return

She sat down opposite me and leant across the aisle to wave her goodbyes.  I glanced out of the window on the other side but couldn’t quickly identify which cluster of frantically waving people were hers. 

At the previous stop a lone Mum had blown kisses and signed a heartfelt “I love you” to her daughter, who sat several rows ahead.  

The naked honesty of the gesture combined with a heartbreaking song The National were playing in my ears and with the horribly dysfunctional morning I’d just spent with my own parents.  Heat had momentarily squeezed into the back of my throat and eyes.

(The best son-mother tactic is to pretend everything’s all fine and be as relentlessly breezy as possible.  I can only do this for a finite time period.  Towards the end of a couple of days the front crumbles and I demonstrate hints of the grotesque emotional transparency found on these pages.  (I don’t walk around crying or anything; just being miserable, distant, irritable and not very nice)).

The girl sitting opposite was bleach blonde with serious split ends and a dowdy hippy look.  All the same, she hadn’t aged badly and appeared to have retained the open dizziness she zestily wore back then.  Confident and engaging, she smiled across the table but there was no semblance of any recognition.

She wore tiny leopardskin tops to some classes and was charged on artificial, possibly chemical energy which meant she was vocal in class.  We had quietly admired and leched at her from the back of the classroom: the kind of girl who had much older boyfriends and who would surely have kids by the time she was 21.

I didn’t have to talk and could have easily left my music in, not bothered.  I debated it in my head; whether or not to engage, mindful that this could be the last chance of a conversation with a real person for a while.  Sod it.  I popped out my earphones and stopped The National.

“Jo, right?” I asked, once we had moved off and travelled for five minutes.

“Yes, err, sorry..”

“10-ish years ago, an A Level class at the college just over…” I pointed.  We were coincidentally passing close to where our college’s messy string of ugly grey buildings had once stood.  Now there was a new housing estate  “..there.”

“Oh God, really?  I don’t remember much about back then to be honest.  I was quite.. you know, out of it a lot of the time.”

“Right.”

“Sorry, you are?”

I told her my name and she made a show of trying to remember, although she knew it was futile.  This is unsurprising.  I was exceptionally missable through all my educational institutions and making any impression even now, good or bad, is something I struggle with.  My initials are, probably coincidentally, ‘meh’: the same reaction I tend to generate. 

“No, no, sorry,” she said, “I don’t remember too much about back then.”

Over the next hour we chatted amiably about a range of subjects; that class and its tutor, bless her, work and travel: hers imminent, mine past  Conversation ebbed after a while as we fiddled with mobile devices and tentatively opened books.  We exchanged views on the books we were reading and offers of food from identical mother-made kitchen foil packages, (middle class British suburbia can be endearingly predictable).

The chat was companionable enough: she was a PA at a rich property company, was going travelling for the first time in July.

As we approached the city I wondered if and how contact details would be raised.  It absurdly felt easier because there was prior acquaintance, however vague and historic.  That made it acceptable. 

“Are you on Facebook?” she asked, waving her mobile, as if to search, find and add me as a friend immediately.

I poked in my wallet for a business card but there were none.  Swapping numbers was apparently premature.  In fact, Facebook was the perfect medium for underlining such a meeting.   Easy to block if annoying and never see again.

“Um, yeah,” I said.

“What’s your last name?”

When we arrived in London, I feared the sort of soul-wretching awkwardness that usually makes me want to squeal for years to come.  So I moved quickly. 

“Nice to remeet you again anyway, cheers!” I said.

“Yes, take care!” she said. 

I squirmed inside (because I hate Take Cares), and buried myself into the anonymous throngs.

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