7 Reasons Not To Have A Conversation With Someone You Think You Know, But Don’t
I have half-an-hour to go before my meeting so I take cover just outside Liverpool Street Station. I’m not alone. Despite the rain we’re a hearty brollyless bunch. A man quips about it being a good job the Evening Standard is now free. We laugh. Probably for a bit too long. A woman decides she’d prefer to get wet. The space she leaves is immediately filled by a man. A man about my age. A man who I end up performing a double-take toward. “I know him!” I think to myself, “That’s.. erm.. that’s Tom!”
1. Introduction. I move towards Tom. He hasn’t seen me yet. I wonder if I should jab him in the ribs or tickle him, then I decide probably not. We hadn’t seen each other for years and even when we did frequent The Mitre in Fulham our relationship never reached rib-jabbing levels. Instead I manoeuvre into his vision and say, “Hello!”
“Hi,” he says back, a little less excitedly than I had hoped.
“Been a while, huh?” I say, lifting my eyebrows in the process as if to add weight to my observational skills.
“Urm, yeah,” he replies, adding lack of interest to his already unexcitable bearing.
2. Awkward Situation One. I get the feeling that Tom doesn’t really want to talk to me. Maybe he has an interview. Maybe he still reckons I owe him for a pint. I rack my brains. I was always good at paying for my round. In fact, I think Tom owes me. I can’t be sure so I decide to let it go. And anyway, I have more pressing matters. Like working out what to do now. It would look weird if I just walked away wouldn’t it? I decide to try and bring him out of his shell.
3. Small Talk. “You still living in the place?” I ask.
“Still with Harriet?”
“Harriet? You still with her?”
“I don’t know anyone called Harriet,” he replies. And for the first time he looks directly at me. I freeze.
4. Awkward Situation Two. This isn’t Tom! I don’t know this bloke at all! He doesn’t even look anything like Tom now. What the hell must he be thinking? What the hell am I going to do now? Do I just apologise and move back to my spot? Do I leg it?
5. Weirdness. Then something really odd happens. He doesn’t make his excuses and walk away. He doesn’t just completely ignore me. He doesn’t ask me who I am. Instead he asks me a question. A question I have to ask him to repeat. Twice.
“Do you mean Hannah?”
Do I mean Hannah? Do I? I don’t know. I mean, I do know. I know I don’t mean Hannah. I know I mean Harriet. But this looks like an escape route. A small ray of light down a dark tunnel. I decide to take it.
“Hannah! Yes, not Harriet, I mean Hannah! How is she?”
6. Awkward Situation Three. “Ah, didn’t you hear?”
Oh. Bloody hell.
7. Goodbye. If you’ve never been in the situation where you’ve introduced yourself to a stranger only to be told that the stranger’s girlfriend is now dead, I urge you to avoid it. It is quite frankly the worst situation I have ever found myself in. And that includes my next-door neighbour’s garden when I was nine. It took me well over a decade before I was able to look at naked women again. (Mind you that wasn’t down to a lack of effort on my part). I didn’t quite know what to say. I think I just stared at Tom opened mouthed. I couldn’t quite believe it. I suspect we were only stood there for a few seconds not saying anything, but it could have been ten minutes. It’s all something of a blur. I could not quite believe how I had managed to find myself in this situation.
“Anyway,” began ‘Tom’, “I’m going to be late. Sorry just to burden you with that news. Give me a call. We’ll go for a beer.”
He held out his hand. I shook it.
“Yeah, that would be good,” I said, as he began to walk away. “Take care.”
And with that he was gone. I couldn’t call him. I couldn’t go for a beer with him. I didn’t have his number. I had no idea who he was. All I knew is he was a bloke who had once lost someone called Hannah. I headed off towards my meeting feeling a profound sense of sadness. It started raining harder. I held my Evening Standard above my head.