I'd flown to London with very little advance notice, and I was in Marks & Spencer trying to remedy my luggage shortfall. Browsing for socks and underwear, I came face-to-face with a beautiful boy, aglow with that freshness of youth sometimes seen in the first full flush of adolescence. He was accompanied by three energetic women in full sail, who were discussing the relative hygienic merits of y-fronts versus boxers. The boy, clearly embarrassed, had just yielded to their forceful argument as they settled on three packets of classic whitey-tighties on his behalf. He looked up as I walked by, and when he saw that I had overheard them he rolled his eyes. I gave him a wink and a little smile, unseen by the minders. He blushed and looked away as they convoyed on. I made my selections and continued browsing, looking next for a belt.
A little later I saw them in the store cafe as they plied him with salmon-cucumber sandwiches while he argued for a sticky-toffee tart. Our eyes met again briefly, and this time he smiled first as I rolled my eyes.
I sat, sipped my tea, and watched them -- three self-sufficient ladies, each quite proper in that unmistakable English manner that combines costume and composure to signal condition and class. One was obviously the boy's mother; one younger, with nearly identical features, was likely an older sister; a third, somewhat elderly, perhaps a maiden aunt. This time I was too far away to hear their conversation but clearly they were intent on sorting the boy, and his shrugs and grimaces were clues to his response.
As they were finishing their refreshment the boy rose and headed for the Mens. I gave it a few minutes, then followed him.
He was drying his hands as I entered, and he looked up and recognized me. We were alone in the room. "I just wanted to tell you," I said, "that if you were a few years older and I fifty years younger, I'd ask you out in a heartbeat."
He blushed, looked a little frightened, but then said, "I saw you watching me." His voice was a high clear soprano, and charming.
"Here," I said, "can you stash these somewhere unseen? They're for you." I handed him a small green bag, one of my purchases.
He took the bag and looked inside, at the three-pack of the smallest, brightest bikini briefs I could find. He blushed even more deeply, then gave me a big toothy smile as he pushed them under his jacket. "Thanks," he whispered, and ran from the room. I didn't follow.
My poem does, however, attempt to follow this boy a few years later:
Dear mother, sister, maiden aunts,
whose Marks & Spencer underpants
define your sense of suitability;
I've grown bolder as I've grown older
and wish to state I'll no longer shoulder
your so persistent management of me.
Please restrain your machination,
I've no desire for procreation --
That's not what I'm intended for;
I've met with grace your candidates
through endless teas and sups and dates,
and find these lovely daughters are a bore.
Don't waste your time by pushing others,
what I long for are their brothers,
and only when I've found Him will I rest.
So please disband your lofty plan,
I'll be bringing home a man,
and what he's in next to his skin won't be my test.
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