by Maria Ilona Moore
You don’t tend to just bump into people you know in London. It’s not like living in a small town, where familiar faces are everywhere and you’re certain to see someone you know, often when you don’t want to. But occasionally it does happen, and the rarity of the moment fills it with false meaning.
It has to mean something. It must be significant. This. Is. Fate.
Even more so when you haven’t seen someone for years and then you’re seated next to them in a busy restaurant in central.
A few months ago, I’m walking down a crowded street in Angel and I see a childhood friend walking towards me. A childhood friend who I have not seen since we were about ten. I am so overcome with MEANING that I stop. Nostalgia floods my system and that familiar pang of what-could-have-been gnaws at me.
I recognise her because she looks the same as she did when we were younger, albeit nearly a decade older. She seems so familiar and it’s strange to think I don’t actually know her now. I wonder if I look the same, or if I wear the passing years differently. Would she recognise me? Does she even remember me?
I wonder what the etiquette of the situation is. Does a childhood friendship count as knowing someone, or are we just strangers now? Does a friendship evolve backwards once it ends?
“I wonder if I look the same, or if I wear the passing years differently. Would she recognise me? Does she even remember me?”
I imagine walking over to her, catching up on the last fifteen years or so, and in doing so reverting back to the friendship we were certain would last forever.
In an instant, I’m a child again.
I feel the excitement of a sleepover. Evenings drawn out into mornings by chats, laughter and sugar. We’d chew on strawberry laces and half-melted Cadbury’s as we spun stories and imagined our future. Huddled in sleeping bags, hair tangled on pillows, packed four to a bed or turning a floor into a cosy wonderland. It was pure comfort.
Or the thrill of a school trip, whispering secrets to each other as the bus chugged its way to our destination. We told fortunes with carefully crafted paper squares, predicting marriages, children, houses, jobs – things we didn’t understand or even know if we wanted yet, but we’d been told that that these things were the future.
Now, I rush my commute home on automatic, but then, walks home through the park were epic adventures. Every corner yearning to be explored, and we saw signs and codes in every scrawled graffiti or discarded shopping list. We ran from made-up villains and constructed elaborate tales about our neighbours. In autumn we collected pocketfuls of glossy conkers and in summer we turned daisies into crowns.
Then, there was the climbing frame that seemed like a mountain. We reached the top, triumphant, planting our imaginary flag and peering down at the tiny figures of our classmates down below. After swimming lessons on Fridays, we held our ears in the shower and closed our eyes, it sounded like being in a rainforest, we thought. Then when we were dried and dressed, we shared a pack of pickled onion Monster Munch, which we chose from the vending machine each week without fail.
Mostly I remember the way our friendship felt like forever. Back then, there was no question that we might not be friends one day. It seemed impossible that we might simply drift apart, that we might, through distance or laziness or whatever it is, lose contact bit by bit, until the bonds we built start to wash away, until finally we lose contact and we might as well be strangers. Back then I couldn’t imagine a future without my best friend, couldn’t believe that I’d make new friends, couldn’t picture a life without her.
Back in the present, my feet are firmly planted on a London pavement. Someone knocks me and my friend (or my ex-friend? or this girl who is basically a stranger?) walks past me, talking to her friend (her actual friend), apparently oblivious. All I want is to catch up with her. To say, ‘Hey! How are you? We used to be best friends.’
But of course I don’t. Because I’m awkward and she might not recognise me anyway. And because there’s nothing to say except that time has passed and we no longer know each other. So she turns the corner and I carry on, left with a dose of missed serendipity and feeling vaguely like a stalker.