The next round of people moved about the room and that’s when he sat down in front of me. I felt my palms go sweaty. I hate shaking hands because of my seemingly perpetual clammy palms, but there he was, fingers outstretched. I tried to discreetly wipe my hand on my jeans and returned his handshake. I cringed inside and desperately hoped he didn’t notice my terrible self-polished nails that had already started to chip. What was I doing speed dating? Oh yeah, I was desperate, that’s why.
He gave me a bright smile and said hello. At least I’m pretty sure he said hello. I’m deaf and I told him so by writing it down on the pad of paper in front of me that I had prepared earlier, accompanied by a sheepish grin and a slight shrug of the shoulders. He went a little rosy coloured and said sorry, then caught himself and borrowed my pencil and some paper.
Sorry! I didn’t know. How are you? What’s your name? I’m Steve, he scribbled.
He pushed the pad and the pencil back to me and I wrote, I’m Helen. Please to meet you! Sorry this is the only way I can communicate right now really. How are you today?
I scrawled as quickly as I could and slid it back over to him. That was the trick, I didn’t want him to get bored waiting for me to write. I hoped he could read my handwriting.
I’m great thanks, Steve wrote back, sorry, my handwriting is so messy, I hope you can read it! What do you like to do for fun?
I started reading, looked up and smiled at him. When he smiled back I felt like I’d regressed to a teenager sifting through window-sized posters of boy bands, swooning at their sex appeal. I looked sharply down at the paper and carried on reading. I quickly replied knowing full well that time was running out on our meeting.
No problem! I love games, writing and reading (perhaps not surprisingly). We haven’t got much time to this speed dating thing. Would you like to play Pictionary? I wrote.
I’d love to play! Though I should imagine you’re quite good. You look like the creative type…
Oh man this guy was hot. I just wanted to stare into his eyes until I fell asleep.
Great! It’s faster to text by the way, do you want to swap numbers so we can communicate quicker?
Rather than reply he got out his phone, and handed it to me to type in the number.
I texted him straight away and wrote, Now I’ve got your number. Works every time…
Thankfully he laughed. He had a wonderful smile. Hello Mr. Darcy.
I started scribbling away and within 20 seconds spun the paper round and showed him. He creased his brow and looked at me funny. I turned my hands over, palms towards the ceiling, in the universal sign language of ‘what?’ and he wrote, a giant penis?!
We both found that hilarious and I swiftly corrected him, no, silly, it’s the bar we’re in! The Snake in The Grass…
Oh, he typed, whoops.
I wonder why it’s called the Snake in the Grass…
Steve wrote, I think it’s a cocktail. That’s what this place is famous for. Actually, it’s why I came here in the first place; I saw it in a magazine. I had no idea this was going on.
I smiled at him and it occurred to me that it was a pretty strange place to organise a speed dating meeting. In my peripheral vision I could sense the atmosphere of all the people crammed into what must have been 40 tables. Reassuring to think people were in the same boat as me, no doubt a few hoping to get a different kind of snake in the grass after the meet. Maybe it wasn’t such a strange place after all, the more you drink, the more likely your date would be a success I supposed.
His facial expression suddenly changed and he shrugged his shoulders. ‘Sorry,’ he mouthed.
All around me the guys were standing up from their chairs and seeking the next table number on their list. I felt I could cry but I guess that was the nature of speed dating. I just wasn’t expecting it to happen so fast.
He stood up, and so did I. He came round to my side of the table and we weren’t sure what to do. We found ourselves having an awkward, hug, handshake-to-the-stomach, kiss on the cheek combination, which turned into more of a rugby tackle. He walked off and gave a slow wave. Bye bye, Prince Charming.
The next hour went past at the pace of two. I had the pleasure of sitting down with some pleasant but mostly rude or indifferent guys that were clearly put off by the fact I couldn’t speak or hear. Not surprising really. One guy spent so long writing a note to me that his time was up before I could read it. He left dejected. His facial expression exactly how I was beginning to feel inside. Most of the time I couldn’t help but look over to where Steve had gone but he’d faded into the crowd. It was no use, I’d just have to wait and see.
Eventually it was over. As the lights were turned up, signalling the end, I watched as people stood from their chairs in the busy room and gradually filtered through the door and out onto the street. My heart was beating fast, I couldn’t control it, even with the slow breathing techniques I’d learnt from the lesson and a half of yoga I attended after Christmas. I stretched my neck and wobbled my head around with bulging eyes trying to catch a glimpse of him in the crowd, like a deranged mix between an excited puppy and an Egyptian hieroglyph.
He wasn’t there.
I inhaled and sighed heavily. It wasn’t to be. I slid my chair back and stood up from the table and passed a few successful stragglers who were still deeply engrossed in their conversations. Lucky them.
I opened the door to the just as the heavens opened. I shrugged on my coat and joined half a dozen others huddling under the scant shelter of the doorway and fished my phone out of my bag to find a taxi.
I unlocked it, and there, on the screen, like a shining beacon of hope, the chance, the dream that I might not be alone forever, was the notification: 1 New Message, from Steve.
My heart exploded to breakneck speed again. Worried it might burst from my body I clutched at my chest to keep it in place and opened the message.
I’m really sorry I had to run off straight after I met you. I had a lot of fun tonight. I didn’t have a chance to ask if you wanted to see me again. I really hope you do. Anyway, If you’re not busy, look what I signed up for this weekend… I was wondering if you might want to come too? Let me know.
For some reason I found it quite arousing that his grammar was so good. I scrolled down and attached to the message was an advert for a sign language course starting on Saturday. I couldn’t stop smiling and decided to walk home. A little rain couldn’t dampen my happiness. I swiftly changed my mind as I realised how heavy the downpour was and noticed my suede boots were already drowning. I dashed back under the cover and decided I better get a taxi after all, I didn’t want to damage my shoes, they were the best I owned and I wanted to wear them on Saturday.