I had a weird encounter at lunch today, and it was entirely self-inflicted. I am so completely embarrassed at myself I can’t even. It’s not the actual encounter, or the error, it’s the masochistic perpetration of both that I can’t quite get my head around. I put it down to being “terribly English” which is the excuse I usually deploy to console myself when I behave like an irredeemable knob but when I was told my partner what had happened, H was like “no dude, that’s not English, that’s just you.”
Here’s what happened.
I was in the queue at my favourite deli and the woman next to me accidentally hustled a bit close. Apologies were exchanged in the usual fashion and, as I looked at her, I was conscious of a sense of recognition. She looked like the wife of my friend J, or rather she looked like the wife of my friend J if I hadn’t seen her for about two years, which was about right considering they moved down to London about two years ago, and although I’ve met up with J since, I haven’t seen her.
“Oh hi!” I trilled, seeing recognition light up her face in return. “How are you?”
“Great! How are you?”
“Great! I thought you’d moved to London?”
Small frown. “Um, no, still living here.”
And that was when I realised, I had no fucking clue who this woman was. And, yes, she looked a bit like J’s wife, which was why she seemed familiar, but she was not, in fact, J’s wife. Or the wife of anybody I knew. In short: a complete and total stranger.
And that was when I had my second realisation: she didn’t have a fucking clue who I was either.
Except … we’d sort of mutually pantomimed recognition and, indeed, delight. So we were stuck with it, and each other, in this deli queue, clutching our pots of peculiarly delicious curried tofu (it is that sort of deli – it takes food that should be totally wrong, like the gluten free brownie, and makes it inexplicably delightful).
And it was just awful, the way we just built up this appalling fiction that we knew each other quite well, because it was marginally less awkward than the alternative.
So I’d be like “And are you still at …?” (doing that vocal lift at the end of my sentence) and she’d be like “Archaeology, but no, I’ve moved on.” And then I’d ask the sort of questions a concerned friend would ask about a new job. And then I’d Sherlock Holmes the fact she had a wedding ring and I’d be “So how’s….?” (vocal lift) and she’d be “John. Oh he’s fine.”
And so on. And so forth.
And as it went on I could see the screams trapped in her eyes, probably reflecting the screams trapped in mine, and I kept thinking to myself: For God’s sake, AJH, just admit it, save yourself, save this woman, all you have to say is: “we don’t actually know each other, do we?”
Except I couldn’t. I don’t know why, but I couldn’t. It just felt socially and personally impossible.
So we parted company about ten excruciating minutes later, swapping vague intentions to meet up again soon.
Two total strangers performing the ritual of social avoidance that is the non-specific coffee date.
Why? Just. God. Why?
What is wrong with me?