Authors: Hanif Kureishi
LOVE IN A BLUE TIME
In a Blue Time
We’re Not Jews
With Your Tongue down My Throat
Blue, Blue Pictures of You
My Son the Fanatic
The Tale of the Turd
MIDNIGHT ALL DAY
Strangers When We Meet
Four Blue Chairs
That Was Then
A Meeting, At Last
Midnight All Day
Morning in the Bowl of Night
Hullabaloo in the Tree
Face to Face with You
Remember This Moment, Remember Us
The Real Father
Long Ago Yesterday
Weddings and Beheadings
The Decline of the West
A Terrible Story
About the Author
By the Same Author
First published in 1997
When the phone rings, who would you most like it to be? And who would you hate it to be? Who is the first person that comes into your mind, Roy liked to ask people, at that moment?
The phone rang and Roy jumped. He had thought, during supper in their new house, with most of their clothes and books in boxes they were too weary to unpack, that it would be pleasant to try their new bed early. He looked across the table at Clara and hoped she’d let the phone run on to the answering machine so he could tell who it was. He disliked talking to his friends in front of her; she seemed to scrutinise him. Somehow he had caused her to resent any life he might have outside her.
She picked up the phone, saying ‘Hallo’ suspiciously. Someone was speaking but didn’t require or merit a reply. Roy mouthed at her, ‘Is it Munday? Is it him?’
She shook her head.
At last she said, ‘Oh God,’ and waved the receiver at Roy.
In the hall he was putting on his jacket.
‘Are you going to him?’
‘He’s in trouble.’
She said, ‘We’re in trouble, and what will you do about that?’
‘Go inside. You’ll get cold standing there.’
She clung to him. ‘Will you be long?’
‘I’ll get back as soon as I can. I’m exhausted. You should go to bed.’
‘Thank you. Aren’t you going to kiss me?’
He put his mouth to hers, and she grunted. He said, ‘But I don’t even want to go.’
‘You’d rather be anywhere else.’
At the gate he called, ‘If Munday rings, please take his number. Say that otherwise I’ll go to his office first thing tomorrow morning.’
She knew this call from the producer Munday was important to him, indeed to both of them. She nodded and then waved.
It wouldn’t take him more than fifteen minutes to drive to the house in Chelsea where his old friend Jimmy had been staying the last few months. But Roy was tired, and parked at the side of the road to think. To think! Apprehension and dread swept through him.
Roy had met Jimmy in the mid-seventies in the back row of their university class on Wittgenstein. Being four years older than the other students, Jimmy appeared ironically knowing compared to Roy’s first friends, who had just left school. After lectures Jimmy never merely retired to the library with a volume of Spinoza, or, as Roy did, go disappointedly home and study, while dreaming of the adventures he might have, were he less fearful. No – Jimmy did the college a favour by popping in for an hour or so after lunch. Then he’d hang out impressing some girls he was considering for his stage adaptation of
Remembrance of Things Past
After he’d auditioned them at length, and as the sky darkened over the river and the stream of commuters across Blackfriars Bridge thinned, Jimmy would saunter forth into the city’s pleasures. He knew the happenin’ cinemas, jazz clubs, parties. Or, since he ran his own magazine,
, he’d interview theatre directors, photographers, tattooists and performance artists who, to Roy’s surprise, rarely refused. At that time students were still considered by some people to be of consequence, and Jimmy would light a joint, sit on the floor and let the recorder run. He would print only the trifling parts of the tape – the gossip and requests for drinks – satisfying his theory that what people were was more interesting than their opinions.
Tonight Jimmy had said he needed Roy more than he’d ever needed him. Or rather, Jimmy’s companions had relayed that message. Jimmy himself hadn’t made it to the phone or even to his feet. He was, nevertheless, audible in the background.
On the doorstep Roy hesitated. Next morning he had a critical breakfast meeting with Munday about the movie Roy had written and was, after two years of preparation, going to direct. He was also, for the first time, living with Clara. This had been a sort of choice, but its consequences – a child on the way – had somehow surprised them both.
