuck me, I had walked into this party, with the sole intention of staying there for maybe ten or fifteen minutes and here I was wishing I hadn’t signed myself up for another one.
I pondered this for a moment.
The disco ball continued to spin on the spot while the music played in the background, the crowd still as loud as it was when I arrived.
I wasn’t falling or smitten or any such cliché that we’ve come to accept and expect from years of conditioning via the pop culture shoved down our throats. I just stood there, in my bubble, with a complete stranger, her yellow coat hanging on her arm, lost in our brief conversation.
My phone buzzed again.
Another notification - “Rough ETA?”
“You should take that”
I extended my hand, “It’s been great talking to you stranger.”
“So formal!” She pushed my hand away and went in for a hug.
I hugged her back.
“I’m Vishruth, just in case you were wondering although Vish is probably easier.”
“Why Vish?” she asked.
“Well, most people tend to butcher the former, so better to save what little dignity I can.”
“Well, I hope you have a lovely evening Vish,” she replied, adding that she too had a name, in case I was wondering. I bid her goodbye and made my way through the crowd, past the sticky floor, the loud music, the budget disco ball hanging from the ceiling.
I took my coat off the rack and made my way out of the house onto the rain swept streets of Dublin. I pulled out my phone, typed a quick response and put it away. The faint sound of the music could still be heard as I walked away from the house, interrupted by the occasional “Wooooo!”.
As I pulled my hood over my head my mind focused on my sheer attraction to her and how much I wanted to stay and talk.
Everything of that house and that party would fade away in the days and weeks to follow, everything but her name.
As I walked down Grafton street, I could see that the lights had been put up. Christmas was still three weeks away but you could never start the festivities too early in Dublin and I have an odd suspicion that for the City Council it’s never too early to decorate for Christmas .
It was as busy as you could expect for a Tuesday evening.
I made my way down the street , weaving between the crowds like some convoluted game of Tetris mixed with Mario Kart, just sticking to my pace.
There was a nip in the air. Individuals in the crowd were layered with scarves and gloves despite clear skies, and the lack of tangible sunlight made it colder than it looked.
I rushed past the buskers, who on any other day I would’ve stopped and listened to, well… with the exception of the one guy on the corner of Marks & Spencer's that always played Wonderwall.
I was running late to Daithí’s birthday drinks and although he wouldn’t be too fussed about it, I knew his partner Jo would. Of all the things you could be forgiven for in Jo’s book, tardiness was not one of them, granted I had a legitimate reason. I was coming straight from work, which had been busier than most evenings and my boss, who on most days made little to no effort to show up to work, picked the one day I had arrangements to take initiative and put us through a hellish photo-op.
When I arrived at the barit was quiet, or quiet at least for an Irish Tuesday with a few folks scattered about, drinking to their heart's content.
Situated conveniently across from Stephen’s Green, this place was always a favourite. The pub’s ambience could be described as somewhere between a living room and a barn, an unconventional feature designed with the intention of breaking the restrictive mould one would ordinarily associate with a typical Dublin pub. It had plush couches scattered amongst high stools and conventional bar seating with large garden lights running the length of the ceiling, from the front doors to the very end. It was quite large as spaces go, and was shared with a pizza company which meant the fresh smell of pizza cooking in a woodfire oven was never lost on you and inevitably, despite the best of intentions, you ended up ordering some focaccia if nothing else.
As I made my way through to the tables, I noticed the barman behind the counter to my left working away at the till while another extended the card machine to a customer preparing to commit to the first of many pints.
I approached the table and pulled myself a chair to sit next to Daithí.
“Look who finally decided to show up!” Jo remarked, as I approached the table which at this point had made its way through most of the food and a few rounds of beer judging by the empty pints.
“Work had me stay for a photo-op.”
“Are they still getting you to promote that glorified plushie?” asked Daithí, surprised.
