Saturday Extra: Face to Face

I saw him in a bar, didn’t like the look of him at all, wasn’t what I was expecting. Hair a little too ragged, a little too long. He’d shaved but not well enough, a few strands and tufts punctuated the grey map of his lined face. The years had clearly not been kind to him. I sat next to him, pressed close to the wall. We eyed each other for a while. Both ordered drinks. Pints of Guinness. I wanted to study him quietly but kept glancing self-consciously away, any thoughts I mustered felt waterlogged, sluggish. So the conversation took a while to get going, and then it was little more than mutterings and whispers. We certainly didn’t impress one another with our sparkling wisdom and wit.
I’d liked him when we were growing up, been impressed whenever I saw him. Figured this guy was going a long way. Going to be somebody, make it somewhere. But the person I was looking at now told a very different story. I had to squint a little to catch any glimpse of that previously promising youth. Much water under that bridge, and plenty of litter in the water too. I wasn’t sure this was someone I’d want in my life now. But I had little choice. He was here. Unless I did something drastic I’d be stuck with him. The options collided in my mind. Everything from makeover to murder. We started to make plans.

There was wisdom in his gaze, I spotted that now, wisdom and experience. There was a moment when we locked eyes and I caught sight of the pain, the laughter, the disappointments and wonder, the dark moments and the years of struggle. A jigsaw of light and shade, the pieces of his life scattered and untidy. But he’d clearly learnt a thing or two. So we scribbled on a couple of beer mats and made identical plans. We would not be the same. We couldn’t conjure the bright-eyed, headstrong, bullet proof youths, they were long gone, but perhaps we could carve something else from the debris left behind. It wasn’t easy or straightforward, felt like a kind of wrestling. A serious struggle. But we kept at it. And as we scribbled I got the distinct impression that we were not alone, that another figure hovered, willing us on. Instilling an extra edge, silently applauding the fresh purpose that welled within us. Supplying a kind of strength.

We didn’t make a bucket list, that would have been too final, but we did lift our sights and gather a ‘let’s make the living a little more worthwhile’ kind of thing. Ways of appreciating, relishing, even celebrating the good moments, while shunning one or two of the bad ones, as we grasped at life’s little straws. By the time we’d finished the grey pallor had faded a little from his face. There was a glimmer of light in his eyes. We sighed and raised the dregs of our pints. We could do this. We could start over. Move on from the past. I drained my drink, as he did, while he took one more glance at me, and me at him. I scooped up my keys, took one last look in that long mirror, nodded a farewell at myself, and left.

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