Few would deny the awkwardness of bumping into someone you’d rather not. Not even, necessarily, somebody you dislike: perhaps it’s a colleague on the bus, and you are tired. Or it’s a friend of a friend; likable but loquacious. It’s an ex. Oh God, it’s an ex.
But the discomfort of hoping your neighbour from four years ago doesn’t notice you in a doctor’s waiting room can be matched only by the pleasure of a serendipitous meeting of an old acquaintance walking her dog or – this happened to me – spotting a school friend, by chance, on the other side of the world.
These days we have more means of communication than ever. And yet, often it can feel as though we are living through a time of scant true connection. We are always in touch. But that’s it, really – just a touch. A grazing of interrelation. A cycle of hi-and-bye. Read receipts, but not necessarily a taking-in of information.
What a joy, what a bonus, to run into someone one hasn’t seen in an age. Someone with whom drinks have had to be rearranged and postponed, seemingly in perpetuity. It’s like finding a fiver, except you know the person on the note.
I love people. I do. (Not all of them. Some of those who sit on green benches, in particular, I would be less keen to share a lift with.) But there are many people in my life with whom I am thrilled to share encounters: core friends, or those on the periphery. And when it is people I haven’t seen in a while, whom I regret falling out of contact with – well, it’s almost a miracle. The universe gift-wrapping a moment.
Before mobile phones, even arranged meet-ups were a kind of bumping into people. Meet in this place, at this time. Scanning the crowds outside the cinema or packed cafe, at 1pm. That brief anticipation of seeking recognition rather than a text reading: “Here.”
Sometimes, I lie awake at night and wonder where certain people are at that exact time. My first love. The clan of amazing people I lived with when I was abroad, who took me in and fed me pelmeni. What are the chances of suddenly being in the same location, at the strike of the clock?
The distant cousin of the unplanned meet is realising that you and another will be in nearby places at similar times, and deciding to slightly alter itineraries to meet in the middle. But it’s even better meeting in the middle when neither of you had any idea it was the middle. See you soon. Hopefully.