Do you remember Pavlos Maropoulos from school? Was in the same class as us all the way through middle school. I think you do, actually, because I seem to remember you seeing a girl for a while about ten years ago that you told me was Pavlos’ ex. I think. Wasn’t she the girl that used to live at the bottom of the hill next to the cemetery? It sticks out in my mind now for the fact that you told me at the time that she said Pavlos had beaten her up when they were together and that he was a loose cannon. I remember I believed it at the time, mostly because I hadn’t spoken to him since school but had seen him walking around the streets a few times and noted that he had looked angry and weird. He’d grown his hair long, was always dressed in black with angry slogans on his t-shirts, wore dog collars and spikes and stuff like that, and when he walked past you you could hear the tinny noise leakage emanating from the headphones that covered his ears, aggressive screamy metal music. And he had been lifting weights since we’d left school, had added a bit of bulk. He always looked like he might throw a brick through a glass bus shelter, just for the hell of it. So the idea that he would partake in a bit of domestic abuse was easy to buy into. Then again, though, at that age I used to pretty much believe anything I was told, so long as it was interesting. As I sit here now I’m not so sure that I believe the story. I’m not as prone to judge people on rumours as I once was. Especially considering how many tall tales used to get thrown around our neighbourhood. Anyway, the reason I ask if you remember him is that a couple of weeks ago he sent me a friend request on Facebook. Out of the blue. I hadn’t spoken to him in 15 years, not since we left school, and hadn’t thought of him in about ten years, not since you were seeing that girl.
I always liked Pavlos when we were growing up. He was my fellow boffin in the class. Remember that word, boff? The main difference between Pavlos and I was that he wore the term as a badge of honour whereas I took it as an insult and would do anything not to be seen or labeled as one. But let’s be honest, we were the two boffs. Everything between the pair of us turned into a competition. Who could write the better story; Who could say hello in the most foreign languages; Who could spell the most difficult word – I remember in Year 6 I came in to class one day and had learnt by heart the night before how to spell Czechoslovakia. And not just spell it, but spell it quickly and with my eyes either open or closed. Remember this was 1994, Czechoslovakia didn’t even exist as a country any more. An 11-year old boy growing up where we grew up really didn’t need to know how to spell Czechoslovakia. But I taught it to myself anyway with the plan of challenging Pavlos to a spelling competition and pretending to randomly just pluck the word out of thin air and then telling him to spell it. When he couldn’t do it, I would say ‘Well let me have a go, then,’ and I’d smash it, and everyone would see that I was cleverer than him. Brilliant. I executed my plan perfectly, showed him up that day. So what did he do? Went home that evening and learnt it, along with some other pointless words that he didn’t think I’d be able to spell. Like chrysanthemum. And he was right, and he showed me up the next day. So I went home and learnt the words he had learnt, plus some more on top, and so the battle continued. I can still spell these words today without pausing to think; who could score higher in the SATs; who could read more grown-up books – Pavlos was the only other kid reading as much as I was at that age. Intelligent books, you know, books not written for 11-year olds. While I was absorbing Lord of the Flies, he was soaking up Catch 22. I think we both read the Satanic Verses. It seems funny now because knowing these books as I do, I doubt very much that either of us had a clue what was going on in them, processing them as we were through pre-pubescent yet to be developed minds. But we read them all the same. And we made sure to let the other one see us with book in hand; we even cared greatly about beating the other one in competitions that otherwise we would rather not have won, such as the Highway Code quiz, in which we both ended up finishing in the top three of our year and being sent out to a posh school in the sticks one dark winter evening to represent our school in a county-wide competition. I mean seriously, who actually wanted to do that? Not me and I doubt that he was excited about it either. Everything was a competition between us. But we did like each other and used to hang around a lot when we were little. We even used to go to Tae Kwando together, which obviously meant a competition to see who could move up the belts quicker. He won, as then just as now I had no focus. We used to go round each other’s houses after school for dinner, and I seem to remember thinking that our mums didn’t much care for each other. My mum never said anything to me, but when his mum would drop me off at my house and the pair of them would chat politely for a bit on our doorstep you could just tell that they were forcing the pleasantries for the sake of us kids. Both of them. I think that Pavlos’ mum thought that my family was a bit rough and below her, and I think that my mum thought that Pavlos’ mum was a snob who had married into money and was living the easy life. Being a kid, though, I didn’t think too much into things like that. Plus I liked his mum and I think he liked mine, so who actually cared?
She was strict, though. I remember her telling me off a few times for using words in her house that she didn’t allow, words like damn and what the hell. Words that we used liberally in my house. I think she worried that I would be a bad influence on her son, after all he was her angel and I was the class naughty kid. But she was alright. I did make her really angry once though, not intentionally, when she came to pick us up from the park where we had been playing tennis. I had made a comment to Pavlos about him being a bit chubby, not even to insult him or anything, it just came up, and because I assumed that he knew he was a bit bigger than most of us boys the remark wouldn’t come as a shock. But I had misjudged the situation and he’d got quite upset by the suggestion, and so when his mum turned up he was pissed off and told her what I’d said, and she berated me for it in front of him, telling me that I was talking nonsense. Smoke was coming out of her ears. I could feel that she was really furious. I felt small and embarrassed. Obviously now I understand where she was coming from. If a kid called my nephew fat today my sister would react in the same way as Pavlos’ mum. People get quite sensitive when their kid’s feelings are hurt. He wasn’t even really overweight, Pavlos, just a bit of extra puppy fat. Still, after his mum lost her shit with me that day I was always scared to go to their house.
Pavlos’ dad was away a lot. And when he was in town he would go to work early in the morning and come home looking tired after dark. I only met him a few times. Tall bloke with a thick moustache and an even thicker Greek accent. Worked in shipping. Money in that family. Their house was twice the size of mine. And the fridge was always full. He was the strong but silent type, tidy grey hair cut short and brushed back, always dressed smartly in a shirt buttoned right up to the top. Used to go to operas and stuff with Pavlos’ mum, I think. He looked a bit like a military leader of a country. I always liked Pavlos, he was an intelligent and funny kid. His Facebook profile told me that he had gone to university and got a degree in English literature. I wasn’t surprised.