“You know if they pay me two quid over minimum wage to take pictures of a plushie then I am not going to complain.”
“I’m sorry, you’re paid to photograph plushies?” a voice from the far left of the table spoke up.
“It's a bit more compl…” I cut myself off. I could swear I had heard that voice before.
I cocked my head to the right and looked across the table.
There were a few familiar faces, a few new ones, but scattered amidst the old and the new, the ones I knew and those I was yet to know, was her.
Dressed in a rust coloured jumper, shoulder-length mousy-brown hair, and piercing blue eyes highlighting the freckles on either side of her nose. While they may seem like random features, I would recognise her anywhere.
Granted, it would be a heck of a coincidence if it was anyone else but her, yet there was no doubt in my mind that she was the stranger from the party.
“V, this is my friend from class.” Jo chimed in.
I couldn’t believe it.
Months later, the memory of our first meeting was still fresh in my mind. I recalled the countless times I’d tried finding her on social media, the many moments spent wondering and mindlessly fantasising about her, and yet here she was, smiling at me, the look in her eyes reflecting the same recognition I held in mine.
We’d moved on from the bar and found ourselves at 9 Below, a cocktail bar which as the name suggests, was below the ground, located on the north end of Stephen’s Green. It was quite bougie and if it hadn’t been for my insufferable work photographing and promoting a dinosaur plushie for a couple of hours every week, I doubt I would’ve been able to afford much of what this place had to offer.
I already knew what I was going to get, a cold glass of water filled to the brim with ice.
While everyone followed up with their choices of drink I couldn’t keep my eyes off her.
She sat across from me, not at the arse end of the table, not in a barely lit room like the last time, but an arm’s length away. I could try and explain what that felt like but the words themselves would fail to encapsulate the full weight of the emotions behind them.
At the risk of repeating myself and sounding cheesy as all heck;
I couldn’t keep my eyes off her.
She couldn’t keep her eyes off me either.
We’d look away and play this game of avoiding eye contact and then sneaking in a glance only for the other to look away.
Round and round we went.
I’d turn my head to talk to Daithí only to feel her eyes on me, and sure as heck, the moment I turned my gaze there she was, looking right back at me with those big blue eyes of hers.
Jenna, one of Jo’s friends, left for the night, leaving behind an empty round stool next to me which was soon enough occupied by the one person I wanted to talk to the entire night.
“So Vishruth,“ she said, absolutely spot-on with the pronunciation, “what is this about you working for a plushie?”
“You remembered my name?”
“Well, it’s not really a hard one to forget, plus not that many Vishruth’s in Dublin”, she replied.
“Yes, I am very memorable.”
She chuckled. “Not what I said.”
“But it was what you meant,” I replied, leaning on the table, my left arm supporting my face, my glass of water in my right. “I am impressed though, most people absolutely butcher my name or resort to calling me some variation of it.”
“I’m sorry about that. That sounds like it would be a bit upsetting.” her tone taking a more empathetic approach.
“Not really. I mean, it used to. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t but you learn to develop a thick skin.” I held a second’s pause. “I think the worst of it really struck me when the guy at Starbucks got it wrong the other day.”
She broke into laughter that was quite infectious.
“Seriously though, that really hurt.”
She tried to hold back the laugh, “Sorry, what did he call you on your latte?”
“Cappuccino, thank you!”
“Apologies, a cappuccino. Continue.”
She cocked her head back, trying to take me in.
“Yeah sorry, I don’t see it.”
“Thank You!” I exclaimed, my hands rising on either side of me.
“Think that might have been the closest name he could think of and went with that.”
“Think you might be right,” I took a sip out of my glass, “But yes, sorry I’ve gone on a tangent; the plushie”.
“Ah yes! The plushie.” she leaned in as I went on to tell the origin story of my work nightmare.
