Join Date: May 2002
Location: London, UK
Maria and The Argument Line
When I was working in Purley I had to commute from Clapham. It wasn't particularly wise, as I was essentially going the "wrong way" for commuting - living in an expensive area and commuting out of London. It suited me though, except for the hour long journey there and back each day.
It was pretty simple - a bus ride to Clapham Junction, then a train to Purley, then a bus up to the school.
The buses to Clapham Junction went past my house every 10 minutes or so, but I usually ended up getting the same one as I always wanted to catch the 07:30 train. Most of the time on these journeys I dozed off, waking up every now and again to check we hadn't gone past the station.
About 3 weeks into these journeys a girl got onto the bus and sat a few seats in front of me. I ignored most of the people on the bus, as it was rarely the same bunch and I was often too tired to acknowledge them. This girl was different though. Firstly her appearance was above average for the 7:00am bus-goer. Most of my fellow passengers looked how I felt - miserable, tired, cold and not looking forward to a day at work. This girl looked fresh and alive though. She had a mediterranean look about her, with large brown eyes and long dark hair. I'd love to be able to tell you she had an hourglass body but I honestly couldn't say - you need to remember this was October and quite cold. She was wearing a large black coat for the duration of the journey.
Anyway, her appearance wasn't what first made me notice her. I may be a connoisseur of the fairer gender, but not at 7:00am! She was talking loudly on her mobile phone. This normally really irritates me (I mean who has to urgently talk to someone loudly at that time? I wanted to sleep!) but she seemed to be having some sort of argument with someone. Being the nosey person I am, I listened in - as did most of the rest of the bus. The peculiar thing about this argument was that she never seemed to raise her voice, though. She spoke relatively calmly, but the topic of conversation was something that really warranted a raised voice. "She must be a very calm person" I thought to myself. Just call me Tom "Sherlock" Rattle!
The topic of the argument was clearly with a boyfriend. I can't remember the exact details, as it was one sided and I was still bewildered by the calmness of her voice, but she seemed to go through a list of things he'd been doing wrong, then calmly listening, then listing a few more. From what I heard, the boyfriend sounded like a bit of a rat. I started to feel quite sorry for this girl.
The argument was still going on as I left the bus, but I managed to catch her eye and give her what I thought was a reassuring smile. It probably came off as some sort of pervy grimace, but it was worth a shot!
I didn't see her again for about 2 weeks. Then she got on, wearing the same large coat. She sat one seat behind me, and again was on the phone. She woke me up actually, even though again her voice was serene and calm.
She was having an argument. This time there was a whole new list of things the boyfriend had done that she wasn't happy about. It seemed the boyfriend had completely changed in those two weeks. "It could be a new boyfriend?" I thought. Arguing with someone 2 weeks into the relationship didn't bode well for the future though.
Again, I listened in to the list of faults this guy had, smirked at some of them, and then got off at Clapham Junction. As she was sitting behind me it was more difficult to get eye contact, so she was spared one of my leers-that-wants-to-be-a-smile-but-fails-desperately.
On our third encounter she came onto the bus arguing again, but within 2 minutes was done. There was a very amicable "Have a good day" from her as she finished her list of faults of the boyfriend, and she sounded like she genuinely meant it.
This time was different because she sat next to me. I wanted to ask her about her phonecalls but it seemed rude, and also would show that I'd been listening in. I bucked up my courage anyway, and decided that if she was going to speak loudly on the phone then it was my RIGHT to listen in.
"Excuse me, are you alright?" I asked her, turning to her and trying to look a little bit concerned.
"Sorry? Yes I'm fine. Why?" she glanced at me, looking a little bit confused.
"Well it's just - sorry if this sounds a bit stalkeresque - I've noticed you three times on this bus, and each time you've come on arguing with somebody. If you're constantly arguing then I was just wondering if you were alright" I realised this wasn't come out as well as I'd hoped. I now sounded like some sort of creepy obsessive person who listens in on phonecalls.
"Oh... no I wasn't arguing" she replied, grinning.
"It sounded like it from here - I mean you were very calm, but the conversation didn't sound very pleasant!" I replied. Maybe in those mediterranean countries they started off the day with a nice cup of tea and a lovely argument, to blow the cobwebs out? I was curious about this.
"No no - I work for the argument line!" she replied, still grinning at me. She had a lovely smile, but that's beside the point. This girl was confusing me.
