‘I hate the ASS library.’
It was 12 o clock on a Friday afternoon, and Maxxy and the lads had come to the ASS library to get some much needed work done. Now they were in 2nd Year they couldn’t avoid their deadlines like they had done the previous twelve months. Maxxy had an essay deadline for the following Wednesday, and he had suddenly realised he had five days to write two and a half thousand words, which was more than his hipsterish little head could handle.
The pugnacious, concrete exterior of the ASS loomed over them as they approached like a dungeon that promised to show them torture. Just before they entered, however, Nick suggested they have a cigarette, so they all stopped to have a cigarette. This was a tactical move on their part, as it allowed them to make sure they were looking sharp in the windows of the entrance, and also to be seen smoking together whilst simultaneously scanning the premises for anyone they knew or for any good looking girls.
‘I reckon most of the girls in the ASS are an eight out of ten,’ drawled Ag inwardly, peering through the window into the café. His eyes tottered from girl to girl hungrily, checking their colourful flared trousers and impossibly descant hair as they chatted with clipped, drawling voices to boys and to one another. ‘That’s the problem with the ASS,’ said Tommo. ‘You spend all your time looking at girls rather than doing work.’
‘It’s like a fashion competition rather than a library,’ commented Plum, and the lads agreed, all swinging their heads from side to side to see if anyone they knew was walking past.
‘Do you have the modafinil pills?’ Maxxy asked Swag. He’d decided he wouldn’t be able to write his essay without the aid of some kind of concentration drug, and modafinil had become his weapon of choice during last year’s exam period. He’d once taken so much in one go that the lads had walked into his room to find that he didn’t realise they were there until they pushed him off his chair.
Swag glanced at the others, who all looked away with smirks on their faces. Maxxy assumed they were laughing about last year.
‘Look, I’m not gonna take that many, alright?’ he laughed, feeling the sour sweat of self-consciousness creeping under his smile.
‘Nah, we’re just joking mate,’ said Swag with his usual, impermeable grin and a hard slap on the shoulder. ‘Here, take this one.’
He handed over the small white pill, and Maxxy pocketed it immediately. ‘I’ll take it once I’ve got some water.’
‘Let’s head inside.’
The ASS café bumbled and chattered with conversation. This was where the hipsters came into their own; the ASS, with its large café space and positioning in the centre of the university precinct, was more accurately described as a social centre than a library. While there were reams of books covering all aspects of the Arts and Social Sciences, everything from Anton Chekhov to Voltaire and Aristotle to Emile Zola and every critic in between, the hipsters preferred to sit in and around the café and chat, smoke and eat their packed lunches. Only occasionally was work done, and even then only with the help of modafinil.
As they walked in two girls approached them from the staircase opposite, and Maxxy realised with some apprehension that one of them was Bella. The last time he had spoken to her properly was at Motion sometime last year, when he had been sick on her shoes. She was a vulnerable girl and fiercely insecure, and as much as she hated Maxxy she also bowed in awe to him. Maxxy was similarly contemptuous of her, but that hadn’t stopped them hooking up in the past when, from his perspective, he had nothing better going on.
She raised a forced smile as she saw him, and Maxxy felt obliged to reply with the staple ‘Alright?’, followed by a nervous pull of the eyes up and away from her face. She and her friend glided past into the café. The lads all turned and laughed at Maxxy.
‘Could that have been any more awkward?’
‘Maxxy, mate, she was just remembering the last time you boned her!’
‘Or when you chundered on her shoes and she slapped you in the face!’
They roared with laughter. Maxxy grimaced with embarrassment and did his best to act cocky. ‘Leave it alone, yeah? We all make mistakes.’
‘What, chundering on her shoes or sleeping with her?’
‘You so would again, though, wouldn’t you?’
‘You definitely would, mate, don’t lie.’
‘She’s easy like ABC.’
‘She would kill for a bit of the Maxxy!’
‘Alright, alright!’ chuckled Maxxy, pleased at the acknowledgement of his ego. ‘Yeah, she probably would, the slut.’
‘She is a slut, isn’t she?’
‘Look at her over there, eating her slutty sandwich like the slut she is…’
‘Slutty, slutty sandwich…’
‘Alright, I’m gonna get some water and head upstairs. This essay isn’t going to write itself.’
On the top floor Maxxy found a suitable spot in amongst the central rows of desks, surrounded by fellow students all with earphones in and glancing every few moments at their phone screen to see if anyone was distracting them from their essays. Tommo, Nick, Plum, Ag, Swag and Doogie all situated themselves in appropriate places, and got down to work. Maxxy swallowed his pill with a swig of water and put his head down.
After about 40 minutes in which he had mostly flicked through his spotify playlists in search of good study music and browsed through Tinder, Maxxy began glancing around the room. There was a group of lads he recognised from Hiatt Baker the year before sitting at the side, and he gazed blankly at them trying to remember if he had seen one of them throw up on the Number 16 on the way back from a Bunker night. He then shook it off and frustratedly tried to put his head back to his work.
