He was just unlucky, he says, as he aligns his pills neatly on the table, each in the exact order it has to be taken. His face wears deep lines, his eyes are dull, his skin is that sickly off-white hue, his body is somehow reduced, shrunken – a man old before his time. And he is not even bitter.
“Nobody knew” he mumbles. “How could we have known?”
How indeed? Who could have guessed sex had turned into a game of Russian roulette?
On second thought, he thinks he was fortunate, actually, considering. He’s been ill on and off for 20 years, his body is ravaged by the more or less constant battles, but he is, after all, still alive when so many others aren’t. He attended countless funerals in his late 20’s, until he stopped going to them because he feared he had become desensitised.
We are talking via FaceTime and there’s no way I want him to see the tears in my eyes, so I force a smile and tell him that huge framed Madonna poster on the wall behind him is freaking me out.
He laughs, and orders me in that mock angry voice not to diss the queen.
I start singing “Like A Prayer”. He carries on, and we both can’t sing for shit but we slowly get into it, we know all the words of course, and go through the entire song, hand clapping and all, and by the end I think a little bit of colour has appeared on his sunken cheeks.
“80’s pop really was the best, wasn’t it?” He grins.
We both laugh for no actual reason, and just like that, we are transported back to a time when we used to sing enthusiastically and dance crazily and laugh hysterically, a time when the future was still waiting, full of promises, a future that was uncertain, though if we were sure of one thing, it was this: we would always be friends.
And in this at least, we were right.
*Songs chosen because both he and I loved them then and still do. I’ve sweated buckets dancing to “Why?” over the years, it’s a fantastic song and it was just so incredibly relevant. As for “Smalltown Boy”, the 12 inch version is one of my favourite songs ever – it makes my top 10 list, easy.*