Things that bring us together can drive us apart.
I’m getting interested in fashion, these days. I like my Flemings jeans and my Gola training shoes. Most of all, I like my new Ben Sherman shirt with the button-down collar. I have waited months to get one and it’s a beauty – white with blue stripes.
Tom Allen has a Ben Sherman too, of course. We are best friends, although he lives in a better part of town. We met in infants’ school, became altar boys together and enrolled in the same secondary school, not long ago. At weekends we play football and tennis or go to watch Liverpool play at Anfield, wearing our Flemings jeans and Gola trainers.
Tom’s mum works in a bank, she’s quite posh, likes talking more than listening and can be a bit prickly if you cross her. She comes to our house to drink tea with my mum every Sunday after Mass and they agree we look smart in our Bennies. Tom’s is yellow and white check.
So far so good, but we need a special occasion to wear our new shirts and impress the girls in our class, show them there is more to us than they might think. We are 12 years old when our chance comes: a school day trip to Stratford upon Avon, to see the house of William Shakespeare. He’s a dead guy who wrote comedies that you never see on TV but it will be a good day out.
I’m not sure who suggests we wear Bennies on the trip, probably one of the bad lads that live near me? Anyway, Tom agrees it’s a good idea. The only problem is, school uniform is compulsory for day trips: maroon blazers, grey pants and grey sweaters. The solution, we decide, is not to tell our parents that we are supposed to wear grey shirts too.
The morning of the trip, we line up alongside the school bus, clutching our packed lunches and wearing our Bennies with school ties (full Windsor knot, of course).
We’re feeling good until we spot our strict headmaster standing on the bus. We had no idea he was coming. He’s frowning down at the bad lads ahead of us. “Where are your school shirts?” he says.
“Mine got ripped,” says the first lad.
“Mine is in the wash,” says the second.
The headmaster scowls and lets him on the bus but his eyes pop when he sees Tom and me. He folds him arms and says: “Ormsby and Allen, why the hideous shirts? You know you’re breaking school rules, of course?”
We know it will sound stupid to repeat the lies of the bad lads but we don’t know what else to say because we’re not schmecher. We are altar boys with big ideas and wobbly legs so we remain silent and our headmaster says: “Silence is an admission of guilt. You are not coming to Stratford.” The doors hiss and the bus drives away and the girls from our class stare from the back window. “Now what?” Tom says and it’s a good question.
We could muck about in a park all day and go home in the evening and tell our folks Stratford was brilliant. Instead, we wander home in shock and tell our parents the truth, when they ask. Honesty seems a good idea but it changes everything.
Tom’s mother is very angry that we were punished while the other boys were not. A week later day she sends him to a different school, five miles away. We’ll never sit in class together again and soon he’s got new friends that I do not know. She also changes his church routine so we no longer serve Mass together. Does she blame me, somehow? She stops visiting my mother for tea and chat … have our parents had a row?
I never find out, because Tom and I drift apart and it hurts like hell, as if I lost an arm. We meet only twice a term when our school football teams play and he seems to delight in speeding past me as a striker and I delight in bringing him down to earth as a defender. We are not enemies but we’re not friends anymore.
Tom is 16 when his mother dies of a heart attack. I go to the funeral but he drifts past me like a ghost.
We meet by chance one warm summer evening aged 18, queuing at the bar in a pub. We chat briefly about our plans for college. Tom is wearing a Ben Sherman, I can tell by the stitching and the little loop on the back. They are cool shirts, always will be.
When I take my drinks back to my girlfriend, she says: “Who was that?”
I gaze into my beer and say: “Some lad I used to know.”
First published in Playboy, April 2012, by S.C. MediaFax SA. To see the original page from the magazine, please click this link: playboy aprilie 2012