He couldn’t concentrate very well. He glanced at the time and frowned irritatedly; the modafinil normally would have kicked in by now. He ought to be getting tunnel-vision, getting sucked into his essay without distraction, but instead he was unable to focus at all. He looked around at his housemates, and as he did so they all quickly flicked their eyes away as if they had been watching him. Suddenly that familiar sense of self-consciousness began to heat the boy’s brow again. He got up and walked over to Doogie and Tommo.
‘Why are you all looking at me?’ he asked indignantly.
‘We weren’t, mate,’ replied Tommo, behind the sneaking suggestion of a snigger. ‘You’re just being paranoid.’
‘Yeah,’ agreed Doogie, ‘go back to work, Maxxy, you’ve got an essay to do.’
‘I’ve only taken one modafinil this time,’ snorted Maxxy. ‘It’s hardly going to do much.’
As he walked away, however, Doogie whispered to Tommo: ‘I think one pill will be more than enough!’ And they both struggled to contain their laughter.
Maxxy sat back down to resume his work – but still he couldn’t concentrate. He put his earphones back in to try and find a song that would help him. He settled for a bassy garage classic, and put his eyes back on his essay.
After a few minutes, however, something rather funny began to happen. He began to feel a strange tingling sensation in his stomach – then around his chest, then down in his feet. His legs started feeling awfully light, as if they were made of cloud rather than flesh, and his head began swimming as if it had been filled with petrol. His vision started to blur very slightly, and his thoughts began scattering like leaves in the wind – and at this Maxxy started to panic. What the hell was going on!? Why did he feel so strange? Why was there sweat on his brow? Was he sick? Had he eaten something bad? What was this!?
Then, all of a sudden, his attention came back to the song he was listening to, and it occurred to him that this was one of the best songs ever.
He turned around to see the faces of his housemates all lit up with muffled hysterics, barely able to keep in their laughter. Maxxy could not believe what was happening.
He had taken MDMA, and he had come up hard in the ASS library, in the middle of a Friday afternoon.
Quickly, as the drug was only just beginning to take effect, Maxxy started packing up his things to get out of there as fast as he could – but, oh no, it was hitting him faster than he could possibly have anticipated. He was practically already sky high. In the ASS LIBRARY!
The lads were laughing so hard that a library assistant came over to tell them to be quiet. Maxxy was trying to get his things into his bag, but his hands were moving so quickly and his vision was so blurry that he couldn’t help but fumble and drop things everywhere. The library assistant noticed, and came over to tell Maxxy to be quiet too.
‘I’m so, so terribly sorry,’ replied Maxxy in far too loud a voice, ‘I honestly don’t mean to disturb the peace in here, it’s just that my friends have played a prank on me and-‘
‘Sssh!’ hushed the librarian violently. ‘What on earth’s the matter with you? You’re talking far too loudly – now get out!’
‘Yes sir, right away sir-‘
Maxxy finally fit his belongings into his rucksack and headed straight for the door in a joyous panic. He didn’t bother to look back at the boys, he was far too preoccupied with getting himself downstairs and outside and away from everyone and everything inside this building. Oh, hell, what was happening!?
He bounded down the stairs three at a time, then pelted straight for the front entrance and the Great Outdoors – AH! Outdoors! How lovely it was out here! The sun was shining, it was warm, the sky was blue and dotted only with the slightest sprinkling of clouds, and the clouds were calm and white and welcoming, not dark and unfriendly. It was as if he had never been outdoors before, and how lovely it was! He threw his hands up in the air in appreciation of the loveliness of the day, much to the bemusement of the smokers outside the front entrance.
This was by some distance the most confusing thing that had ever happened to the poor hipster – but before he had time to think any further a voice behind him called his name.
He turned around and found that IT WAS SAP – oh, no. It was Bella.
Then again… BELLA!!!
‘Bella! My god, how glad I am to see you!’
‘Are you okay? I just saw you run outside by yourself, and you dropped your book-‘ She handed over one of his books, which the monstrous Maxxy realised he had dropped by the door. She looked anxiously at his feet as she did so. In his state of furious ecstasy, however, he was in no mood to care about their past.
‘Bella, the strangest thing is happening to me – my housemates – those bastards! – they gave me a pill and told me it was modafinil, but it wasn’t, it was MD! – and now, basically, I’m as high as a kite and I don’t know what the hell to do with myself – I mean I’ve got an essay due in on Wednesday! – and I was going to go out tonight but –‘
‘Wait, they did what!?’ exclaimed Bella in shock. ‘They couldn’t have – I mean – oh my God! Those bastards!’
‘Are they going to come and find you?’
‘Let’s get out of here.’
It suddenly seemed like the greatest and funniest idea to get away from the ASS library as quickly as possible so as to avoid Maxxy’s housemates; and indeed, thirty seconds later when all six of them appeared at the front entrance laughing and panting for breath, there was not a trace to be found of the unfortunate young hipster.
So where did Maxxy and his unlikely acquaintance go that pleasant Friday afternoon when Maxxy was off his head on MDMA?