"Sorry - what?"
"The argument line!" she handed me a card. On it was written her name (Maria Gonzalez - how clichéd Mediterranean!) and a number. There was a slogan at the top too - "Why argue when we'll do it for you?".
"What's the argument line?" I replied. I still didn't know what was going on.
"It says there!" she pointed at the slogan "We argue for you!"
"It's very simple" she was almost laughing at me now, which I didn't really like but I wanted to get to the bottom of this "If you feel like you're going to have an argument with your girlfriend, you don't go to find her and have a row. You ring up her Argument Line number and do it with the girl on the phone there!"
"But the girl on the phone won't know you" I replied. That was the first fault I could find in it - later I thought of lots more, but they didn't occur to me at the time.
"Well we have a website. All you need to do is fill in your personal details, and details about the relationship. Obviously it's all completely confidential. The more details you put on it the better" she'd stopped laughing now, and was actually quite excited about selling this idea to me.
"Details? What, like where you live and things that the other person in the relationship does that p*ss you off?" I was starting to understand.
"Yes! The more details the better! For instance, if she keeps seeing a guy you don't like, put it on your webpage details!" she seemed like she really seemed to enjoy this job. It seemed horrible to me. Arguing for a living? No thanks.
"But why would I want to do this?" I asked.
"Simple! Arguing makes you feel better at the time, as you get stuff off your chest, right? But noone likes it after. It leaves you feeling terrible and not sure if you should apologise or wait for the other person to apologise. It makes you wish you hadn't said things in the heat of the moment! They upset both sides and usually don't achieve anything! But with Argument Line ONLY some things get said! You can't insult her mother, or how she is in bed, or anything like that, which you might do when you're angry! It's perfect!"
"It's lunacy" I replied "So if I had a girlfriend then I would simply refer her to this number if things started to look a bit peaky, as if they were going to turn into an argument?"
"Sure!" she was sitting up now like a meerkat, eager to get me on board believing this was an excellent idea "Couples do it in different ways. Lots of couples have an argument line each, and when they feel like a rant they just do it to the Argument Line! It's great because things you might not want to say normally can be said by a calm person like me over the phone! And then when the argument is done, it's recorded on the phone. We then send it by post on a CD and they get to hear what was said!"
"I see..." I was beginning to see the logic "Is it expensive then?"
"Not really - it depends on the length of the argument and if you're a dedicated member or not" she replied. The money side obviously wasn't something she was an expert on, or that excited about.
"Dedicated? What, those couples who just love to row pay out do they? It's the price of staying together I suppose"
"I guess so! So do you have a girlfriend?" She asked, turning towards me.
"That's very forward of yo... oh, you're asking because you want some business, aren't you?" I replied. I had half hoped she was asking because she was interested.
She just winked in return.
"No, I'm single" I replied "No arguments for you!"
"It's ok, I have plenty of business" she did that amazing smile again, and flashed it at me "That's why I'm able to do it while out and about like on buses - I have a bunch of regulars, and check their web details regularly so I don't need to constantly be in the office!"
"You're obviously very dedicated to your job"
"It's easy! You just go through each of the faults the person has, and try to break it to them as calmly as possible! They can't really shout back at you as you're really a stranger!"
"How about arguing with your boyfriend? Are you as calm there?" I asked. A testing question - very sly! I was curious to see if this Miss. Gonzalez was as available as I was.
"Ah, I don't have a boyfriend. But no - I'm not as calm when it comes to my own arguments!" She laughed at this. I didn't see the joke, but I managed a little chuckle to make her feel better.
Then Clapham Junction loomed around the corner. I had to get off, so I said goodbye and wished her luck with her arguments. It might be weeks before I saw her again.
About two weeks passed, and I still hadn't seen her on the bus. This wasn't that unusual, with buses going every 10 minutes or so. Also I didn't know what her destination was, as she didn't get off at Claphham Junction with me. It was half-term now and I wasn't using the bus, but enjoying my lie-ins instead.
I was at home, sorting through my wallet, when I discovered her card. I'd absentmindedly just put it into there, along with all the other rubbish I tended to accumulate. As soon as my wallet wouldn't fit in my pocket, I realised it needed to be sorted out.
I sat there looking at the number. She did seem quite interesting, and had said she was single. What harm would it do to ask her out? I had a week to burn, and the worst that could happen was she'd say no. So I rang the number.
