among the tourists

The slug of saliva sliding down his chin promises more love than I can possibly give. I’m standing before him, a pound coin in my hand. ‘Take it, please. Buy yourself a cup of tea, go on.’ He’s staring up at me, his eyes so wide and wanting, so full of soul, this could be Mark Rylance playing the tramp in Soho Square, dribbling and adoring. He takes the coin, his eyes fixed on mine. His face moves closer. The sound of the tourists’ voices goes fuzzy, a huddle of retired English couples visiting central London, competing with one another for familiarity, irritating a Saturday morning sunbather wearing excruciating shorts. His face comes closer still, his quivering lip glossy and pink, the fleshiest part of his entire body, the rest of which seems to have contracted in these few seconds standing together. Some kind of passion. I’ve taken hold of his hand. I’m squeezing it. His breath warms my neck. ‘Kiss me, will you? Just a kiss?’ The lip relaxes and I can see his teeth. I can hear the hosepipe shooting water into the air. I know I should kiss him. He wants a kiss more than a cup of tea. I hesitate. I think of all the people I have kissed. Why not one more? Go on. Kiss him. I look down at him. I focus on the saliva. The sheen. I hesitate. I think of the angle at which I could move in order to kiss his cheek and avoid his mouth. I move very slightly in that direction. His lip levitates, then moves with me. I shake my head. I tell him, ‘Not today.’ I drop his hand. I tell him to have tea. He looks for my hand, then at the coin in his. I turn and march away. Three men on a bench are watching, one holding a yellow bag full of books. They look to me, then back to the Mark Rylance man. They seem surprised. For the rest of the day, all I can think about is that kiss. I should have kissed him. I should have kissed him. I know I should have kissed him.