A text appeared, out of the blue, in blue.
– Hi Josie, is that you?
– Yes. Who the hell are you?
– It’s Simon. Simon O'Reilly.
– OMG. Are you on what’s app? she asked.
They connected. They connected again after an absence of about ten years.
– How did you find me? she asked.
– Oh, easy, through our mutual friend Margaret.
– So how have you been?
Their conversation continued. Easy, flowing.
He had rung to tell her about the death of someone they had both known back in the mid 70s when they were students in London. He had known the man better than she had but she did have a vague recollection of him, of how he looked.
– Little beard, she said.
– Yes, The Lenin Look.
– Lenin rather than Lennon, she said and laughed.
He went on to tell her about another person who had died. Jim, an ANC activist who had made his way to London from Apartheid South Africa in the early 70s.
– Of course I remember Jim. We were all going to meet up at that bar near Dillon’s Bookshop where you and I used to meet up sometimes when I lived in Fitzrovia. In fact, Rita and I always said we would both come and surprise you and Jim one day when I was in London.
Jim, Simon and Rita were all members of the Communist Party before it disbanded. She knew about Rita and Jim but she had only found out about Simon on that last meeting they had had about ten years ago before they lost touch.
She suspected he had rung because, at 70, still working, but living on his own, he wanted, desperately, to connect with someone with whom he shared a history.
They talked a bit about his brothers. She knew the one he was closest to had died. One was in Hong Kong and two others in the Home Counties.
Simon had been brought up in a rough part of Belfast. His parents poor, but they had nurtured all their boys into education and into professional jobs. A luxury they themselves had not had. His mother had been a cleaner and his father worked in the docks.
Ten years ago, on a rare visit back to London, Simon had asked her to meet him for a meal. They had met near to her friend Melita’s, where she was staying. She had asked Melita to recommend somewhere nearby that was reasonably priced. No easy task in the Holland park area.
– Pizza Express is your only bet, really, Melita had said.
They met at Notting Hill Station, went for a drink. Actually, lots of drinks. Simon was a big drinker. Always had been. Then, at his insistence, they went to a local Italian restaurant. The food was awful and there was a stony silence in the place. They were the only eaters.
Simon was very interested to know how her life had mapped out now that she was living in another country. Now that she was living in a close relationship with someone. Someone else.
She gave him a quick precis of the last ten years: births and deaths and highlights. It was an easy conversation as it always had been.
They were now re-connected.
They had met when they were both students at a teacher training college; training to be primary school teachers. At that time, they talked politics, A LOT. They talked education, RARELY. They drank FREQUENTLY.
She remembered those early days at that college when they had to do MUSIC. Music involved learning to play a recorder but the college shop had run out of recorders, so they were advised to play a ruler. It still raised a chuckle when she remembered them sitting in the back row of that small dark room, rulers between to hands and moving their fingers up and down. When they could. Half the time they were in fits of laughter. Outside that room one day she spotted a notice for a student exchange trip to the Soviet Union.
– Hey, look at this,Simon.
– I think, I’ll apply. They have an art and architecture one. Could be interesting, she said.
She applied. In the summer break she went.
Why hadn't he told her then that he was in the Communist Party? All the others who were members were open about it. Especially when in their last term there had been a student occupation of the college and the students and some staff had organised political meetings and every minor political party that was a shade of Communist or Socialist had been invited along to speak. She remembered being quite impressed by Tony Cliff, the then leader of the SWP, and was astounded not so long ago to discover that he was sexually harassing women members.
About five years before their last meeting, a friend of hers had organised a get-together of old friends, with the kind of music they all loved and pretty good food. Simon had asked her friend if it was alright for him to bring Janine along. Janine was CP. She knew that. In fact she worked for a travel agency that organised trips to socialist and communist countries, part-funded by the Communist Party. Wasn’t it called Regency Travel? He brought Janine because she wanted to see them all. The ‘all’ was a little group of quite special, quite close, ex-students at that same college. Janine knew that she only had months to live. She was very open about it. Everyone made her welcome. She hoped it had been of some comfort to Janine.
And the time before that was when she had held a birthday cum farewell party before she left London. Simon had hung around and asked if it was OK to dally a while. She agreed. He dallied. Actually, he dillied and dallied. Eventually he was very frank in what he told her. He said that he had misgivings about her intended move, her new romance. He told her that he had always respected and admired her and had harboured some hope of a relationship with her. He could see that was never going to happen. But he could not live with the thought of not telling her how he really felt before she left. Before she took off for a new life, with a new partner. He wanted her to be happy, really happy.
She accepted what he had to say. She had always known, subliminally. It was OK.
Just like it was now OK for him to ring, ‘out of the blue’ to share with her the news that someone he knew well had died of The Virus.