Thanks to a lovely email from a reader, I remembered that I have long wanted to post some of what was deleted from This Is Shyness during the editing process. In my original manuscript, I included seven chapters told from the points of view of characters other than Wolfboy and Wildgirl, namely: Ortolan, The Kidd, Guadalupe, The Dreamer, Paul, Blake and Diana.
There are two big mysteries in this world. Well, there are a few more than two, but let’s just say that there are two big mysteries in my world right now.
The first mystery is the experiment in Shyness, and the issue of when it’s going to end. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been fun, but surely it’s gone on long enough for them to find out whatever they need to find out. Either bring in the aliens and let’s rumble, or be done with it. A man has to get his suntan back. I don’t hold for this corpse look that’s taken over, it doesn’t work for me at all. What amazes me really though, is the technology, the technology they must have developed in secret to do this. Think about it too long and it will blow your mind, I guarantee it. I hope they put what they’ve learnt to good use.
The second mystery is girls, a mystery that will surely never unravel. What do they want? Or more specifically, how can I make myself what they want?
My sister says she always notices guys’ shoes; Thom’s girlfriend Sam says she goes for nice smile. I think that’s what they think they should say, when what they really mean is: give me a motorbike-riding, part-time acrobat who speaks French, smokes fancy cigarettes and is studying to be a brain surgeon. Or give me an artist who wears paint-splattered clothes, smokes cheap cigarettes, eats only food that is yellow, and is tortured by demons that make him cheat on every single girlfriend he has. Or – don’t get me started.
I see these mysteries everywhere, women I admire for more reasons than I can keep track of. Waitresses who stand on one leg like flamingoes. Girls in men’s jeans who like to be right in the middle of the mosh. Girls who bite their lip in concentration. Girls who wear too much makeup, girls who don’t brush their hair, girls who laugh easily, girls who never smile at all. Girls who like music, girls who like dreaming, sporty girls with ponytails that jog, girls who vlog.
But let me tell you the story of a girl I can’t forget. This happened a year ago, maybe more. I think about it a lot, usually when I’m trying to get to sleep, playing it like a well-worn film in my head.
It was night, obviously, but there was more mist around than usual. It must have been night all over the city because it was ice cold, cold enough to make your boys head way north for the summer. I was walking to Jethro’s house for rehearsal. It’s a short walk on back streets, so I didn’t mind doing it alone as long as I’m packing. You can take Ibis Street almost all the way.
So I was on Ibis Street and the first thing I noticed when I turned onto it was there was someone else walking in front of me. You have to notice these things. He was walking about twenty metres ahead of me, a small guy with his hands in his pockets and his head down. He didn’t look like danger but I hung back anyway. No point being seen when you can go unseen.
Halfway along Ibis Street there’s this big block of apartments, an ugly brown brick cube, with no fence and a concrete garden. On this night there were five big wheelie bins from the apartments lined up in a row by the side of the footpath.
The guy ahead of me was just walking past the apartments when I got a bad feeling, a tense feeling in my stomach. You don’t see bins out for like that when no one does the garbage collection any more. Just as I thought this, the lids on all five bins popped wide open and a bunch of Kidds leapt out, screaming. They landed right on this poor guy, before he even had a chance to see them.
The attack was over in seconds. I was so shocked – or scared – that I didn’t even call out. The Kidds were armed with baseball bats and broken bottles, and they pulled and kicked at the guy until they got what he was had. You don’t fight Kidds when you’re outnumbered like that. You give them what they want and pray that’s enough.
It wasn’t until the Kidds were gone that I began to run. The guy was curled up on the pavement in the foetal position, hands over his head, knees near his stomach. I hate blood so I was hoping as I bent over him that the damage wasn’t too bad.
I asked him if he was okay, and when he looked up, I saw that he was a she.
She got to her feet slowly, a short girl dressed in skater clothes with a pixie haircut. Her lip was bleeding and her hoodie was ripped right across the shoulder. I could tell she was going to get a hell of a shiner on her left eye. I felt terrible that I hadn’t yelled out or tried to come to her defense earlier. If I’d known it was a girl…
I asked her again if she was okay, and she nodded. Her eyes were brimming with tears but she didn’t cry.
`You can come to my friend’s house’ I said. `We’ll clean you up and you’ll be safe there. We can call someone to come get you.’
She only said one thing to me: `I don’t need your help.’
She said it with almost a smile on her face, proudly, defiantly. Her eyes were so bright and big and dark against her pale skin. She was so pretty she could have been an actress, the sort that looks all cute and vulnerable, and turns out to be anything but. There were so many things I could have said to her, but in the moment I couldn’t think of one single thing to say.
She turned around and left, limping a little bit as she went.
I called out after her: `My name’s Paul, what’s yours?’ but she just raised one hand and waved goodbye as she walked into the mist.
If she’d stopped to talk to me or gave me her number and bothered to have a coffee with me, then she might have found out that I’m a pretty nice guy, even if I am a bit of a coward. I could have made her a mix CD of my favourite songs. I could have walked her home. I could have taken her tree climbing in the Gardens. I could have shared a bottle of wine with her and stayed awake for too many hours in a row. I could have learnt to cook for her. I could have listened to her complain about her job or her family or her friends. I would’ve shared my night goggles with her, I would have put her face on the front of a t-shirt.
I’ve looked for her everywhere, but I’ve never seen her again. I’ve looked in cafes and bars and the old bowling alley and the skate park and everywhere a pixie skater girl might hang out, but it as if she’s disappeared, or even worse, was just something I dreamt up, late one night.