Thursday, May 28, 2009
I met B. and M. nine years ago. B. was all by himself, an American tourist eating his meals in the restaurant I worked in. M. was in a hospital near to the restaurant.
The couple's flight home to the United States had been diverted when M. suffered a heart attack on board, and an emergency landing placed them in Ireland.
They were far from home and family, and the threads of comfort were sparse; I gave B. a get-well card along with the evening menu.
Soon B. invited me to visit M. I walked to the hospital after an evening shift and spent a little time. When I said goodbye I promised to stay in touch. On the back of that single chance encounter we write letters to one another, have maintained correspondence for almost a decade even after I moved to the United States.
So I was understandably thunderstruck last week when I glanced up from my meal in a restaurant in Maine and observed two diners that I thought were my old friends.
Maine is not my habitat. Neither is it theirs- but it looked for all the world like the pair I met once, years ago. I have never had a photograph of B. and M. and I rely on my visual memory in order to picture them.
My plate was soon clean and the moment to leave drew closer. I agonised over what to do. If I was wrong, how utterly humiliating! If I was right, it would provide the most perfect moment imaginable. I weighed the risks:
"It is them. What a waste if I don't stop and say hello!"
"It isn't them. They'll give me ugly stares and reduce me to a foolish scrap if I dare to think the world could be so conveniently small and tidy."
"Are you B.?" I imagined myself saying as I swept past the table. "Are you M.? It's me!"
And how fitting that I would once again approach B. in a restaurant!
Before I knew what was happening I was on the street outside the restaurant. The opportunity had shrivelled and I had exited the building without pausing to take my chances.
"What am I doing out here?" I wailed, but too late.
It might have been my friends, and it might not. But this I am sure of: after going to enormous lengths to avoid embarrassment, it was all for naught- I still suffered every pang of foolishness I dreaded.
I will have to write to M. and ask her directly- and wield my pen with all the bravery I could not muster when it mattered.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 8:00 AM