Poor Angela never seemed to have much luck with her boyfriends, but Clive was simply out of this world!
I pulled in to the kerb awkwardly and sat for a moment before gathering up my duffle bag and climbing out of the car. My hands were still shaking enough to cause difficulty with the lock on the driver's door. The dome of Mum's straw hat was visible over the hedge, and I watched her pruning her precious roses for a full minute before she sensed my presence. She straightened her back like a floral-clad giraffe and released her eyebrows from their knot of concentration.
"Hello, dear. I was expecting you a little earlier than this. Where's your friend?"
How could I tell my mother that Clive had disappeared?
"You look a little pale, Angela," she added, having inspected me more closely. "Is everything all right?"
"Yes, Mum. I'm fine," I replied as best I could. "Clive sends his apologies. Something came up at the last minute."
Mum nodded knowingly, and tactfully changed the subject. I knew exactly what she was thinking, that yet another boyfriend had bitten the dust. Poor awkward Angela. The last of her flock of cygnets was taking her time blossoming into a fully-fledged swan and finding a suitable mate.
Within minutes Mum magically produced tea, sandwiches and scones. I relaxed, feeling the familiar warmth of the kitchen seeping through to my chilled fingers and toes as I sat in my usual place at the table. It was always worth the long drive from London to arrive in this comforting haven and restore my soul after the hurly-burly of university life.
In actual fact I didn't envy my married siblings at all; their lives seemed dull and ordered compared with mine. I wasn't ready for a mortgage, children, choosing curtains, entertaining the boss, nor any of the other things with which Celia and Simon seemed preoccupied. I enjoyed the makeshift chaos of the house I shared with a constantly changing assortment of folk, and I loved my job. I doted on Professor Thompson, and as her research assistant I felt I'd found my niche.
It was through my work that I met Clive. He picked up my library books by mistake, and I was lucky to catch sight of his distinctive tweed jacket as he disappeared into the pub further down the street.
I timidly accosted him at the bar. "Excuse me, but you've got my library books. These are yours," I said, holding up his three weighty volumes.
I was immediately struck by his lovely green eyes. His face was altogether kind, comfortable and a bit vague. He inspected the books under his arm.
"I'm so sorry. You're right, Herr Wengler's experiments with the cholera virus are of little interest to me," he said with a grin. We exchanged books, and I noticed his were about obscure matters interplanetary.
"Which department of the University do you work in?" I enquired brightly, eager to further my acquaintance with the attractive stranger.
"Oh, er, I don't work there. I'm just using the library temporarily. Can I buy you a drink, er, ?"
"Angela. Angela Dennis. A half of cider would be nice. What's your name?"
His accent was unusual, unplaceable. Foreign, but not excessively so. The barman was forthcoming with my drink and a pint of beer for Clive, and we settled ourselves at an unoccupied table. The pub was quiet. The Friday night crowds would pour through the doors later, no doubt.
Despite his quiet manner there was an undercurrent of excitement about Clive that I found intriguing. As usual when I was trying to impress a man I found myself bubbling over with the details of my life, and before I knew it I'd invited him to join a group of us who were going to another pub later that evening to listen to a musician friend on his debut gig.
Usually when I was keen men ran a mile, but to my surprise Clive turned up at the appointed meeting place. He sat quietly all evening drinking mineral water and listening intently to the music.
"What did you think of John's singing?" I asked as we tagged along with the others to the cheap pizza restaurant we often visited after the pub.
"Very good," said Clive in a studied manner. "Such unusual songs. I'd never heard any of them before. Did he write them himself?"
"Hey, where were you in the Sixties? Most of those songs are popular old favourites."
A strange, frightened expression came over his face. It seemed tactful to drop the subject. It crossed my mind that perhaps he was an illegal immigrant. I noticed that he'd hardly touched his pizza.
"Isn't it any good?" I asked.
He prodded it experimentally with his fork. "Strange stuff. I prefer curries. Would you like to come with me for a curry tomorrow night?"
I was overjoyed. Clive was very different from the usual round of clammy-palmed young twerps I seemed to attract. He wrote my address on a paper napkin and pressed it to his forehead.
"Committing to memory," he explained.
He arrived by taxi promptly at eight the following night dressed in a sharp-looking suit. Luckily I caught a glimpse of him before he reached the door, and instructed a flat-mate to keep him entertained while I frantically searched for something more dressed-up than jeans and a jumper.
Ten minutes later I wobbled downstairs in heels and a slightly creased but more presentable dress. Clive made appreciative noises and ushered me into the waiting taxi.
Ten minutes later the taxi dropped us outside the poshest Indian restaurant in town. I'd often thought I'd check it out when I had something like a modest lottery win, but tonight with Clive looked like my best chance. A turbaned doorman stood guard outside the restaurant, and once inside the discreetly lit interior a turbaned minion showed us to our table. There was not so much as a square inch of flocked wallpaper in evidence; the décor was of a far superior, understated standard.
