A few days into university life, I lent my phone to one of my flatmates. I had thought nothing of it, a simple gesture for a boy I wished to become friends with. Lending this phone though proved to be one of those actions that much of your subsequent life pivots upon; crucial moments you either dread or yearn for.
The flatmate to whom I lent my phone was a quiet boy named Liam. Discernible features – pigeon chest; squinting eyes beneath glasses; thin, greasy hair – if little discernible personality. He had, on the last night of Freshers Week, summoned the nerve required to enjoy himself and I, sympathetic, was doing my upmost to coax him from his meticulously guarded introversion.
It was difficult to get him to enjoy himself; you had to lure him into conversation, trick him into unfolding his arms. He was alright though: you didn’t have to put in a completely disproportionate amount of effort to engage with him like other shy people. He obviously yearned to be social; he just seemed so nervous. Slowly though, he began to warm up. He let others into his persona. He joshed with the rest of the flat, most of who had not seen his skinny arms and freckly face in days. When he asked for my phone to make a quick call, I readily agreed.
I didn’t see him or my phone again that night. This was only apparent to me the subsequent, sober day however, and as the vague recollection of lending it to him surfaced, I made my way down the corridor to Liam’s room, the space within which he had spent so much of this first week.
“I’ve got your phone,” he announced as I craned my neck round the lightly ajar door.
There was an intensity about him: his bold announcement, the way he was sitting, the blaze of his eyes, locked upon mine. He looked disgusted, like a toddler who has just had his first taste of lemon. It didn’t sit right; this wasn’t the timid kid I knew. Something was up. I entered his room and, fear masquerading as politeness, asked if I could have my phone back.
“I’ve seen some of the stuff on it.” He, ignoring my request, told my blanching face.
This was bad. Let me explain why.
I am a writer. It is difficult to know if my cluttered head was the reason I became a writer, or a result of my writing. Either way, I have many conflicting, distracting thoughts throughout my days, thoughts which become painful unless they are thrown onto paper. When there is no paper to hand, my phone will do.
Some of these “jot downs” were bad. Taken with absence of context they were worse. Boys were slated, girls rated. Anger, cruelty, arrogance ran amok. There were some journal entries that were particularly awful.
The subject of much of my vitriol was a boy I had clashed with for numerous years. We had got off to a poor start – I had unwittingly pissed him off when I referred to his little cousin (I wasn’t aware they were related at the time) as a “little whiny shit”. This rattled him to say the least. I think once we had broken the ice in so heated a manner, the animosity between us was inevitable: we were both massively egotistical. Neither of us was backing down.
We had so many clashes. He got with my ex. He may not have known she was my ex-girlfriend; he may not have known that I still liked this girl. This barely crossed my mind: he was getting with this girl to get one over on me. No question. Paranoia reigned: there was always an ulterior motive with this boy. I viciously objected to this slight and in retaliation sent him some of the sexual photos she had shared with me when we were together, with the caption “Already tapped that ;)”. This was stupid and wrong, and while it got to him it hurt the girl too, and I hadn’t wanted that.
This guilt was short-lived though. I was diligent. All potential weapons were used. It was filthy warfare. I spread rumours. Turned his friends against him. Made him the butt of jokes. He had gone very quiet in the few months preceding uni – these measures probably won it for me. Although it was questionable as to whether there were any real “winners” in this ugly scene.
With sadistic pleasure, I had written much of this down. Liam here was willing to expose all this incriminatory evidence. At first I felt a rise of righteous indignant anger at having my privacy invaded; this was short-lived, and replaced with a deep sense of shame. For what I’d done, and what it made me. I didn’t want to be that sort of person. I’m sure I’m not really that sort of person.
I sat staring. Only one option, besides despair, remained. I had to talk.
I tried to convey what I knew, and what I didn’t. I tried lamenting how confused I felt, existing in so contradictory a world. A world whereby attack seems the only action of our Ministry of Defence. A world in which half of its people walk miles to work off food, while the rest walk miles just to acquire it. A world where it is increasingly difficult to know whether you’re being you, or who you think you should be.
In a world so bewildering, it is easy to be lost. To make mistakes. I was the ultimate proof.
It is questionable, at best, to say I managed to get these sentiments across in my garbled speech to Liam, who looked up at me with nurse’s eyes – kind and troubled – and began speaking.
“I’ve been bullied most of my life. The usual stuff. Names. Intimidation. Harassment. Leaving me friendless and depressed. Each day a struggle. My family knew something was wrong. To begin with. Eventually they gave up. They accepted that I was just a room-confined loner. I should have reached out. Spoken about it. But I didn’t. I was alone. Life got so bad that at one stage last year, I seriously considered the unthinkable. The thought of going to uni, making new friends, leaving all the bad behind: that pulled me through.”
He stopped to gain composure, a quality I was lacking as the onslaught of confessions rained on.
“That’s why what you wrote in your phone struck me so hard. It made me think that maybe everyone, everywhere, was cruel, like they were back home. And just after I’d plucked up the courage to go and put myself out there and earn some friends. Just after you’d been so nice to me.”
Liam had made his mind up. He thrashed the phone back into my hand.
“Now I see what you are – you’re exactly what I came here to get away from. You’re just like the rest of them. You’re all the same. You’ve all made my life hell. Take your bullying, take your shitty phone, and get out.”
I trudged back down the corridor to my room. Slumped atop my bed in my cluttered room, I considered what he had said: I was just like the rest of them. Harsh. Cruel. There had to be a gesture I could make; to suggest not everyone was so bad, that Liam could rest easy at uni, that life didn’t have to be so bleak and cruel.
Of course it wasn’t just a gesture to him. I had to prove something to myself. Yes, it was wrong of Liam to borrow my phone to make a call, only to worm his way through my private information. But now I was glad that he had. He had confronted me with a version of myself that I didn’t want to be. That I despised in fact.
I picked up my phone and began dialling. To apologise to all those I’d wronged. To become the person I wanted to be. I waited as the dial tone rang. I waited for redemption.