"Hello, Argument Line, can I have your name please?" I was greeted with. Very friendly!
"Erm hi - look I'm not phoning for an argument actually"
"We don't really argue - it's a service we provide to resolve difficulties in relationships sir" she replied. This was all too professional for me! I preferred the laughing on the bus!
"No... we met on the bus a couple of weeks ago. You told me all about the service and gave me your card..." I slowly said, praying this wasn't going to be one of those moments where she had to pretend she knew me, as she'd forgotten who I was.
"Oh, sure! Hi! How's it going!" This was more like it. The friendly hot Maria girl I'd met. And she remembered me. Good.
"Fine thanks - look, I was wondering if you fancied going for a coffee with me or something some time? Sorry to use your work card for this..." Ugh. Idiot. Ended lamely with an apology, like it was something I shouldn't be doing. Confidence, Thomas! Girls love confidence!
"No, it's fine - I spend all day on the phone anyway! And yeah, coffee would be cool. Listen, here's my mobile number. Give me a ring this evening and we can sort something out?" she replied. Excellent!
I gained the mobile number of the lovely Maria, and phoned her that evening. After 20 minutes of finding out a little about each other, we arranged to meet for lunch/coffee in the week. I was on half-term so had nothing else to do.
I won't go into the details of the date - it was very standard. Some chatting, some drinking, and some flirting. I found out a little bit more about the Argument Line (she sure seemed keen on it) and we met up again.
In fact we met up quite a few times over the next month or so.
Eventually it got to the point where we were calling each other "girlfriend" and "boyfriend" (the transition was smooth and uneventful - I didn't even have to ask her if she was my girlfriend! Awesome!). Things were beautiful and brilliant.
Two months or so into the relationship, things started to go sour. We both found very small niggling things that would annoy each other, but were not big enough for it to be an issue.
These things can only go on so long before something snaps. Ours started at a weekend. I'd texted her on the Thursday to ask about us going out together on the Saturday for dinner or clubbing. She'd replied with an "I'll let you know". One of the things that really peeves me off (although I do it myself enough - I'm a fantastic hypocrite!) is when people say they'll contact you back but don't. So when it got to Saturday afternoon, and I still had heard nothing about what she wanted to do that evening, I started to get a bit annoyed. I refused to call her to find out what was going on. Part of me WANTED her to mess it up, so I could have a reason to call her out and have an argument.
She still didn't call me or text me on Sunday. Nor Monday. So Monday lunchtime I'd had enough. I rang her at work.
"Hello, Argument Line, can I have your name please?" I was greeted with.
"Tom Rattle" I growled into the phone.
"Oh hi - why are you ringing?" She sounded a bit put-out that I was ringing her at work.
"Just wondering how you are" I gritted my teeth "How was your Saturday night?"
"Oh it was good - I went out with a few of the girls" She didn't seem to understand why I was asking.
"I thought we were supposed to be meeting up then."
"No, I said maybe! I didn't say yes or no!"
"Well it'd have been nice if you'd confirmed whether you could go out or not. I cancelled other plans because I didn't want to cancel on you"
"Well I never told you to do that!"
The argument went on like this. She remained calm throughout the whole thing, which increasingly annoyed me. Why couldn't she rise to my baits? Why wouldn't she ARGUE with me?! I ended up listing a whole bunch of things she kept doing that annoyed me - the flirting with other guys, the way she'd take Argument Line calls when at home with me, the way she insisted on leaving tea cups around in obscure places instead of just sticking them in the sink. A whole host of completely petty things that really didn't matter. She just accepted them and apologised for them. In the end, in complete frustration, I just said goodbye and hung up. I felt a little bit better for about 30 minutes, and completely angry with her. Then that dissipated, and I had a class to teach.
On the bus home I realised how mean I'd been. I'd listed all these faults she had, and she hadn't given me any. She'd just sat there and taken it. I felt like a really terrible human being. I wasn't going to phone her though - she probably wouldn't want to hear from me. I wouldn't be surprised if a break-up came along, the next time we spoke.
Two or three days passed, and I was sitting down watching Eastenders, when she rang me on my mobile.
"Hello?" I answered - it's odd how we still answer as if we don't know who's calling, even though it shows up on the phone's screen.
"Hi Tom... why haven't you called?"