Clive took charge. He seemed to have a remarkable command of the regional variations of Indian cuisine, and entered into an in-depth discussion with the waiter, a portly, grey-haired gentleman in evening dress. I bowed to their superior knowledge, relaxed in the sumptuous atmosphere, and ate what was put in front of me. And what a feast for the senses!
It was altogether a very sensuous evening. We were enclosed behind heavy drapes at a private table, and the air was scented with something relaxing and seductive. Clive began to look better and better after a couple of glasses of wine. I toyed with the idea that perhaps he'd been born in India to an aristocratic military family, but he refused to be drawn on his origins. He was clearly not Indian, despite being very much at home in his surroundings. Good-looking and mysterious.
It was altogether a very romantic evening, and I rashly invited Clive in for coffee. I was a little disappointed to find my virtue in safe hands. Despite the lateness of the hour and the seductiveness of the music I put on the CD player he remained in his chair while I spread myself invitingly on the sofa. However he did venture a tentative kiss upon leaving, and asked me if I'd like to go cycling with him the following Sunday.
Over the following weeks Clive became a regular feature in my life. My friends and colleagues began to assume we were a couple. I found him quite fascinating but he always seemed elusive, just a little beyond my reach. I was too proud to throw myself wantonly at his feet.
Sometimes the expression in his green eyes seemed sad and far away. He remained the perfect gentleman, his advances never going beyond a friendly hug or polite, platonic kiss. Even on the occasions when we listened to music together in the intimate confines of his bed-sit he kept his interest firmly focused on the music. For some strange reason he seemed to have had little exposure to music, and I did my best to encourage him to like my favourite bands.
One Saturday afternoon as we were concentrating on Sting's songwriting capabilities I broached a subject I'd been working anxiously towards.
"I thought I'd visit my mother next weekend, Clive. She lives in Suffolk. Would you like to come with me?"
He pondered a moment before replying, and I held my breath.
"Umm, yes. I don't see why not."
Pleased that he'd accepted without protest, I rambled on at length about the family home, the village, and most of the details of my childhood. It occurred to me as I spoke that I knew absolutely nothing about Clive's family or his early life. I had no idea where he'd grown up; his accent was quite neutral. I scolded myself for being such a chatterbox and resolved to find out more about him at the first opportunity.
What with one thing and another I didn't see Clive again until the morning I collected him in my car on the way to Suffolk to visit my mother.
"Would you like to drive?" I enquired deferentially, not wanting to undermine his masculine pride.
He looked startled. "Er, no, thanks. I don't know how."
I let this pass without comment, but thought it quite unusual in a man of 30 or thereabouts. Perhaps he couldn't afford to buy a car.
I negotiated the Saturday morning chaos of Greenwich, and before long we'd made our way out of London and onto the M11. A while later I became aware that Clive seemed ill at ease. He was hunched forward in his seat, gripping the sides firmly and staring grimly ahead.
"What's wrong, Clive?" I asked. "Are you feeling car-sick?"
His voice sounded strange. "Alien territory strongholds of evil forces must hide!"
A chill ran down my spine but I drove on regardless. Clive had to be joking.
I pulled off the motorway at the next services. Clive calmed down after a cup of tea, and began to talk furtively in a hushed voice.
"I'm sorry, Angela. It's just not working out. I've tried my best to fit in, but I can't do it. You see, I'm what you'd call an alien."
I listened in amazement as he proceeded to tell me of the far-off planet that was his home. He'd been sent to study the earth's climate and had adopted human guise. I couldn't bear to ask what he really looked like. The first really good looking man I'd ever been out with, and it turned out he wasn't real!
He rattled on nervously about his mission, but I was only half listening. Surely this couldn't be happening! But I cast my mind back over various things that had puzzled me in the past weeks, and gradually I became convinced that he was telling the truth.
"So why are you so nervous? What's all this stuff about evil forces?"
"I sense they're all around, watching for me. See that?" he said, pointing to an electricity sub-station in a nearby field. "That's one of their hiding places, and there are plenty of others. The city was safe, but here I sense danger. I'm sorry, I can't come with you to visit your mother.
He rose to his feet and headed towards the door.
"What will you do? Can I drive you somewhere? What about going back to your flat?"
He shook his head. "I must return to Alpha Mercator."
"But how will you get there?" I wondered if he had a space ship hidden somewhere.
"I can transport myself at will between places many light years apart. It's all in the mind. I'd like to take you with me but there isn't time. I must go now."
I was stunned. He kissed me briefly and held me close.
"Thank you for your friendship, Angela. I'll remember you always."
Clive pushed his way through the glass doors of the café and turned left into the children's playground. He turned and waved as he passed the swings, then his image became blurred and he simply disappeared.
By Karenne Griffin
Last Modified on: 05-11-2015