Friday, April 16, 2021

Chance Encounter by Jeff Jones

 There had been no indication that the day ahead was going to be special.

The weather was foul and by the time I had jostled my way under the crowded bus shelter, I was drenched and fed up.              

My fellow travellers were an eclectic mix of young mums, pensioners, teenagers, and a rather cute looking guy in his mid-twenties. My gaze had lingered on him longer than was decent.

            Suddenly feeling self-conscious, I began looking around for something to distract me, but Darren’s love for Claire proclaimed in purple graffiti on a nearby wall, didn’t cut it.  I decided to steal another glimpse and nonchalantly turned in the young man’s direction, jumping slightly when I found him standing right behind me.

            “Would you like to sit down?” He gestured towards the place on the plastic bench he had just vacated.

             “I’m fine.  Thanks anyway. The bus will be here soon.”  The words had tumbled out.  He had looked disappointed.

            “I’ve been telling myself that for about twenty minutes. Please, sit down.  You look as if you could use a rest.”

            It was only ten-thirty but apparently, I already looked knackered. “Okay, I will, thanks,” I’d replied.  Cute and good manners, this guy would be a great catch.  I silently wished my daughter Sarah could meet someone like him instead of the deadbeats she hung around with.  She never brought them home for me to meet and I was consequently left to formulate an opinion based on the snippets of information she occasionally dropped. 

            I looked up and saw that he was smiling at me again. Evidently, he had said something else and was patiently waiting for a response.  Embarrassed, I decided to come clean.  “I’m sorry I was miles away; what did you say?”

            “I was just saying what a lousy day it is.”

            “Yes, it was… is.”  I was behaving like a tongue-tied teenager.

            Seemingly satisfied, he glanced away.  “Finally!  Here comes the bus.”

            I followed his gaze and spotted the number 300 crawling through the mid-morning traffic, its windows steamed up and its windscreen wipers working overtime.  The people around me started to jockey for position, eyeing each other suspiciously for potential queue jumpers. 

            The bus pulled up and they started to board it.  Finally, it was our turn and I stepped back gesturing for the young man to go first.

            “No, please, after you,” he said.

            I climbed on board hoping there would be enough seats for everyone.  I didn’t want him to have to stand again just because he had been courteous.

            Thankfully, there had been two vacant places.  I sat down by an overweight woman who took up more than her fair share of the seat, whilst he had seated himself a little further forward. I spent the whole journey surreptitiously studying him.

Eventually the bus arrived at the town centre and as I rose to get off, I was delighted to see him get to his feet.  I crept forward until I was standing directly behind him and tapped him on the shoulder.  He smiled when he saw me.

“I just wanted to say thanks for giving up your seat back there, not all blokes would have done that,” I said.

“It was my pleasure.”

“Well thanks anyway, it’s nice to know that chivalry isn’t dead, just wounded.”

“No worries,” he said laughing.  “You have a nice day now,” he added before alighting.

“You too,” I replied, but he had already gone.

I’d aimlessly wandered around the shops for a couple of hours, totally preoccupied with thoughts of him.  Eventually, after a strong coffee and an even stronger self-rebuke, I reluctantly got on with the grocery shopping. What had I been thinking? There was no way a young guy like that would even give me a second thought.

Feeling dejected but with my feet firmly planted back in reality I had thought that was the end of it, until heading home later that day he had climbed aboard my bus and back into my life.  

Instead of trying to hide I felt myself sit up straight and tuck an errant strand of hair behind my ear.  What was I playing at? I quickly turned my head to look out of the window hoping he wouldn’t notice me.

“Hello, again.”

Too late.  “Oh, hi, how are you?” I had asked, feigning surprise.

“Mind if I sit down?”

Mind? My heart had practically jumped out of my chest with joy at the thought.  “No, please do.”

Then we talked.  In fact, we talked like old friends all the way back to the stop where it had all begun that morning.  He introduced himself as Mark and then proceeded to tell me all about himself.  He’d apparently been for an interview in town and thought it went well. 

“It’s a pity you don’t drive,” he had said nodding towards my shopping bags huddled around my feet, “that must be hard work?”

“Oh, I do, but my husband took the car when we split,” I blurted before I could stop myself.    

We got off at the same stop and despite my weak protestations, he insisted on carrying my bags all the way to my garden path. 

 “I wish my daughter could meet someone like you,” I said.

“Well if she’s half as nice as her mum, I’d be the lucky one,” he smiled back.

Trying to hide my blush, I thanked him again and hurried into my house. I could feel his eyes on me all the way.

“So, who was that, Mum?” Sarah slyly asked as she caught a glimpse of the back of a man’s head receding into the darkness.

“Just someone who was kind enough to help me with my bags.  A nice bloke, the sort you should be dating.”

“Sounds boring.  He wouldn’t last five minutes with me.”

“Probably not, more’s the pity.”

“Whatever.  By the way, I don’t need dinner as I’m out with Danny tonight.”

“Danny?  Which one is that?”

“You’ve not met him.”

“I don’t get to meet any of them.  What happened to the one you were seeing a few weeks ago?  He sounded nice for once.”

“A few weeks ago, could be several,” she giggled, “but if you mean who I think you mean, he’ll make some librarian a nice husband, but not me.” 


********


Over the next couple of weeks, I ventured into town far more often than I needed to in the hope of running into Mark, which I frequently did. He had got the job and was now working in the town centre and caught the same bus home every night.  I knew that I was behaving foolishly but was delighted and surprised when he tentatively asked me out for a drink one evening.  I had jumped at the chance, probably a little too eagerly.  Desperation will do that. My perseverance and frequent trips to the shops had paid off - I’d got my man - and a larder full of unnecessary groceries.

Despite our age difference our relationship flourished, and Mark gradually dragged me out of the dark hole I’d cowered in since my divorce. Every day with Mark was exciting and different and he made me feel ten years younger.

Eventually I dug up the courage to invite him round to meet Sarah and David, both of whom were keen to meet the man who’d had such a profound effect on their mum.  I was hoping they would overlook the age difference.  

I was getting ready upstairs when the door knocked.

“Sarah, would you get that for me?” 

“Okay.”  Sarah hurried downstairs to open the front door and was taken aback to find one of her many ex-boyfriends standing before her. The one her mum had said sounded nice. “Mark, I thought I’d made it clear that you’re a nice bloke, but not my type?”

“Er, hi, Sarah, yeah, you did,” replied Mark, equally startled.

“So, what are you doing here? I told you there was no chance of us getting back together.”

“I didn’t know it was your house.  You never invited me round remember?”

“Oh, yeah, right.  So, what do you want? My boyfriend will be here soon.”

“Actually, I was looking for...”

“He’s here for me,” I interjected from the bottom of the stairs, shocked by what I’d overheard.

“You mean…?” asked Sarah wide-eyed. “Boring, dull, do nothing Mark is your date?”

“Charming!” said Mark.

“Sorry.” She clearly didn’t mean it.

“Yes,” I replied. “Though that’s not how I would describe him.”

“Perhaps if you’d given me more of a chance rather than one awkward first date…” said Mark defensively.

A car pulled up and tooted its horn.  “That’s Danny,” Sarah stammered before hurrying down the path.

“Well that was awkward,” said Mark as he came in and kissed me.

 “Yes,” I replied, “but I think we’re over the worst of it.”

Behind us stood my teenage son. He was grinning broadly.

Maybe not then…

© Jeff Jones

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