I leave work in the direction of Waitrose. This takes me past a cashpoint, the queue for which spans the pavement. Last in line – I notice him at once, impossible not to – is a tall, dark, beautiful man, probably mid-twenties. Spanish perhaps, or Italian? German maybe, like Max: they have the same dark hair and tanned complexion, but the stranger’s eyes are dark brown where Max’s were a clear blue. As I pass, our eyes meet for a second. I look away, and back – our eyes meet again. Laughing to, or at, myself, I keep walking. Obviously.
On the threshold of the shop I glance back in the direction from which I’ve come. He’s still queuing; even at this distance I can make out the furrowed brow, and slightly anxious stance. A tourist, probably. It tends to be the case round here; and in long shorts and navy polo shirt, he’s not dressed like a local. For a moment I wonder if I really need to go to Waitrose. If I do, when I retrace my steps, as I must in order to get to the station, he might not be there. I hit myself over the head, metaphorically speaking, and cross the threshold.
Inside I make for the coffee machine. As the milk froths and the coffee drips, I start thinking about something else, food probably. Gently, I place the lid on the cup and head to the tills. No queue. Headphones unhooked, I hand over my card.
‘What have you got?’
Quick scan, card back.
‘Have a good night.’
It’s only as I emerge onto the pavement that I remember the man at the cashpoint. I look down the street. His height, and the dark navy of his shirt, gives him away at once. He hasn’t moved from his position on the pavement, except that now he is facing away from the cashpoint. As I walk towards him, headphones in hand, he turns to look in my direction. I’m still some distance away. I glance down, and back up. He’s still there, still looking.
The distance between us shortens too quickly. I don’t have a plan; of course I don’t, this whole thing is ridiculous. The man is gorgeous, and I’m wearing running shoes. The rest of the outfit is OK I guess, and my mascara is freshly applied, but still, what planet am I on?
Yards shorten to feet. He is still looking, and as I approach, our eyes meet once again. In his face, impossibly beautiful, I can see the beginnings of a smile. It startles me, and before I know it I too start to smile. We are two strangers on the sidewalk, smiling at each other. And then I look down.
For the next hour or so, I walk, through Green Park, along Piccadilly, up Shaftesbury Avenue. I walk at first in a bubble of joy, detached from reality. But later, as I pass from the quiet of the park to the bustling life of theatre land, I start to look at my fellow pedestrians, examine their faces: tired, vacant, anxious, strained. Occasionally there is eye contact, but not once, in the sea of faces, a flicker of recognition or warmth. And none, none are so beautiful.