No one single thing had caused the Realisation. Like the rest of his life, no dramatic events led up to it; rather it was as the dripping of a tap. Soft. Unnoticed. Mundane. Barely audible amid the monotonous clamour of everyday routine.
Drip. It was just a smile, a laugh. A cheeky comment here and there, and the habitual smack on the arm that followed.
Drip. Gradually seeping through the cracks to pool innocently at the bottom of his consciousness.
Friends. Colleagues. Lads. Football banter. Heads bending close together over the desk to plot against their pompous arse of a supervisor. It was commiserations, congratulations and a quiet bit of good advice when one or the other was too close to taking a customer’s head off. It was sympathy and practical jokes on sleepy, hungover Saturday mornings when nobody in their right minds should be calling Tech Support.
The tittering jibes of their colleagues had been dismissed without a thought. That silly shower of bastards, he told himself. They were so starved for excitement in this godforsaken place, they’d latch onto anything.
Drip. Nothing to be aware of, until chill comprehension finally soaked through. Everything has a saturation point.
One dreary Friday evening, after all their macho-talk, the other flaky buggers from Team 4 hadn’t shown up for the customary “lads” drinks after work. Suddenly it was just the two of them, idling the evening away amongst the cheap lights and cheap pints. Two friends sitting alone in a sea of people, setting the world to rights, complaining about work (the supervisor really was an arse). Talking about everything and nothing at all.
Drip. That smile at some bitchy comment he’d made. The hysterical laughter that left them both wheezing and breathless over something so foolish that he’d never be able to remember later. A hand casually ruffling his hair. The lazy pressure of a knee against his thigh as they shuffled over to let some reeling punters past.
The tilt of that throat in the gaudy flicker of the games machines, all highlights and hollows and five-o’clock shadow. The Adam’s apple working as he drained his pint. He caught himself staring and forced his eyes away.
Drip. Saturation point. Realisation. Perhaps the teasing hadn’t been so far from the mark after all. His chest ached. Two friends? Two blind idiots who couldn’t see what everyone else could, in the end.
The walk home was quiet and bittersweet. Sometimes their arms bumped gently as they crunched along the icy pavement to the taxi rank – the longest and shortest street in creation.
One last hug. A strong grip on his shoulder, lingering for just a moment. That wonderful smile again, gentle now under the muted glow of the streetlights.
Then it was over. He did not ask to share the cab and all too soon he was standing alone.
Snowflakes fell; cold, damp kisses on his tired face. Eventually, he turned towards home.