What makes a person appealing?
A cocktail of their traits, opinions, energy, style; what they bring out in us; a charm that is greater than the sum of their parts; a hook that overrides their faults.
Being with them illuminates us in some way. Their life throws a light, a value, a truth, on ours.
I had a Spanish friend at university called Fabio.
We met on the first day of Fresher’s week outside our tutor’s office. He said he saw the photo on my matriculation badge and thought, ‘She’s not bad looking. I’ll talk to her’.
Fabio had mid-length thick brown hair with a kink and wore dark-rimmed spectacles. He sported grandpa knits in every shade of brown and carried a worn leather satchel.
He was European. He was Byron. He was a lion.
He had a deep voice and a strong accent though not in the comedy ‘Scorchio’ style.
He danced with insane enthusiasm, smoked roll-ups and ate an enormous amount of garlic.
Too masculine to be a boy, he was not yet a man.
Educated at a Catholic boys’ boarding school in Somerset, his fierce Spanish heritage overrode the usual gauche public schoolboy markers but left the unquiet confidence intact.
He knew a lot about a few subjects and not much about lots, speaking with authority on everything. This made him 99% infuriating and 1% blindingly insightful.
Intelligent and ignorant, charismatic and overbearing- he was all of it.
We hung out together in Fresher’s Week going to parties, more than one of which he got us thrown out of for being offensive to some Sloaney girl: ‘They told me to get my arse out of there. So I told them I don’t have an arse, I’m not a woman.’
He thought I was the most gullible person he’d ever met, telling me I said ‘Really?’ after everything. He also made fun of my stories, saying ‘What next?’ when I had finished.
I found Fabio attractive but we knew from the start that wasn’t going to be our gig- he too far up the male end of the spectrum, me too far up the female end.
He called me ‘man’ and frequently mixed his metaphors: ‘Do you want a cup of tea, Fabio?’ , ‘Yes please, man. Like a hole in the head.’
We both studied English and Philosophy and attended various random events, including a Philosophy Club (as odious as it sounds). Fabio, the revolutionary, would inevitably vocalise the unacceptable and then we’d go to eat pizza in Edinburgh’s Grassmarket.
In fact, he pissed so many people off that it became my role to defend him from accusations of arrogance. Most of the time, of course, he was spot on.
He said he was a Communist and an IRA supporter and I used to get into long arguments with him and his school friend Ben, where we would stay up all night, enacting our undergraduate cliche.
Every view he held was borne of anti-establishment sentiment. So he had a field-day with me, the original good girl from Middle England.
He watched large numbers of obscure movies in block sittings, never failing to comment on a member of the production team when the credits rolled: ‘Oh, man, I knew it was that assistant lighting supervisor.’
Fabio was not a follower of the crowd. He rejoiced in unusual company, constantly re-appearing from afternoon-long beers with nerds, mature students, Germans.
He taught me that sexuality didn’t necessarily equal large breasts, contrary to everything I had been taught by my school friends. I was fascinated and heartened by his ability to see the attractive thing in every female.
‘Do you see that girl at the canteen?’
‘The quite big one who dresses funny?’
‘Yes, man. The way she does her hair, that’s so sexy.’
‘Really?’ (me, slurping on an Irn Bru)
He had a brilliant capacity to appreciate when he was being laughed at (usually in the middle of his most pretentious announcements) and his laugh was the hysterical kind that you can’t help joining in with.
Although he never did see the funny side of the Lada he drove back in our final year.
When Ben became my boyfriend we visited him one Summer in the Royal Seat just outside of Madrid. His home-life was out of the book I had hoped, suffused with Spanish artistic intellectualism- all rambling roses, important books and paintings leaning against walls at an angle.
His father was an impressive academic, his mother one of those attractive middle-aged European women, with the most terrifying driving skills of any human being in Madrid. Strike ‘in Madrid’.
Roaming around the peripheries and laughing in the darkness of the night Mrs Rochester-like, was the mad uncle- a once renowned artist suffering from pre-senile dementia.
We ate whole suckling piglet, that had been roasted in the village oven. I tried not to look English eating it and to smile through the occasional uncle outbursts.
For the last two years of our degree Fabio and I lived together, along with my best friend for one year and his younger brother, Guido, for both. Guido was studying architecture; he was a dude.
They were messy as hell and I had to handle all negotiations with our mean Scottish landlord, who mistrusted their foreignness more than mine.
Fabio’s room was dark and broody, the sort where you thought Friedrich Nietzsche might be hiding under the bed smoking a cheroot. Which was, I guess, the idea. And which, had he still been alive, he might have been.
He talked about sex in a raw way I tried not blush about, always suspecting that he believed I would be very British at it. But he only had one long-term girlfriend during this time, my exchanges with whom were weird for their lack of weirdness.
We spent whole afternoons studying in our rooms, emerging to ask each other a question that would become an hour’s meandering chat. He had the edge on me with ideas, I on him with expression, so that I would often proof-read his essays before submission.
Come the exams this was reflected in his grades, which was understandable and unfair at the same time.
But he was not afraid to suffer. He did not expect his life on a plate and grafted hard to gain a Doctorate- quite something in your second language.
After the General Paper of our English Final I asked what he had written about: ‘Oh man, the British sentimentality with their pets. You’re such losers over animals.’ ‘Well done, Fabs.’ I replied. ‘Pissing them off till the end.’
He spent the rest of the afternoon panicking he’d got the examiner’s back up while I spent it assimilating what I perceived to be a natty opinion.
Fabio is now a lecturer at the University of Madrid, writing papers with titles such as Mythical originality: The phenomenological historicism of T.S. Eliot.
I love that he cares enough to look into subjects in this depth. It takes application to make use of a brain in this way, determination to pursue excellence.
Fabio is a character and an intellect.
There is a light that shines from me in his name and it’s not just the one that hates cats.
It is almost two decades since I first met him and I can still picture his hand-writing, fake his signature and, I bet, make him smile.
It is why I haven’t seen him in 9 years but he is still my friend.