He couldn’t turn back. Jimmy’s was the voice Roy most wanted to hear on the phone. Their friendship had survived even the mid-eighties, that vital and churning period when everything had been forced forward with a remorseless velocity. Roy had cancelled his debts to anyone whose affection failed to yield interest. At that time, when Roy lived alone, Jimmy would turn up late at night, just to talk. This was welcome and unusual in Roy’s world, as they didn’t work together and there was no question of loss or gain between them. Jimmy wasn’t impressed by Roy’s diligence. While Roy rushed between meetings Jimmy was, after all, idling in bars and the front of girls’ shirts. But though Jimmy disappeared for weeks – one time he was in prison – when Roy had a free day, Jimmy was the person Roy wanted to spend it with. The two of them would lurch from pub to pub from lunchtime until midnight, laughing at everything. He had no other friends like this, because there are some conversations you can only have with certain people.
Roy pushed the door and cautiously made his way down the uncarpeted stairs, grasping the banister with feeble determination as, he realised, his father used to do. Someone seemed to have been clawing at the wallpaper with their fingernails. A freezing wind blew across the basement: a broken chair must have travelled through a window.
There was Jimmy, then, on the floor, with a broken bottle beside him. The only object intact was a yellowing photograph of Keith Richards pinned to the wall.
Not that Jimmy would have been able to get into his bed. It was occupied by a cloudy-faced middle-aged woman with well-cut hair who, though appearing otherwise healthy, kept nodding out. Cradled into her was a boy of around sixteen with a sly scared look, naked apart from a Lacoste crocodile tattooed onto his chest. Now and again the woman seemed to achieve a dim consciousness and tried shoving him away, but she couldn’t shift him.
Jimmy lay on the floor like a child in the playground, with the foot of a bully on his chest. The foot belonged to Marco, the owner of the house, a wealthy junkie with a blood-stained white scarf tied around his throat. Another man, Jake, stood beside them.
‘The cavalry’s arrived,’ Jake said to Marco, who lifted his boot.
Jimmy’s eyes were shut. His twenty-one-year-old girlfriend Kara, the daughter of a notable bohemian family, who had been seeing Jimmy for a year, ran and kissed Roy gratefully. She was accompanied by an equally young friend, with vivid lips, leopard-skin hat and short skirt. If Roy regretted coming, he particularly regretted his black velvet jacket. Cut tight around the waist, it was long and shining and flared out over the thighs. The designer, a friend for whom Roy had shot a video, had said that ageing could only improve it. But wherever he wore it, Roy understood now, it sang of style and money, and made him look as if he had a job.
Kara and the girl took Roy to one side and explained that Jimmy had been drinking. Kara had found him in Brompton Cemetery with a smack dealer, though he claimed to have given that up. This time she was definitely leaving him until he sorted himself out.
‘They’re animals,’ murmured Jimmy.
Marco replaced his foot on his chest.
The kid in the bed, who had now mounted the woman, glared over his shoulder, saying to Jimmy, ‘What the fuck, you don’t never sleep here no more. You got smarter people to be with than us.’
Jimmy shouted, ‘It’s my bed! And stop fucking that woman, she’s overdosing!’
There was nothing in the woman’s eyes.
‘Is she all right?’ Roy asked.
‘She still alive,’ the boy explained. ‘My finger on her pulse.’
Jimmy cried, ‘They stole my fucking booze and drunk it, found my speed and took it, and stole my money and spent it. I’m not having these bastards in my basement, they’re bastards.’
Jake said to Roy: ‘Number one, he’s evicted right now this minute. He went berserk. Tried to punch us around, and then tried to kill himself.’
Jimmy winked up at Roy. ‘Did I interrupt your evening, man? Were you talking about film concepts?’
For years Roy had made music videos and commercials, and directed episodes of soap operas. Sometimes he taught at the film school. He had also made a sixty-minute film for the BBC, a story about a black girl singer. He had imagined that this would be the start of something considerable, but although the film received decent reviews, it had taken him no further. In the mid-eighties he’d been considered for a couple of features, but like most films, they’d fallen through. He’d seen his contemporaries make films in Britain, move to LA and buy houses with pools. An acquaintance had been nominated for an Oscar.
Now at last his own movie was in place, apart from a third of the money and therefore the essential signed contracts and final go-ahead, which were imminent. In the past week Munday had been to LA and New York. He had been told that with a project of this quality he wouldn’t have trouble raising the money.
Kara said, ‘I expect Roy was doing some hard work.’ She turned to him. ‘He’s too much. Bye-bye, Jimmy, I love you.’