January 11, 2014, by Eve
The old home neighbourhood – a place full of memories, familiar coffee shops and people from school who you know, well the you-know-sort-of-but-kind-of-not-really-know-but-sat-next-to-them-in-class people.
When you do run into these people you experience a strange feeling – nostalgia mixed with panic. You could act cool, a brief ‘Hi. How are you? Cool. Bye’ routine of casual politeness and mild interest. Or you could take the completely opposite approach: enthusiastic, eager and annoying.
I was on my way to meet some friends for coffee and I was a tad early. I lingered in the door of a boutique, one of the dozen little shops selling cute, pointless silly things like ‘how to be fabulous’ and ‘a guide to being a domestic goddess (for mummys)’.
In a slow hazy way I realised I was staring at such a person as has been previously described. I smiled (I hope it was a nice smile, rather than a hesitant quiver of the face, which, knowing my face, it probably was) and raised a hand. A wave? A sault? I’m not entirely sure.
What then followed was an odd battle between body and brain. I performed a strange imitation of the hokey-cokey – right leg in, right leg out- before deciding to go forwards and say hello.
My spring into the shop had been a little too enthusiastic. It was the kind of spring which ends in a hug but I could tell this wasn’t the right thing to do and so I ended up doing a shrugging-two-handed-wave sort of thing, weighing up the air with both hands.
Then came the conversation. I’ve come to realise that I’m not exactly adept at conversation. Speaking means I don’t have much time for thinking and then I try and be funny but end up only saying half the joke out loud.
‘Going for a coffee – but awkwardly –too early. Ops. Thought I’d just look around pointless shops to pass the time. Why not? Love this shop.’
Poor girl was probably completely embarrassed by me. She would have been happy with a quick bye-and-hi but no, not with me, you get an awkward, limp attempt to propel some form of conversation.
Me: ‘Home for holidays? Holidays? Uni?’
Her: ‘I live in London. I’m going to Uni in London.’
Me: ‘Great. I’m at Nottingham. Isn’t it weird? Being back – er – going past school? Weird.’
Her: ‘Well, my sister’s still there so it’s not that weird.’
Me: ‘I’ve got a sister! Yes, she’s still there too. So, no, not that weird. No not weird.’
I kept asking pointless questions, pushing forwards a conversation which had fallen, sadly to the ground on my first ‘Hello’. It was like trying to put on those pyjama bottoms which have lost their elastic – every time I try to pull them up, they fall down. Limply.
At last, in a panic, I realised I needed to stop the conversation but I also realised I couldn’t leave with her or we’d end up going the same way – maybe she was going for coffee too! So I ended up telling her to leave – ‘right! Go. Go on. On with your day. I’ll just… go on. Out.’
And the poor girl left the shop.
I realised I’d accidently mentioned my motive for coming in the shop out loud so, after pretending to examine some bracelets, I made a run for it.
Oh social correctness, an issue as complex and potent now as in the Victorian era!
Next time I’ll try not to act like a bean. I could pretend to be on my phone. Or pretend I’ve gone blind, so they’ll have to start the convo if they really want to. Maybe I should acquire a dog for such an occasion. But I don’t really like dogs. Maybe I should get a guide-cat.
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