Sometime in early spring, my manager at work had come across a dinosaur plushie and decided that this was precisely what the office needed to promote itself on social media. It seemed like a good joke over the summer to showcase how ridiculous and borderline edgy the office was but as term started, all of us soon realized that it was never meant as a joke and that our boss, a middle-aged man, had truly decided that this dinosaur was a key part of our PR strategy.
From that point on, every poster, every video, every publicity material we ever put out had to feature this bright green dinosaur and what had seemed adorable and hilarious in its early days had turned into a workspace nightmare.
Not one to let a joke die, my boss decided that it would be interesting if Terry, who now had his own staff ID and badge, started attending work meetings. Terry took centre stage at all events, was a key part of the college orientation week and before long the legend of Terry the Tyrannosaurus was born.
“That’s ridiculous,” she said with utter disbelief in her voice.
“It’s true. The day he found that Dinosaur was the beginning of the very end.”
She chuckled, “You make it sound so dramatic.”
Daithí interjected, “Think we’re all heading out now, might head to The George.”
“I think I might head home D if that’s alright?”
“That’s okay hun, how about you Nat?” he turned towards her.
“Might head home too. Not feeling The George tonight.”
“Well, you two are no fun,” Daithí replied.
“You know I love you mate!” I got up and hugged Daithí, “I’ll see you soon.”
We said our goodbyes, one by one the group got up and left. Nat said her byes to Jo, and soon enough it was just the two of us. We stayed and talked for another couple of minutes.
“Think I might head home too now, it’s getting pretty late,” she said.
I looked at my watch - 23:45
“I could walk you?”
“That wouldn’t be a bad idea,” she replied.
“Where do you live?” I asked.
I replied, “Me too.”
I nervously paced the length of the street. The evening was clear with a few scattered clouds donning the skyscape. It was cold but the absence of strong winds made it somewhat pleasant. It was one of those rare winter days in Dublin, the kind where you almost find yourself wishing for a soundtrack to your life because with the Christmas lights and decorations around the city, it felt like something out of a movie.
Minus the snow.
Personally, I would've loved some snow, but then there was always the risk that the entire country would shut down.
I was outside the Science Gallery which was celebrating the launch of an exhibition on art installations made out of recycled plastic, aptly titled Plastic, which if you haven’t guessed yet is precisely why this chapter is called Plastic.
There we go! It’s like a reference within a reference.
Back to the story…
A few artists had put up some impressive and truly enormous installations and the silhouette of one was visible through the frosted glass wall overlooking the street.
Now, as exciting as all of this sustainability sounds, I would be lying to both myself and you as the reader at this point if I was to claim that I was in attendance because I was interested in exhibitions and galleries and art made out of recycled plastic. Truth be told I had found art galleries and exhibitions a bit dull.
So why did I attend?
Nat had suggested it for our first date.
We’d been texting ever since the night I walked her home and decided that neither one of us wanted to wait for another chance encounter, so there I was, the Friday of that same week, nervously pacing the length of the street because I was about to go on a date.
A date with a girl I had been thinking of since the very night I first met her.
“I’ll be there in 5, sorry my class ran overtime.”
I was nervous, I was excited and I was pacing across the street like an awkward mumbling version of myself. What if she thought I was unfunny? What if she thought I wasn’t as interesting as our two previous encounters? After all, meeting someone over drinks was very different from being out on a date at an art exhibition. Also, what kind of a vibe did an edgy exhibition on plastic waste have anyway and how was I expected to get to know someone if I couldn’t really speak to them?
Maybe I was overthinking.
Correction, I most definitely was.
That very realization stopped me in my tracks. The first impression goes a long way, so I decided to wait beside the gallery entrance, away from the queue that was gathering outside, but close enough to it so she could see me. A few minutes passed. As more people joined the queue I found myself wondering about their reasons for being there.. Wondering if there were other couples out on a date with the same idea as ourselves.
“Hey! So sorry I'm late” said the voice behind me.
