‘It is weird’ admits Joe, looking across the room at nothing in particular. ‘Generally people come here, they’re raw. Death strips everything away. You don’t need anything. You don’t have anything. You’ve just got yourself. Usually people are very quiet when they get here. Well, you can see the others. Usually people are just... They think a lot, talk a little amongst themselves. They cry quite a bit, as you’d expect... People tend to be more truthful here, more open about what they really think, how they feel. It’s almost like they can’t help themselves. Nothing left to lose I suppose... It can be a little unsettling for you English at times’ he says with glee but I don’t react. I never thought I was a very typical Englishman. ‘Anyway’ he resumes, coughing a little, ‘there’s always a few – not many – try to carry on the way they did in life. It’s always the ones who were most preoccupied with how big their car was compared to everyone else’s, or whether they could get the biggest bonus, buy the latest whatever it was, convinced that everyone else was as deluded as they were. It doesn’t really work here. Here you’re stripped of all that - your belongings, your status, the ambitions you had in life – you can’t use them here, so it’s just down to you, what you have inside – your “inner resources” so to speak. Some people just don’t really have any. My suspicion, although it is just that, because they won’t come to talk to us of course, is that Harry, Ray and the others just lived for how they looked to other people – making an impression, scaring or sucking up to people, competing, trading. It’s all show – everything. They don’t actually have anything to show for their lives now.’
I’m not so sure. Harry really hates a lot of people, and he wants to take it out on me for some reason.
‘But why me?’ I ask, ‘why do they want me around?’
‘He probably fancies you. You’re quite pretty you know.’
I take a moment to think about this. I’d always seen myself as fairly funny looking. ‘But they’re always going on about “fucking queers this” and “fucking queers that”. How...’
‘First sign matey. Trust me. Homophobes? All closet poofs.’
I’ve not heard this word before - “homophobes” but I can guess what it means.
‘But he’s married’ I add and can tell almost before I’ve said it that it’s irrelevant.
Joe just shrugs. ‘Still...’ he says
We sit and contemplate for a while. ‘Um... what about you?’ he says tentatively.
I know what he means, but I act innocent. ‘What do you mean?’ I say.
‘Well, are you... you know, have you... er...’
‘Why do people always think that?’
‘Er, sorry. I just meant... Well, you seem quite...’
I know what he wants to say but I’m not going to help him. Why do people always think, if you’re sort of quiet and artistic and not into sports, you’re probably homosexual? Uncle Len was always saying I should get my hair cut because I looked like a queer (his word, not mine). And why are gay men on the telly always supposed to mince around with their hands on their hips, talking like my auntie Jen? (“Ooh, look at the muck in here.”) I don’t get it. I’d have thought if you were into men you’d go after rugby players and firemen, not ‘feminine’ types like me. If you were into people being feminine I’d have thought you’d want to go out with women. I don’t know. I look over at Joe. He’s waiting patiently, as always.
‘I thought about it’ I say at last. ‘My dad...’ I smile at the memory. ‘My dad tried to have this big man-to-man conversation with me about it once – you know (I do a deep voice) “Son, if there’s anything you need to tell me...” I didn’t have a clue what he was on about at the time.’
Joe leans forward, ‘but...’ He is really keen to know. I have the feeling that if I deny it he won’t believe me, and if I then object he’ll take that as proof he’s right. It’s happened like that before.
‘No. I’m not...’ I say, almost inaudibly, shaking my head but I know it lacks conviction and sounds suspicious.
‘Well I am,’ he says, sitting back. ‘I hope you’re ok with that?’
I feel suddenly unexpectedly relieved. ‘Absolutely’ I say, and add, possibly a little too emphatically ‘Of course. But you know, I don’t think I could ever bring myself actually to... you know... It’s like, you know... penises...’ I do a little shudder and a grimace to emphasise my point. ‘But, if you... I mean, er, if other people want to...’ I add hastily, ‘you know... I don’t have anything against that... It’s up to them, what they do, you know...’
‘Thanks’ says Joe smiling somewhat fixedly, ‘just a simple “yes” would have sufficed.’
I feel oddly elated at my declaration, and rather chuffed at my broad mindedness. ‘I’m not a homophobe’ I think to myself with some satisfaction on the way back to my cabin. What a relief!
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