We could hear the throbbing of the music quite some distance away as we strolled alongside the creek. Soph is never knowingly on time for things, and it was obvious that the gig had been in full swing for some while.
A crowd had spilled out from inside the pub over the pavement, smoke drifting from their collective cigarettes in hazy plumes. As we navigated through the beer-drenched revellers to the door, a pungent burst revealed that it wasn’t just tobacco being consumed.
The small dark door opened onto a wall of bodies, intense heat and deafening music. The packed horde was writhing rhythmically to the band, a thrash metal outfit abundant with piercings and tattoos. The lead-singer was dreadlocked, half-naked, screaming unknowable words in an attempt at a satanic-growl, thrusting, sweating and occasionally grinning maniacally, whipping the audience into a bacchanalian frenzy.
“I like this one,” Soph bellowed daintily into my ear.
“YOOOOOOOOOWWWWRRRRR! GOOOOOOOOORRRRR!” added the singer.
“Shall we get a drink?” I yelled back at her, ignoring the theatrics on stage as best I could. She nodded, amused by my distain.
And so began our epic voyage to the bar. Unfortunately there was a mass of flesh to traverse to get to it, all enthralled in the music, deaf to polite utterances. The only way to get past was to physically squeeze between people, steering through their sweaty bodies as arms flailed into our faces and feet pogoed furiously onto our own. I forged the way, turning frequently to make sure that Soph hadn’t been trampled and was following in my wake.
Thankfully there was more space by the bar, at least in relative terms; there was room to stand without people pressing themselves against you. It seemed that the throng was momentarily too taken by the noise to worry about drink – I was able to walk directly up to the bemused barman and order.
“Not your kind of music?” he shouted as he pulled me a pint.
“This is music?” I replied incredulously, grinning to show that I was half-joking.
It was broiling as hell; I gulped at the cold watery beer urgently, persperation forming instantly on the plastic glass.
“This is horrible,” I boomed into Soph’s ear as the room broke into rapturous applause, the mob grunting and screaming their approval at the end the song.
“Thank you! Thank you!” the singer called sonorously into the microphone. “You’re beautiful. Too kind. This next one’s for an old friend I just saw slinking to the back of the bar…”
“Oh fuck,” I muttered as Soph chuckled.
“Mubs, can we get a light on him?”
There was a pause, then a clunk as someone man-handled a spotlight to point directly at us. Everyone turned in our direction, laughing, leering and catcalling. I waved, smiling weakly.
“That’s Kit,” Pete cooed into the mic. “He’s sexy as fuck. He inspired this song…”
Rather than a rapid drum count, the song started with a ringing chord.
“He looks so sweet,” Pete sang in a surpisingly tuneful voice, “so sweet and innocent. He looks like butter would not melt… He looks as though he feels your pain… but really he’s a CUUUUUUUUUUUUUNNNNNNTT!”
The band kicked in, laying on the distortion pedal. Pete returned to his throaty howl. The crowd cheered, jumping back into life.
“HE IS A CUUUUUUUUNNNNT! A SEXY CUUUUUUUUUNNT! A FUCKING CUUUUUUUUNNNT!”
Soph had managed to do a disappearing act – and I didn’t exactly blame her. For the duration of the song the spotlight stayed accusingly on me, attracting a volley of exuberant v-signs, mouthfuls of beer and empty plastic-glasses from the delirious audience. There was no point me trying to escape – I didn’t have Soph’s meek physique and wouldn’t have stood a chance of getting through the throng. Besides which, I had the odd sense that it was considered a privilege to be the focal point of this hysteria, so I grinned and bared it as best I could.
Pete dived onto the sea of hands before him; they held his taut body aloft, transporting him around in a lap of honour. As he came towards me he signalled to his subjects and they lowered him. He jumped down and flung himself onto me in a tight hug.
The band ground to a halt on stage. “We’ll be back in twenty minutes,” one of them shouted into a mic over the roar of the mob.
“Thanks for coming,” Pete said, grinning from ear to ear.
“No problem,” I smiled.
“I need some air,” said Pete. “I’m sweating like a bitch.”
He took my hand and pulled me determinedly through the pack of punters trying to congratulate him. I looked for Soph as I followed, but saw that she was with some friends in a corner, laughing at what had become of me.
“I’m soaked,” I said as we broke into the air and light. My clothes were saturated with beer and sweat.
“Sorry about that,” Pete laughed.
“You’re not sorry in the slightest.”
“No, I’m not.”
He lead me away from the swarm, down a side road to a quiet space overlooking Deptford Creek. The sun was setting slowly, illuminating a cloud of midges. A breath of wind over the water brought with it a salty, feculent aroma.
“You’ve got an impressive audience out tonight,” I said, trying not to look at his naked sweat-glistening torso.
“It’s our last gig,” Pete explained. “That’s why I’m so pleased that you’re here. It’s probably the last time I’ll see you. I’m going away next week.”
“What? Where? How long for?”
“I don’t know,” he grinned, shrugging his shoulders. “I’m starting in India, but who knows where I’ll end up?”
“I just need to go,” he said, turning to gaze at the sky. “I just need to get away from here, at least for a while. I love this place, but I’ve lived here all my life. I’m not like you, coming to London as an adult. This is all I’ve ever known. I need to know what else there is.”
“Well…” I said slowly. “I’m sure that makes sense.”
But really I was thinking that surely the sprawling mass of London had more in it than anyone could ever know. If you’re tired of London…
“You’re coming back?”
“I think so,” Pete said quietly.
“Oh. Well… I’ll miss you.”
“You fucking liar,” Pete grinned, his eyes sparkling. He looked at me fiercely, the grin fading, his wide eyes imploring.
“I will,” I assured him, smiling.
“Anyway,” he said quickly, abruptly changing the subject. “Really I wanted to talk to you about Sophie.”
“Oh,” I said, surprised. “Ok. What is it?”
“I’m worried about her.”
“I know. She’s too thin…”
“It’s not just that,” Pete said. “She’s always been too thin. But recently she seems so lost and sad.”
“Right,” I said uncomfortably.
“I’m only telling you this because I’m not going to be around to look out for her,” Pete said guiltily. “It’ll be up to you to look after her. So I think that you need to know. When we were younger, she used to have these really low times. They were really bad. She’d get stuck in these downward spirals. She’d get a thought stuck spinning around in her head and not be able to see beyond it. There was one time when she tried to take some pills…”
“I know,” I said, placing a hand on his shoulder to calm him. “It’s ok, she’s told me all about it before. I know what to look out for. And I’ll take care of her, I promise.”
He examined my face thoroughly.
Eventually he nodded, satisfied that I meant it.
“Well. Good. Thanks.”
“No problem. I love her too, you know.”
“I know,” Pete grinned. “It’s just that sometimes you go off gallivanting…”
“Nice song, by the way.”
“You liked it?”
“Oh, yeah,” I lied haphazardly.
Pete laughed. “It’s ok, I know you hate our music.”
“I don’t hate it.”
“But you don’t like it, either.”
He smiled at me, his eyes shining hopefully.
“Well. Anyway. I’ll miss you.”
“I’m not worth it,” I said seriously.
He stepped forward and delicately planted a kiss on my smiling lips.
He stood back contemplatively, watching me in the lingering golden light.