‘I’m not stupid’, I often tell myself, ‘I just don’t always have the best common sense.’
So it was hard to pick one story for this challenge.
I used to think that the word ‘banal’ was pronounced as ‘anal’ with a ‘b’. (Surprise, if you never knew).
I once got lost on the way to a four day wilderness trek… driving forty minutes in the wrong direction… going somewhere I’d driven to countless times before… with a satnav… because of a typo.
Two years earlier, I was doing coursework for my History GCSE (that’s a British sophomore exam) on the Battle of Dunkirk in northern France. I watched the film ‘Dunkirk’ in the cinema and had done at least fifteen hours of study with my teacher and classmates.
And yet, I’d somehow never doubted that Dunkirk was in…
That’s like doing a Hitler history project, but you say ‘The Nazi party began in Croatia’ after having seen ‘Valkyrie’ and studying for at least a month.
The point is, the things that are glaringly obvious to others completely pass me by, most of the time.
Still, as I reached adulthood, I celebrated that I’d done all my stupid mistakes as a child. Woohoo! Adults were idiot-proof, so now I was too!
Ha. Ha ha ha.
Picture this - eighteen-year-old me in the middle of the first British COVID-19 lockdown. I decided I should message “Hey, how’s it going?” to some high school classmates, from close friends, to friends-ish, to people I said hi to in the corridor.
I must’ve sent my message to at least forty people. I’d recommend doing it. I got all sorts of nice responses.
And one response came from Paul.
I only knew Paul mildly well through chatting on the school bus. Still, I was really happy to hear from him because we had a lot of friendly banter (mainly debates about whether Spain or the UK is better) and he was two years younger than me, so he felt like a little-brother figure. We often talked about our hobbies, including music and writing, even though my writing was something I kept from most people.
My final A Level exams had been swamped by a COVID-shaped wave, meaning I wasn’t going back to our school, and I wanted to say a last goodbye before we went our separate ways.
So I responded.
It started the same way most conversations do:
paul456: How are you doing?
I love writing (which I guess is obvious, since I’m writing this now), so I told Paul how I was working on a book and sharpening my skills, as I’d alluded to him on the bus pre-COVID.
paul456: Wow! I had no idea! What sort of stories do you write?
Paul. Seriously? Did you ever pay attention on the bus, or were you too busy talking about Spain? Honestly, he really was like an annoying little brother sometimes. I was sure I’d brought this up at some point.
Or… maybe I hadn’t? I’d probably talked too quietly, as usual. So I explained myself. Paul kept talking.
paul456: btw I saw your music video! You have a really beautiful voice.
Haha, that was nice of him to mention my botched song. It wasn’t in a flirty way, obviously, we had that brother-sister banter - Paul was just expressive with English because Spanish had much better adjectives, as he’d persisted in reminding me.
When I asked what he was up to, he said:
paul456: I’m working in London on virtual performance platforms for online concerts.
‘Bloody hell!” I thought. A sixteen-year-old working on such a massive programme before even finishing high school?
rosie77: Wowza, sounds amazing! I never knew you did that, I can't picture you sitting at a computer lol
paul456: Well, I did study computer science.
My bad. I thought he’d mentioned studying drama, art, music and woodwork, so I must’ve had one of those down wrong. I remembered he played in a band, though, and thought I should ask after it.
rosie77: how's the band?
He completely ignored my question and asked me more questions instead. Strange. I asked again, mentioning his band member Dylan.
But Paul said:
paul456: I don’t remember being in a band, but I’ve being playing violin for a while.
Oof, I thought. Was he really pretending his own friend didn't exist?
The one thing I did know about Paul was the more upset he was, the more sarcastic he became. This was beyond his I’m-not-a-morning-person quips from the bus - for him to be that sarcastic, the band break-up must have been rough.