"I thought you'd be upset or angry at me..." I replied, sounding a bit sheepish.
"Why? Oh because of the Argument Line thing?!" She sounded confused, like the argument hadn't happened.
"Yeah... I mean I said some pretty horrible things to you. I feel really bad about it. You just sat there and took it."
"That's fine!" I could sense her smiling down the phone. This was a good thing "I understand you needed to get it off your chest! It wasn't a proper argument! It helps us grow as a couple!"
"Right... oh ok sure" I replied, relieved "So we're ok?"
"Of course we're ok! Silly"
So apparently we hadn't had an argument. I'd listed a whole bunch of things that annoyed me about her, and she'd taken them on board and not got offended. Fantastic!
Two weeks later I was in a particularly bad mood. I'd had my year 10 class. Year 10 are a notorious year anyway, as it's the year in school where most are discovering the idea of sex, and at the peak of puberty. Some will be shaving, some will be boasting about their exploits with girls. ALL will be bloody annoying. I hated teaching them, as nearly all teachers do. They're too old to be sweet and innocent, and too young to be mature in class.
Anyway, as I said. I'd just had a particularly bad class (it didn't help that the subject topic was accounting - which is impossible to make interesting). It was lunchtime and I had a whole pile of homework to mark.
For some reason I started thinking of things that Maria had done last night that really irritated me. She'd cooked a terrible meal - she thought she was excellent at cooking pasta, but somehow always managed to make it stick together and taste of nothing. She threw her clothes on the floor, which also really irritated me. Why not just throw it onto a chair? The floor is dirty! Why put your clothes there? It didn't occur to me that these things were infinitesimally petty at the time. I never normally said anything, as I didn't want to offend her, but I figured she didn't mind me listing her faults and would take them on board!
She would be on lunch, so I rang her mobile.
"Hi Tom" she answered.
"Hey" I wondered how I'd launch into this.
"How's it going?" It was more of an appropriate-reply thing than a I'm-wondering-how-you-are question.
"Pretty badly. Year Tens. Look Maria, there's a couple of things I wanted to talk to you about" I figured beating about the bush was pointless.
"Yeah... look." Here goes... "You know when you cook pasta? Do you have to make it all stick together like that?"
"Sorry? You rang me up to criticise my cooking?"
"Not criticise... well yes criticise. CONSTRUCTIVELY criticise. I don't understand how you can ruin pasta. It's just boiling it and then putting sauce on" I tried to make this sound like it wasn't an insult, but it really was.
"I don't ruin it. I'm a good cook!" She sounded a little worked up. Work must be getting her down.
"Well look maybe I can cook some and I'll show you how it should be done?" I suggested.
"Right... sure. OK" Good - she was going into accepting mode. We'd be able to list a few faults and then improve our relationship! It'd be fantastic.
I went on to give her a few other things that I wanted fixed, such as the clothes on the floor. She seemed resigned, and accepted them one at a time. The conversation started to wind down as I ran out of things to ask her to change.
"Is that it?" She asked, seeming eager to finish the conversation. She probably wanted to have a little think about how to fix these faults before going back to work!
"Yes, I think so" I replied, content that I'd done my bit towards the relationship.
"No more little faults?" She didn't sound too happy.
"I... nope. All done!" I was so glad I wouldn't have to eat any more of her terrible pasta, I didn't care that she was a little bit annoyed with me. It really was terrible.
"Well if I'm so f**king awful at being your girlfriend, and I have so many faults, maybe we shouldn't be going out!" She practically screamed down the phone at me. I had to pull it away from my ear. She'd been so calm up until now.
"I... what about the Argument Line? Improving the relationship? I was just trying to help it!" I answered. I had an inkling I might have pushed the boundaries.
"We aren't on Argument Line! You rang me on my mobile! There's only so much I can take Tom!" She'd used my name. Things are always serious when they use your name in an argument. It's the kind of thing your mum does "I don't think we should see each other anymore."
"I... you're serious? Fine then, I guess. I thought this was Argument Line... I... er" I wasn't backing down if this was a bluff.
"I... what? Really?"
I was answered by a nice lady with a posh yet slightly robotic voice telling me that the other person had hung up.
That was the last time I heard from or spoke to Maria.
At least I didn't have to eat any more of that sodding pasta.
"There is no I in team, but there are two in anal fisting"
Last edited by Tomkat; 6 Nov 2006 at 16:23.