Saturday, 18 May 2013

My friend Tom

I've always liked Tom.

I first got to know him as a school friend of my brother. They were both two years older than me and very alike - rough diamonds if you like, cheeky chappies with an eye for the ladies.

I got to know him a lot better when I was working in a pub during my days as a mature student (does that make other students immature?). He travelled a lot with his job but when he was home he'd come in at the weekend and stand at the end of the bar chatting and flirting with the women. He was good-looking too in a David Essex sort of way, all twinkly eyes and tousled hair that was slightly longer than it should be.

He had a fantastic sense of humour, just like my brother, and could make me laugh more than anyone I'd ever known. He found humour everywhere and his delivery was so dry he could just stand and watch as everyone else was bent over with laughter. He was one of those people that everyone liked: men, women, kids. He saw the funny side of everything and he was just bloody good company.

We even went on a few dates, Tom and I. He persuaded me, against my better judgement, to go out a couple of times and even though I had a great time and laughed more than was decent on a date, I knew he wasn't for me. His roving eye was a real no-no but we always remained good friends.

As the years rolled by I saw him less and less until he bought a house down the road from me and opposite the village shop. Every few weeks when he was home we would bump into each other in the shop and have a chat.  He'd never married and so I always hoped he would flirt and ask me on a date. He never let me down and I could never quite tell if he was joking or serious, but even after my divorce it was still always a no from me.

A few years ago I heard a rumour that he was having an affair with the woman who lived opposite me. She was married with kids, and a bit stuck-up for my liking and I just couldn't see her with Tom. They seemed so different - she was all designer labels and namedropping and he was, well he was still the twinkly-eyed, rough around the edges Tom. I did wonder if it was true.

One day, when I was out in the front doing a bit of gardening, Tom walked up the neighbour's drive. It seemed a bit odd considering the rumours and sure enough moments later when her husband appeared at the door there were raised voices and scuffling.  In seconds Tom and the husband were wrestling each other on the front lawn while she screamed for them to stop. It was all over very quickly but I'd seen enough to realise that the rumours had been true after all.

When we moved to this house I didn't see Tom in the corner shop anymore. And as the new house was further down the village I no longer saw him walking past on the way to the the pub.

But I still drove past his house every morning on the way to work and when I noticed that his car never seemed to be outside I assumed he was working away more than usual.

Last week when I was out walking the dog I bumped into one of the neighbours from our previous house. She asked me if I'd heard about Sylvia. Sylvia lived in the the bungalow at the far end of the village and I knew she was Tom's mum. I said no, I hadn't heard.

"She died a few weeks after her son."

And that's how I heard about Tom's death. After making a couple of phone calls I found out that Tom died of cancer nearly two years ago, six weeks before his mother.  He was 52.

I'm still in shock, mostly that he's gone but also that it took me so long to find out. We must have moved house around about the same time he died and so somehow the news didn't filter through the usual neighbourly channels.

Yesterday, I made a point of taking the dog for a walk down to the other end of the village to where Tom lived, and as I passed his house I said my own silent goodbye to him. I'm sorry I didn't get the chance to see you one last time Tom. We would have laughed.