At this time of year when everyone is looking ahead and making positive resolutions I find I still glance back over my shoulder and think of past times. This is a very short story of someone I was very close to when I first left home – I’ve called him Hugh, but that’s not his real name:

I first met Hugh when I was eighteen; he was a year older and had come from a northern city I’d never been to and knew nothing about. He was a very handsome young man, with a strong face, although I never had a particular romantic interest in him. He always seemed very confident, and strode along the corridors; we could always hear him coming because he had steel segs on the heels of his shoes which rang as he walked.

Although we were not in the same teaching groups, we got to know each other very well in the circle of friends which formed among us kids who’d never been away from home before. He was, I always thought, a renaissance man, good at whatever he turned his hand to, science, the arts, mechanics, music, building and making things – and not just good at but very good. He had a natural gift for languages – we went to Italy and within a few days he was able to go shopping and buy what we needed, order anything in a café or bar, buy petrol… do more than just get by in a language he had never learned. He taught the cornet, he built a boat, he made his own telescope, hand grinding the lenses, he fixed cars…

I cut his hair once – I can’t remember now exactly why, but I somehow managed to give him a crest of hair on top of his head and a friend nick-named him ‘Budgie’ – Hugh hated it, but the name stuck for a while. We were very good friends, very close friends, but never any more than that; as I mentioned, I never had any romantic interest in him that way, nor he in me. We were close for many years… but then something went wrong and even now I’m not totally sure exactly what but we went our separate ways. I have never seen him since, and although occasionally I’ve heard a little news, nothing of any consequence.

I wouldn’t recognize him now; I’d walk past him in a street and not know him, because in my mind he still strides along with segs on his heels and his budgie haircut.

© Lois Elsden

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