I turned around to see her; beige jumper, light blue jeans, Chelsea boots and a big burgundy overcoat that leaned on the side of extravagant but she pulled it off in a way that others couldn’t.
She went for a hug.
“Right on time,” I replied pointing to the queue that had just started to move.
We joined the end of the queue.
“I’m so excited for this,” she said, her voice buzzing with enthusiasm. “There’s meant to be this one third scale Pterodactyl piece made entirely out of driftwood and recycled plastic.”
“That’s cheating though, isn’t it? Using driftwood in an art piece which technically should be made entirely out of plastic given the exhibition.”
“Shush! It’s going to be magnificent!”
We made our way through the queue/to the front of the queue and were ushered through the doors by a very friendly volunteer who checked our tickets and handed us a Lego brick each, our drink tokens for the event.
We made our way through the exhibition and while I can’t speak for her, I was taken back by the beauty on display. My scepticism and apprehension all washed away at the sight of the art installations on display. I found myself staring at a landscape scene made entirely out of plastic weaves, observing the intricate details, the many patterns and their complexity giving birth to an entire landscape scene. The rolling hills, the sky with scattered clouds, a single cottage to its right with a brook flowing through a forest line, all of it, every single inch of it, made entirely out of plastic waste.
“It’s beautiful,” she spoke softly.
Moving away from me, she navigated her own way through the exhibition, leaving me to my own devices.
There was a beauty to it, our intricate dance of gently brushing past each other as we briefly crossed paths, moving on to something that struck our imagination. Coming together for brief moments of intimacy only to then move away and be left to experience the art around us.
It felt like something out of an Attenborough documentary, I could almost hear him commenting on our little courtship:
“The beauty of connection cultivated through non-verbal communication. This is how the male and the female of the species perform their mating dance. Their ability to be apart and yet be so connected at the same time, as natural as it is effortless.”
I think it was at that very moment, standing in front of that landscape once again that I understood why she suggested the exhibition as a date. There was gravity between us and this dance was nothing but a demonstration of it, pulling away only to come back together, the intimacy growing with every passing moment. And yet, not a word said. Just glances, smiles and as cheesy as this may sound; our gravity.
We found ourselves together again, right in front of that Pterodactyl, the silhouette of which I had previously witnessed from the frosted glass wall. It was intricate, overflowing with detail, the craftsmanship nothing short of breath-taking.
“Nothing’s ever truly wasted if you look at it,” she said, her gaze locked at the behemoth in front of us. “It’s incredible, to think that something so beautiful could come out of what was once considered broken, considered waste.”
“And driftwood,” I interjected.
“And driftwood,” she said, rolling her eyes.
We stood there, in silence, dwarfed by the presence of something so beautiful. Not a word was said, but at that moment there was no one else In a room full of a hundred other humans, all with their unique histories and stories, I found myself at ease in the company of the girl I’d never thought I’d see again. It felt like the right place to be.
“What are your plans for tomorrow?” she asked, turning towards me.
“No classes and not in work till 3, why?”
“I think I know the perfect place to get a drink.”
We found ourselves outside Mary’s, just off Grafton street. Lights as far as the eye could see. Every storefront with its own Christmas display, a lone sax player busking at midnight adding to the mood of the evening.
“This was such a lovely evening,” she said, putting her coat back on.
“Thank you for inviting me to the exhibition and indulging me and my many pints of water”.
She chuckled, “Is there a reason you don’t drink? Sorry, I should’ve asked that earlier.”
“I’m a terrible flirt when I drink,” I said, inching a bit closer to her.
She mirrored me, taking a step closer as well.
We stood there, our noses almost touching, my hand now resting on her waist.
The saxophone in the background, the lights over our head, the gentle yet cold winter breeze.
“We never used our drink tokens,” she spoke softly.
“I wanted something to remember this evening by,” I replied
I followed my eyes to her lips, her mouth parting in a smile.
“We could do better,” she replied, leaning in for a kiss.