I’m not the kind of person who is ever lonely.
I’m often alone, but never lonely. The first thirteen years of my life I was an only child & one perk of that is I’m comfortable in my own company.
I’ll happily travel, sit with a coffee or eat in a restaurant on my own. Other people seem to think that‘s strange. I’ve realised other people can see a solitary person & assume they want company.
On Twitter recently, a young man boasted that he saw an older woman eating on her own & he decided to keep her company. There were accompanying photos of the smug git & a grimacing woman who didn’t look as though she was enjoying the interaction (perhaps I was reading too much into it). He advised that people should eat with a stranger & learn their story.
I thought how bloody awful that actually sounds.
That‘s the problem, some people just don’t realise the difference between alone & lonely. That’s why I’m usually carrying a book on me, either to read or to write in. My book is my first line of defence against unwanted conversations. Pick up a book & most people see that as a sign that the reader doesn’t want to be disturbed.
Although some people see it as an opening to a conversation. Especially if they have read or are planning to read that particular book.
Over ten years ago now, I was at a bus station, buried in a book, when I felt eyes on me. Against my better judgement I looked up. There was an older gentleman with a walking stick sidling towards me.
He towered above me & pointed at my bag on the seat beside me.
‘If you don’t mind.’
I wouldn’t have minded, but we were in a bus station with around 30 free seats. I obliged anyway because that’s just the kind of person I am.
‘I prefer Jude the Obscure,’ he pointed at my book. I was forcing myself to read Thomas Hardy as my other half liked him. ‘I used to be an English teacher before I retired.’
Here we go, I thought. I looked up at him & painfully smiled. The man had more than a passing resemblance to an older Peter O’Toole. He was at least seventy, or a very hard-wearing late sixties. He was handsome, though terribly gaunt & impeccably dressed in a three piece tweed suit. His face was weathered, but mostly through laughter lines around two twinkling blue eyes that dazzled with mischief.
It wasn’t hard to imagine that he was quite attractive when he was a young man. However, at that moment, I was only aware of how close he was. I could feel his breath on my face, I edged away a little but he leaned closer.
‘In fact I was a teacher around here in the sixties,’ he took my silence as a signal to continue. ‘At the all girls school. I got sacked though. I borrowed a sports car, a convertible type, for the afternoon. Took the secretary out for a ride in it without a chaperone. Well, let’s just say the headmaster insisted I married her after that & I didn’t much want to so they asked me to leave. Bit backward around here in those days. Still, I did some damage though.’ He daydreamed for a moment or two.
‘Did you go to the girls school?’ I shook my head, book still open in hope he’d give up on our one sided conversation. ‘I was at the seaside today. Not been in a while. Was meeting my son, he just got married. He bought himself one of those Thai brides. Lovely girl, lovely. Don’t get me wrong, I‘d buy one myself but I just don’t like the thought of paying for it.’
I didn’t really know what to say, so I continued in my silence.
‘My son, he’s not like me,’ he gestured to his chest. ‘Takes after his mother. She looked like a potato. When I think of all the beautiful women I’ve had…’ He trailed off for a minute. ‘Had to marry that one. No choice in the matter. The damage was done. Yes, he takes after his mother. Both of them look like potatoes. That‘s why he had to buy a wife. This Thai bride can barely speak English, although that’s not necessarily a bad thing, & he says she can do all sorts in the sack.’
I felt a little sick. I looked around at the bus terminals, nothing there. I checked the time, at least twenty minutes til my bus left.
‘I wouldn’t mind that. I can tell you, I’d still do some damage. I would. I‘d still do some damage in the right bed.’ He performed a slow wink. ‘What about you, a nice looking girl like you must be courting someone at the moment?’
Without waiting for a reply, he launched into a story about a red-haired woman he once dated, who turned out not to be a natural redhead. Just as the story was reaching it’s climax of how he discovered she wasn’t naturally ginger, a bus pulled up at one of the other terminals & I jumped up.
‘That’s my bus,’ I grabbed my bag & book to leave. As I did, he grabbed me by the hand & kissed it. Not on the back of the hand like a gentleman but between the palm of my hand & my wrist. It was moist, soft & made every one of my hairs stand on end. I felt like a cat whose had their fur rubbed the wrong way.
I did the only thing I could think of, which was run as fast as I could to the bus & jumped on.
‘Can you please take me to the next bus stop?’ I begged the driver, luckily he had seen the interaction with the kiss on the hand & was kind enough to let me on free of charge. Not without having a bit of a laugh at my expense.
That exchange has stayed with me from that day until this.
Well, it would, wouldn’t it?