(Fatoumata Diawara - Clandestin)
When he came and sat down on my bench, I pointedly looked at all the other empty benches dotted along the path through the park. When he looked sideways at me, I thought great, just my luck. The one lunchtime that I can get out of work and have half an hour without phones and people and emails, and some nutter decides to come and sit next to me so he can bore me about whatever it is he’s obsessing about at the moment.
I should have known, really. It happens to me all the time, on trains, on buses, in cafes. I have a powerful magnetic attraction which draws the strange and bewildered to come and sit next to me and tell me what troubles them. I must have that kind of face. I’ve tried cultivating other kinds of face, but it doesn’t make any difference and probably makes me look like the maddest person in the room anyway. My friends tell me that it’s because these people sense a kindred spirit, ha ha, not heard that one before.
He looked at me again, and I thought oh God, what if he’s not mad? What if he’s trying to pick me up? Don’t get me wrong, I’m all live and let live, and frankly if anyone was interested I could find some small ego boost in that, even if they’re not my particular cup of tea. But now I had to deal with the horror of the social niceties of saying no, thank you, but please don’t be offended by my rejection and it’s not because I’m a homophobe because I’m not, I have extensive liberal credentials and some of my best friends are…
But he solved the problem for me, because he stole one more sideways look, stood up, and walked away. I breathed a sigh of relief, and then I have to admit, I felt a little annoyed. What was wrong with me? I’m not particularly attractive but to be frank, neither was he and I thought he could do a lot worse. I shook my head, looked at my watch. Nearly time to go back to work. He’d left his newspaper on the bench so I picked it up to have something to read on the train home, and a CD fell out of the folded paper and on to my lap. I thought it was one of those ones they are forever giving away, but it had nothing printed on it, and was obviously homemade. Hope it’s nothing he’ll miss, I thought, and I put it in my pocket because there might be something on it which was important, and some contact information which would help me reunite it with its owner. And because I’m nosy and have no shame.
I walked the other way out of the park, and just when I got round the lake I passed a man sat on a bench. I noticed him because the whole situation was quite amusing. He looked a bit like me, same little goatee, same thinning hair, a very similar colour suit, although his was better cut. I also noticed him because when he looked up at me, he stared at the newspaper under my arm, and then I didn’t see whether he kept looking, because I looked straight ahead, and I walked straight ahead, and I walked out of the park thinking oh my god, oh my god, what have I got in my pocket?