I decided to avoid the band subject at all costs and ask him about his violin, which I didn’t know he played.
paul456: yeah I just play what we did in orchestra for the school show
I knew he'd acted in that show too. I had no idea Paul was both multi-talented and a multi-tasker!
Then Paul said:
paul456: Hey, do you want to go for a coffee some time?
My fingers paused over the screen. We got on well, but maybe it’d be just a little awkward as we weren’t close enough to have met outside of school before.
But catching up over Instagram messages wasn’t the same as actually talking in person. COVID restrictions let us meet outside, so maybe we could even sit socially distanced at the bus stop for a nostalgic send-off. It wouldn’t last more than half an hour.
We set a loose plan for next Friday, when he was back from London.
We messaged gradually over the next couple of weeks. To my surprise, Paul replied quickly considering all the work he was doing. In fact, I’d expected the conversation to dry out, as we’d be meeting soon, but he kept finding things to talk about.
In that time, I’d gone on ‘staycation’ with my parents. I explained this to Paul for my lack of replies… leading us neatly onto that fundamental small talk topic: family.
paul456: How are your family?
rosie77: Fine, thanks. What about you?
paul456: Fine, thanks.
“Shame how you can’t see your Spanish family this year,” I typed, hoping the conversation would die soon so I could do something more interesting with my time than useless texting.
He didn’t type back straight away, so I happily threw my phone down and got on with some guitar.
I checked my phone later that evening. Paul had responded.
paul456: Uh, both my parents are Romanian, if that’s what you meant. We visit my grandparents in Romania in the summer but obvs we can’t this year
I couldn’t believe it. This guy was Spanish, living in Wales, with Romanian heritage! Strange how he hadn’t told me about Romania considering he went on and on about how Spain was so much better than the UK.
But his parents weren’t Spanish? I tried picturing together his family in my head and failed. I felt a responsibility to get it right.
rosie77: no way! My bad. Your heritage is so interesting. You were born in Spain, though, right?
paul456: No, I’m Cardiff born and bred
Oh. Funny. He must be first generation British, then… but I could’ve sworn he’d said he moved from Spain a few years back.
rosie77: Oh lol so when were you in Spain? I’m getting this all mixed up sorry lol
paul456: Haha maybe I look Spanish??? Lol
‘Maybe I look Spanish?’
Now, hold on just one minute.
This was the annoying-little-brother character who constantly went on about how Spain was better than the UK in every single way, especially because he was from there.
Yet maybe I’d got a fundamental thing wrong again. I was well aware of my stupidity track record.
Or was he joking around with me?
I frowned, beginning to type, “So when were you in Spain?”, when my nostrils pricked up.
Something smelled fishy.
And for the first time in the three weeks we’d been speaking, I looked properly at Paul’s profile picture. It was very small, squished up at the top next to his username.
I tapped the profile.
And I realised I hadn’t been talking to Paul, pronounced ‘Porl’, as in two-years-younger-Spanish-patriot-on-the-bus-who-plays-guitar-in-a-band Paul.
I’d been talking to Paul, pronounced ‘Powel’, as in someone-in-my-year-group-who’s-probably-been-in-a-few-of-my-classes-who-I-forgot-about Paul.
What. An. IDIOT.
I chuckled. No wonder he’d appeared so forgetful of all our bus conversations. I’d been intending to meet entirely the wrong person this coming Friday…
My hands slid over my eyes, as though I could look away from the realisations beginning to dawn.
Because this meant that this ‘Powel’ had messaged me out of nowhere…
And said I had a beautiful voice…
And asked if I wanted to go for coffee when we barely knew each other…
Somehow, instead of going for a catch-up with a friend, I’d managed to agree to go on a date with someone else, because I got the two people’s Instagram accounts confused.
In other words, I’d accidentally catfished myself.
I burst out laughing - the kind when you see you’ve been so astronomically stupid that you’re past cringing and can only laugh.
