His name’s Ryan. We’ve known him for years. He’s a friend of Michael’s, my son. They went to primary school together, cub scouts together, till Ryan had to move away ’cause of his father’s job.
They stayed in contact. Wrote letters. Met up at half-term and Easter, for a week in the summer, sometimes at his, sometimes at ours. They had a lot in common. Sport mainly, but music too. When they met they were always active: cycling, football, tennis, bowling, walks, sledging in winter.
Then they got older. Tried drinking and smoking. Ryan got into it more than Michael. When they met he always wanted to get hold of something and Michael happily gave, till one time we found him in the bathroom puking on our towels and had to take him to the hospital to get his stomach pumped.
I told Michael then to think about where their relationship was going. Sure they wrote letters and were best friends at primary school, but they lived at the opposite end of the country. They were older. They were changing. Sometimes friendships run their course. They die. But Michael was having none of it. They were blood brothers or something like that.
So they continued writing. Went to university. Well, Ryan did. Michael took a gap-year, visited Ryan one weekend and didn’t come back. We thought he’d run away or OD’d or something. We were frantic, so we phoned Ryan and asked what was going on, what had happened, what had he done.
But it turned out he’d done nothing. Michael’s train was delayed, stuck somewhere between Crewe and Birmingham and the operator hadn’t told anyone and Michael didn’t have a mobile.
Michael came home then went to university and still wrote to Ryan and still saw him, though more and more it was Ryan visiting ours during the uni holidays rather than the other way round. He’d come for a week, eat with us, use our towels and shower gel. He was like a bad penny except not as useful. You can spend a penny. Ryan gave and gives us nothing.
After they graduated, Michael came home, got married, stayed in the area, settled down. Ryan went abroad and they wrote but less and less until now it’s down to a letter a year, if that. Michael moved on, had kids, but Ryan still turns up once in a while, like today, to eat our food and use our towels, and acts as if nothing has passed between even though they clearly have less and less in common.
Ryan is single, probably always will be, Michael has a wife and kids. Ryan flits from job to job, Michael has a career. Ryan owns a bag, Michael has a house with a mortgage. They don’t even like the same music anymore and Michael hates sport.
I look at them and don’t see the point. Michael gives room and board when he stays. Ryan gives him some hideous exotic gift. They sit and catch up but the room quickly fills with silence till one of them breaks it with a banal, do you remember when…?
I asked Michael about it once, asked him how Ryan was and told him I was amazed they still wrote. Why bother? And you know what he said?
Because, mum, I can give him towels and he can take them.
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