The answer was straight up Whiteladies Road and onto the Downs, where they proceeded to walk with her arm in his, him reciting the movements of his mind at every possible turn, and her listening patiently as they went.
Bella, it had to be said, was somewhat uncomfortable with this at first. It hadn’t occurred to her to do anything else but help when she saw Maxxy in trouble, but all the same her old insecurities dogged her. Maxxy used to be awfully intimidating to her, and of course their history of sleeping together at inopportune moments made her worry terribly that he thought very little of her; but as the afternoon went on it became clear that he was simply happy to have someone to walk with.
Maxxy did not stop chatting for one second. In fact, he talked about nearly everything his mind strayed onto. He discussed his family life, his school days, how insecure he had felt in his first term at Bristol, how he’d fancied Sapphy from the moment he met her (this gave Bella an undignified frown, not that he noticed), how he’d bought an entirely new wardrobe in his second term, how he and the lads had taken 25i and spent an evening in Badock bar, and much, much more. He told her stories she didn’t particularly want to hear, like how he and Tommo had attempted a threesome with an anonymous girl in Wills that ended with her threatening to call campus security. He even made some kind of apology for the way he had treated her in the past, which was more than welcome. He told her about the number of times he’d been sick on Sapphy’s feet – twice – and all about how unbelievably beautiful she was, about her remarkable awareness of his discomfort, about her immense, tonic-like grin… Oh, SAPPHY! Where was she now, he wondered?
‘Sapphy…’ whispered Bella to herself, then to Maxxy: ‘Why do you make everything about Sapphy?’
‘I just told you,’ replied the manic Maxxy. ‘Ooh, hold on – my old halls are down there – I don’t know if I mentioned I was in Badock – do you mind if we go and walk around a bit?’ They were by the entrance to Hollybush Lane, which ran down the hill past Wills and Badock. Bella consented bemusedly, and the next fifteen minutes were spent wondering about Maxxy’s old haunt.
‘Why am I in love with Sapphy, why am I in love with Sapphy…’ he pondered as they walked outside the Junior Common Room. ‘Oh, there’s my old unit,’ he said, pointing up the hill to Unit 6.
‘But are you in love with Sapphy?’ enquired Bella, her confidence peaking. ‘You’ve been pursuing her for so long and it’s caused you almost nothing but pain.’
‘I suppose you’re right. You see that window at the bottom of Unit 8? Nick once got caught there taking a piss on it at three in the morning. Christ, I miss Badock.’
‘Maxxy, pay attention! Is Sapphy really worthwhile?’
‘Well – I don’t know. I think so. She’s pretty incredible. Like she’s got this amazing tonic-like grin-‘
‘I’ve heard about the grin – but, seriously, don’t you think it might be worth doing something else with your life for a while instead of devoting it entirely to her?’
Maxxy pondered this question aloud as they head back up to the Downs and turned right, down to where the railings look out over the Avon Gorge and Bristol Harbour, then on and right across to the far side, where the Ladies Mile runs into Clifton Village. Clifton in the sunshine was spectacularly beautiful, with all the grand Georgian terraces bright beside the waving trees. They walked all the way down to the Suspension Bridge, where finally they paused to consider the view out over the Gorge.
Maxxy’s mind whirred. He thought long and hard about his relationship with Sapphy, and about the way he had treated his time as a student thus far. He had had a wonderful time in a way, drinking to his heart’s content, wooing girls, experimenting with drugs as liberally as you could imagine. He had made some outstanding friends in an incredible new place he barely knew before.
But then again…
With every drunken night there was always the hangover to deal with… And the drugs were taking a toll on his now undoubtedly shrunken mind… And wooing girls was often less glamorous and more painful than you expect, especially when they rejected you… So perhaps there was something else to consider… Perhaps there was another way of doing things.
He thought of all the people he had met, and the city he had come to know; he had a vision of himself standing outside the ASS library on Tyndall Avenue, watching the great complex of students rolling in and out of the university like waves, and the sun beating through leaves onto Third Years as they graduated and waved goodbye to it all. He saw himself on the first day of his First Year, moving into his room, displaying arrogance to hide his fear; then he saw himself after leaving, working at a job that meant nothing to him, not sleeping enough, and struggling to see his friends at all.
At that moment, just then, as Maxxy gazed out on Bristol from the Suspension Bridge with Bella’s arm held in his, his head buzzing with ecstasy, the young hipster experienced an Existential Moment. He saw then the beauty of his youth, the indiscriminately finite chance to be young and free, to be without responsibility, to dance amid the grinning gales of time and be all the stronger for it – perhaps he was damaging himself with the life he was living; perhaps he had chosen the wrong friends out of his own fear; and perhaps he was wasting his time chasing Sapphy. Perhaps he needed to see things afresh, to review the path the great nexus of cause and effect had taken him down, like a leaf that had been blown in the direction of the wind and was seeking to rejoin itself with nature; perhaps he needed to think twice about his decisions.
And at that moment, he turned to Bella, and he kissed her.
But then he started coming down hard, and the next thing the people of Bristol could hear was a sound from up on the Suspension Bridge that sounded like: