The first week passed largely without any sort of incident. It was what was called ‘Freshers Week,’ which meant all of the University’s staff were extremely, obscenely, and disgustingly cheerful to new students—postgraduates included. An example: One night, The Drunkard and I were returning from one of the bars on campus, having consumed, roughly, half a barrel of Guinness between us, when a middle-aged portly man we vaguely recognized from the International Office (the agency set up to help out international students) leapt out from the bushes with six cartons of orange juice and a gallon of water in a bag. “You’ll need this to not get a hangover!” he screamed.
The Drunkard stumbled backwards with a shout and I, much more prone to fright than he, screamed my head off, which made me dizzy, which then made me vomit on the man. Unflappable Brit he was, the man simply said, “Oh, well that’s a bit of a bother, isn’t it?” He then took out a handkerchief and wiped off the sick. “Oh well, no worries. It’s happened a few times tonight.”
The Drunkard swaggered up to the man, poked him in the chest (once again, the man, like most of the English, was taller than the two of us, so The Drunkard had to give himself a little bit of a jump to reach him), and said, “What for doing this are you? Scaring the shit out!”
“Ah,” remarked the man, “right. Well, do take the liquids, it will help you in the morning—better yet if you drink them as soon as you get to your flats! Don’t want to miss the day tomorrow, it’s suppos—”
The Drunkard let loose a scream of rage and punched the man square in the jaw, took the bags, and ran. I’m not proud to say that I did the same (ran, that is), but I did—judgment, as you know, is clouded easily by drink. At any rate, the man didn’t recognize us; I guess we had some shadows on our faces that night.
For that first week, we five didn’t see much of each other, what with running around and taking care of administrative duties. The exception to this was The Drunkard and myself. Apparently, on the second day, the French nihilists set an American flag on fire and hung it outside the kitchen window. I was in the city centre at the time, and managed to miss this display of anti-Americanism, but The Drunkard, cynic though he was, had a part of his personality that truly loved America. Upon seeing the flag aflame and hanging out the window (The Drunkard claimed that the nihilists were cackling like some sort of witch’s coven, but I’m not certain as to the veracity of this statement), my friend rushed inside and, according to him, “put one of the emos in a state worse than Marie Antoinette.”
So, after that, he didn’t see much of the French nihilists, and we went around the bars on campus. He would try to chat up girls, fail most of the time, succeed some times, and slowly slip into an alcohol-produced haze, only to pass out around four in the morning and repeat the process the next day. The rest of our group had a much less eventful week. The Traveler slept with representatives of each nation in Western Europe and was in the best mood out of all of us. The Writer… well, I’m honestly not too sure about The Writer other than to remark that there were a few times I saw him with a black eye. The Student realized that his flat was the equivalent of a pigsty on the second day and disappeared into the recesses of the library for six hours a day, pouring over volumes of literary criticism to avoid having to see the beginnings of evolution in various pots, pans, and bowls in his kitchen. Once I saw The Stalker being escorted across campus by two members of the security force (Campus Watch), and upon asking him why he was detained, he told me it was because they didn’t appreciate art. I did not pursue the matter further.
Towards the end of the week, we all met up at a pub in the city centre called The Sub-Pope’s Flock (with a hanging picture of a midget in a pope outfit tending to sheep) across from the Cathedral Gate. It was an overcast day—as they tended to be in Canterbury—and the city was, as usual, filled with tourists and European children on trips to the city from the Continent. The Drunkard and I sat outside in strangely comfortable wooden chairs, our ales in front of us, tossing balled-up pieces of paper at the children, waiting for the rest of our party to arrive.
“Hey,” The Drunkard said, “five quid to the first one to peg that pigeon on top of the memorial.”
In the center of the square in front of the Cathedral Gate, there was a large memorial dedicated to the Kent divisions who fought in World War Two. Like many English memorials, it had a column tipped with what was once a shining bronze something or other. And, it being a statue in the middle of a city, it was a haven for pigeons. The top of the spire was about twenty feet above us, and it would be quite a difficult task to hit the pigeon with a paper ball, but I was certain that with God on my side, I could not help but win.
After our first salvo, the pigeon caught on to what we were doing and flew off into the grey sky. Then, it began raining in a light mist, the sort of precipitation one sees in a mist tent in an American theme park. “It would appear,” I said, “that God is on the side of the pigeons.”
The Drunkard grunted, chucked a ball at a German teenager in a half hearted manner, and started humming “Deutschland Über Alles.” We were saved from any reenactment of Call of Duty by the approach of The Traveler. “Hey, maties,” he said. “How’s it going?”
“Meh,” I answered.
“Pas mal,” answered The Drunkard.
“Hey,” I said to The Drunkard, “the French are rubbing off on you.”
“Watch your trap, yid.”
“Right,” said The Traveler, “how about we go inside before this actually turns into rain? The Writer’s on his way down from campus—sounded like he drank a pot of coffee earlier this afternoon, so we should see him running around like Sonic in a couple minutes—The Student called and said that he’s on the coach into town, and The Stalker is, in all probability, waiting for us inside, sitting at a table in a dark corner.”
