I had woken up feeling rotten. Aching joints, weak muscles, headache and slight nausea. 'Flu, probably. So I stumbled into York at around half-past five to check my email at the The King's Manor.
Which was shut, it being a Bank Holiday Monday.
I was due to meet some friends at eight in the Hole in the Wall. So that left me with three-and-a-bit hours to kill in York city centre, on a Bank Holiday. I could have walked to campus, checked my 'mail there and walked back, or I could just have gone home. But, I still felt ill, my legs were achy, and by the time I arrived at either of those places, I would only have had an hour or so before having to walk all the way back. So I elected to stay.
To cap it all, "Borders" of all places was shut. So, after mooching around for a bit, I went and sat on a bench in the garden area to the right of the Minster, to pass the time until eight.
By around seven, I was thoroughly bored, but a quick reconnoitre had revealed that there really wasn't anything else to do, so I remained seated. At this point, things got weird...
I stopped staring blankly into space and looked up. A young woman with a bike stood on the path in front of the bench. Average height, with a rainbow coloured cycling helmet, sensible Velcro shoes, and terrible acne. A bit geeky-looking, I suppose. I'd have said early twenties. Totally unremarkable, to the point of invisibility. Had she not been speaking to me.
"Do you know if there's a service starting here in about two minutes. Outside, over there?" She gestured to patch of grass surrounded by an alcove of flying buttresses.
"No, sorry," I muttered. "I didn't see any signs on the gate. If there was one, you'd think there'd be people here by now. Sorry I can't help you."
"Oh." She looked disappointed. "Are you with the choir?"
"What are you doing here then?"
At this point, I began to pay more attention. Despite the fact that our conversation had reached its logical conclusion, this woman had not left. She seemed, quite awkwardly, to be fishing for an excuse, any excuse, to stay and talk at me rather than leaving me alone...
"I go to church most Sundays. I'm not religious, I just go to be supportive. And they said there'd be this thing on today. I'm only here for a week... with business."
This woman was odd... 'I'm not religious, but I go to church to be supportive...'?
"Oh." I replied, trying not to encourage her to talk any more.
"Do you like to play games? I like to play games... Actually, I'm a prostitute. Not for money, or anything. I go places, travel around and... try people out, y'know? I have to refuse any money they offer me, I tell 'em. I just like sex. Everybody likes sex... Do you like sex?"
There was an uncomfortable pause. I was now fully awake, subconscious klaxons blaring...
"Er, yeah, I suppose..." I didn't know what to say.
Somehow, in my naïvité, I still hadn't anticipated her quite logical response...
"Would you like to have sex now? With me?"
...my brain, which had been screaming blue murder for the past twenty seconds, finally kicked in (if you can call it that)...
"Umm, no. Thank you." Crisis over. She'll go away now. "...but obviously, I'm flattered."
Did I just say that? Idiot!
"Oh." She replied, looking a little put out, but making no indication of imminent departure. "Do you have a girlfriend?"
"Actually," I smiled nervously, still slightly off guard, "she split up with me a little over a week ago."
No need to be rude. Polite and civil, but not rude.
"Oh, I'm sorry. I've made you go all red."
"Have I?" I truly doubted it.
"Yes... You must be very sad."
"Yes. I am. I get very upset sometimes."
"Does she take it up the arse? I like it all ways."
I hadn't expected that, even after faux sympathy. I remained civil, if a little indignant. What would Leslie Phillips do if presented with such a rude, impertinent suggestion? Well I sadly lack a pencil moustache, but I nevertheless mounted a staunch, gentlemanly defence, and the honour of the lady in question was preserved...
Who says chivalry is dead?
"Well, I perform all kinds of procedures," (a bit cold as euphemisms went, I thought, but she applied it consistently to a variety of sexual acts) "so if you want to talk about anything, or get any advice...?"
"No. Thank you."
"Only you'd be surprised," she soldiered on, "how many of our clients have never done it before. And even the experienced ones, I teach them a lot."
She was right; I was surprised. What a way to lose your virginity. How very sad.
She asked me where I lived, to which I very guardedly replied, "Ummm,... York?". She told me that she was visiting for a week from Dublin with a, "group of like-mined girls," and weren't there a lot of police in York, you certainly didn't get that many in Dublin, didn't I find it a bit intimidating...?
"No, not really. I can't say I'd really noticed."
"You're very handsome." She swiftly changed the subject, keeping the conversation alive to make up for my lack of input. "How old are you?"
"Twenty-one." I replied.
"Oh, young. I'm only twenty-two. Take off your hat." I removed my 'Autobots' beanie. "Oooh. You've got lovely hair!"
"Thank you." Then I smiled, adding, "It was a 10-inch mohican until two weeks ago. Then I shaved it all off." She ignored the comment.
"Very handsome. I bet you've got a six-pack."
I could see where this was going. "Would you believe not? It's very kind of you to say so. But I'm still not going to have sex with you."
...but I'm still beyond telling you to go away, apparently.
"Oh, of course not!" she replied hastily, with a guilty grin.
She changed the subject again, now recounting in graphic detail tales about some of the, "disgusting," male virgins she had deflowered. I glanced at my watch and switched off, nodding at intervals, making encouraging noises when prompted. I had established that I wasn't about to be raped, and a quick look around had shown that she was alone; I wasn't going to be robbed. So I sat and pretended to listen, as she chattered on about the time she dumped her boyfriend out of the front door with no trousers on when he balked at her entertaining clients in their bed, about the man who had sold her her bike seat, and several other uninteresting and unsavoury tales. At a convenient lull in her monologue, the Minster bells rang the half-hour, and I decided that enough was enough. I'd go and wait the final half-hour in the warmth of the pub, away from crazy nymphomaniacs. I glanced pointedly at my watch.
"I should probably be off now..." don't say it! "...but it was nice talking to you." Weak-minded fool! There's a time and place for politeness!
"Oh, really?" She replied, downcast. "Well, I'll see you." She mounted her bike, and I got up to leave.
"Wow, I didn't realise how big you are, sitting down. Tall and handsome!" she yelled back to me as she cycled past.
"Thanks!" I replied half heartedly, wandering slowly down the path. She rode off down the road, looking back at me over her shoulder several times before she finally went out of sight.
I walked on to the pub, and recovered with a stiff caffeinated beverage, before recounting my strange experience to my friends.
Afterwards, I felt very sorry for her, and at the time I had thought that I should do something to help her. But would that have been patronising? Outwardly at least, she gave no impression of being the slightest bit unhappy with her life... but she did have an air of grim resignation to her matter-of-fact manner. It's too late now. But I still think it's very sad.