The fleeting seconds in which je vous ai vu…
Image: Sukanit Photography
Descending from the harsh morning air, my cheeks are hit by the warmth brought forward by the masses scuttling around in this tiled maze.
My power walk from home catches up with me as I join the queue, over-heating in this trench coat. Ugh. For the love of peanuts, I just had a shower!
I look ahead in the meander of bodies and I see a familiar figure near the front of the line.
You’re hard to miss. You with you lanky legs cling-wrapped in denim. Well, that and the fact that I have a truly disturbing capacity for recognition of people whom I’ve only met once – so perhaps it’s not you, perhaps it’s me.
Either way, you’re standing in front of me, occasionally gazing at your phone and now approaching the glass counter.
On the one hand, this is completely expected. It’s rational to see you here. This is your neck of the woods, after all. Well, it’s our neighbourhood now, I guess.
I could call your name and you would come over and greet me with a kiss on the cheek. We’d make small talk for a minute and then you’d slip off into the labyrinth.
But should I say hi? I mean, I did see you in a social setting fairly recently and I was vaguely awkward about it all seeing as I can be a bit of a twat. I was really failing at playing it cool that day. Also, I don’t want you to think that I’m a stalker and I don’t want your girlfriend to think that I’m hitting on you (because I’m not!). Plus, you didn’t jump at the opportunity to catch up when I raised it the other week…
But why shouldn’t I say hi? You’re a friend after all and that’s what friends do. Right?
I don’t know.
Before I’ve decided you’ve made your way through the purple gates, beginning your journey out of our gridlocked city. I still stand sweating in this snaking line.
I am yet to accustom myself with where I need to go to but, as it turns out, I end up following you. Please note: this was not an intentional stalker activity.
I resume my default power walk, wondering if I’m going to bump into and hoping, in a small way, that I do.
I climb the tiled stairs up to the fresh air and a train has just pulled away.
Your train has just pulled away and you’re on it.
I came to the conclusion that I would most likely bump into you when I least expected it. I, therefore, resolved to hang out in a library in the near future for surely, that would be the least likely place to see you and, therefore, the most likely place to unexpectedly bump into you. Right?
I have mastered the systems now: I know that I don’t have to go to the ticket booth to purchase a concession ticket before 9am and that if I do go to the booth, that I can tap my credit card. I know how many minutes it takes for me to get here (in slow and fast modes) and that “arriving in two minutes” actually means “coming around the corner any time now”.
The frenetic pace escalates as we charge towards the gates, finding a space to slip through and then weave our paths to our separate corners of this underground world. I retrieve my ticket from the machine and veer left and then
are beside me.
I cannot help but laugh internally.
Yesterday, at this exact spot, I dropped my scarf on the linoleum floors, cursing as I thought of all of the germs which had been transferred to my most regularly- worn accessory. Now, on the same strip of linoleum I have a shadow of an instant in which to contemplate whether or not to acknowledge you.
And I brush past you, taking a step forwards and veering to the left, swimming against the current of bodies, for, to my surprise, I do not want to be experiencing this moment. I continue on my original trajectory as I stride down this tunnel, wondering whether you’re behind me or not.
Did you see me too?
Either way, I give myself a mental high-five for looking half decent this morning.
At the stairs up to the platform I glance to my side to see whether a man needs some help with his bags. I glance to my side and I glance you too, just five steps behind me.
I don’t know how I feel about this. A part of me was hoping that you’d be heading in another direction and that I wouldn’t have to deal with this. But a part of me was still hanging on to a form of twisted hope.
But hope for what, Alex?
I am sure you saw me in that glance, but our faces remain impassive.
Let’s pretend this isn’t happening right now, ok?
That man and his bags are going to have to wait as I take the stairs two at a time. There may be a train approaching. There may be an Alex gasping for fresh air and her sanity.
There is a train approaching. Glancing around I have one minute until it arrives.
I stumble around, bumping into attractive strangers as I try to surreptitiously glance around, seeking you out. Trying to see whether my breathing can calm down yet.
I glance around again. You’re there.
But these sunglasses are barring any verifiable eye-contact.
The train pulls into the platform.
Should I aim for this carriage or that carriage? Where are you aiming for? Do I want to aim for where I think you could be aiming to then bump into you or do I want to avoid you at all costs?
Let’s just try the “getting onto the damn train and not turning around thing”, ok?
The doors are closing, please stand clear of the platform.
I ascend the stairs and find an empty seat. I don’t know whether or not you’re on this train too.
The doors have closed and we pull away from the station. I crane my neck, searching for you upon the platform. I see you turned to face the opposite tracks, your stocky back absorbing the morning sun as you await your train to who knows where.
I momentarily consider sending you a message saying, “Did I just glance you at the station? If so, sorry I didn’t stop to say hi.”
But I don’t.
I remind myself that I don’t really have any want or need for you anymore; I have so many wonderful things and people to occupy my time and energy.
We accelerate forwards and