But what did I do? Did I tell poor ‘powel’-Paul that I actually thought he was someone else the entire time? Wouldn’t that make him feel so bad, especially as he’d sort of asked me out?
But wait! Maybe he hadn’t meant it like a date and just wanted to chat, since we’d just been friendly. My anti-social stomach still twisted at the idea of meeting, as I didn’t know ‘powel’-Paul except for what he’d said on text, but I felt like I should go.
As long as it wasn’t meant to be a date. It wasn’t a date, right?
Should I ask-
Oh hell no. How would that make him feel? He’d been thinking we were getting close when I thought he was someone else.
I paced back and forth for about half an hour, rapidly messaging a friend in the middle of it, who, by the tone of my message, thought I was having a heart attack, and still half-laughing at myself, I eventually said:
rosie77: Oh my godddd I’m so sorry I got you confused with another Paul I know, wow
My phone buzzed again.
paul456: No worries, I am Paul from English class
Helpfully reminding me who I was. Bless him. Now I just felt more guilty of (potentially) leading him on by accident. He probably thought I was a total idiot even if he wasn’t saying it.
Eek. What did I say now? Should I just let the conversation die?
That’d be rude.
paul456: Do you still want to go out for coffee? Totally understand if not
Whew, he responded before me.
But now I was going to have to clarify things, wasn’t I? Awks.
I rolled my lips inwards and typed frantically before I could change my mind.
rosie77: Well, I just want to make sure this isn’t a date? Sorry I must’ve been giving weird messages but just wanna keep this friendly. but hey, if you want to talk music or whatever idm
'Please say no to meeting up!' I thought. 'Please, please say no!'
My mind helpfully brought up nightmarish scenarios of us drinking coffee on a freezing cold bench with absolutely nothing to say except me apologising profusely. "Hey, really sorry, thought you were someone else this whole time, er, so, yeah, sorry, haha, I’m such an idiot, really sorry-“
I stared at the screen, feet tapping in time with the many seconds he was taking to reply. The embarrassed guilt was making my toes curl.
So I fell into a fun cycle.
Step one: hide my phone under a cushion and casually pretend it doesn't exist.
Step two: stare maniacally at the screen and wait for it to light up with paul456.
Step three: Repeat.
After half an hour, a small word snuck under the message I’d sent.
But no reply from paul456 followed.
'Yes!' I thought. Maybe he just wouldn’t reply. No reply meant no meet up.
And no reply came that evening. I slept soundly that night, other than the frequent, embarrassed laughing at myself, and the occasional bashing myself with a pillow, screeching "You idiot!"
But three days later, a notification finally popped up. I read it on my lockscreen, too scared to let 'powel'-Paul know I'd read it straight away.
paul456: got it, should’ve made my intentions clearer
He’d meant it as a date. Whoops.
So… no meeting up then? My introverted side was ecstatic, though I felt really sorry for Paul. He must’ve thought we were ‘talking’ in a flirty way all this time and it was going somewhere.
I almost didn’t reply. How could I risk myself saying ‘we can still meet if you want to’ and landing myself into a horribly uncomfortable social setting?
But I had to respond. It was the right thing to do.
rosie77: Aw don’t worry, sorry for being stupid. Nice to chat though.
And no response ever came.
So that was that. We never met up, and haven’t talked since.
Poor ‘powel’-Paul. Well, I say that, but I bet ‘powel’-Paul has some incredible computing job/degree/apprenticeship/thing now, so he’ll be just fine.
I have no idea what Spanish little brother ‘porl’-Paul is up to, but I bet he’s still going on about Spain and playing the guitar. I should say hi.
To the right Paul, obviously!
Me? I’m still cringing at myself, but hey, I’ve made all my idiotic mistakes now!
About the Creator
I'm 19 from Cardiff, on a gap year, and I love creative writing! I joined Vocal+ because of the 'Little Black Book' competition and thought it'd be a great way to challenge myself alongside writing novels.