The Drunkard and I took up our pint glasses, disposed of the rest of the pieces of paper, and followed The Traveler inside the pub. The inside of the pub was dim; the building was erected in the sixteenth century and, from what I could tell, the long line of owners and landlords had not bothered to install electrical lights. The interior, therefore, was lit completely by candles and oil lamps, lending the pub the appearance that one had stepped into the past. Hanging from the ceiling and the rafters were bundles of hops (according to The Student, hops had the effect of making people drowsy simply by inhaling their aromas; this explains why going to The Sub-Pope’s Flock to do work invariably led to a nap or drunkenness), and the walls were decorated with old posters of railway and beer advertisements. There were about twenty tables in the place, with two to four chairs at each. Parallel to the right wall (when coming from the entrance) there was the bar with five cask ale pulls and ten taps for other beers and ciders. As we walked in, we spotted The Stalker sitting at a table in the back corner of the pub, his hood pulled up over his head. “Traveler,” The Drunkard said, “you’re a smart guy, you know that?”
The Traveler bowed.
As The Drunkard and I already had our drinks, we made our way to the back and sat in a couple of chairs next to The Stalker. It was around six o’clock, and the pub was fairly busy—about half of the tables were full of men and women—and students, who deserve their own qualifier when out in the Real World—and there was a warm hum of conversation.
“Howdy, kid,” said The Drunkard.
“Hello, Drunkard,” said The Stalker, sipping from a cider. “How was the chicken you ate last night? It smelled good. Did I detect a hint of lemon?”
The Drunkard cleared his throat. The Stalker would occasionally do this to each of us; ask us how dinners and dates went, that is. Had The Stalker not been an inherently eerie individual, we would have joked that he was ninja in all of its glory, but, as it were, whenever he made such a comment, hairs stood on end and nightmare fuel was created. “Pretty good,” said The Drunkard.
“You might want to put the oven on one hundred degrees next time. It might make the chicken a bit juicier than at one-twenty.” The Stalker took another slow, loud sip from his cider.
“Yeah, I’ll do that.”
The Traveler joined us then with a loud, contented sigh as he plopped down in the chair and laid his Guinness on the table. “So, what’s new?”
“We were just discussing The Drunkard’s meal last night,” said The Stalker.
The Drunkard shrugged at The Traveler.
The Writer then walked into the pub, let out a boisterous laugh when he saw us, took out his mobile phone, checked the time, put it back in the front pocket of his corduroy jacket, laughed again and rushed over. “My friends, mes amis, friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears!” he sat down, tapped his fingers on the table, and laughed again. Clearly, this was a man who had no regard as to the dangers of over-caffeination. “How’s things?”
“Not as good as you clearly are,” said The Drunkard.
“Ah, well, what can I say? There are some things in life one simply needs twelve cups of coffee to embrace.” He leaned forward. “For instance, I saw God on the Eliot Footpath!”
“No kidding?” asked The Traveler.
“No!” The Writer smacked the table with a fist. “I would not joke about the metaphysical! It’s not something you fuck with, my friend!”
“You’re absolutely right,” said The Drunkard in the most sober and calm voice I’d ever heard him use. “Hey, here’s an idea: How about you go get a beer. My treat,” he laid down three one pound coins. “The Doom Bar is really, really good,” he tapped his glass as an example.
The Writer studied him for a moment. “You and the barman aren’t in cahoots, are you?”
“Nope. In fact, he couldn’t stand me when I ordered from him earlier.”
The Writer let out a triumphant laugh, took the coins, and dashed to the bar.
“That was really nice of you,” said The Traveler.
The Drunkard shrugged. “That kid’s going to make his own heart explode with that much coffee.”
“Wait a sec, I thought you and he had this whole disliking-each-other thing going on.”
“Well yeah, but everyone needs a nemesis, just as they need someone to be around. Without that nemesis, man, they get too content with life.”
The Stalker chuckled. “The Writer reminds me of a friend I had in undergrad.”
I can assure you that we were all shocked that The Stalker had a friend in the last five years, but we let him go on.
“The kid went absolutely mental after drinking a pot of coffee and reading some Nietzsche. Philosophy and caffeine should never be mixed, my friends. Never,” he punctuated this admittedly wise statement with another loud sip of the cider.
The Student then walked in the pub wearing a black blazer, black button-down, jeans, and dress shoes, ordered a drink alongside The Writer, and the two sat down. The Student was sweating profusely and a vein throbbed in his forehead.
“You all right?” asked The Traveler.
The Student held up a finger, took a sip from his Kronenbourg, and sighed. “I asked this girl out a little bit ago, right?”
“Well hell, it’s about time,” said The Drunkard.
“Now, hold on. Turns out that the tall guy she was walking with—who I assumed was her brother on account of they looked damn similar—was her boyfriend. I have never ran so fast in dress shoes in my whole life. Luckily, I managed to get on a bus while the guy stood outside, shaking his fist and screaming at me in Italian.” He shook his head, drank from his beer, and said, “The horror. The horror.”
“Barman!” shouted The Drunkard. “Whiskey for my friend with the near-death experience!”
To his credit—and I doubt many barmen would do the same in England—the barman poured a single of Jack and brought it to the table. The Drunkard, of course, tipped generously.
The Student knocked it back in one go and coughed. “Ah, Jack, how I missed you.”“Right,” said The Traveler, “we’re all here. Shall we continue our contest?"