I WAS in far too good a mood. The sun had been shining, and my working day had been almost entirely bump-free apart from the usual vending machine issues.
The issues? Well, it is one of those vending machines which fail in every way. It does not want my money. And when I somehow get it to accept my money, it refuses to give me the item I wish to buy. I am not sure if it is incompetence or snootiness. Nevertheless, I chose not to let it bother me.
I walked through town towards my bus stop, drinking in the sun, though not drinking anything else because of the aforementioned vending machine issues.
It was one of those days where it felt good to be alive, and not just because of the alternative. Fresh leaves were on the trees, the pavement cafes were filled with decorative and sappy young people, and even the vapours from the robofags being puffed on by escapee office workers smelled of butterscotch and lemon drops.
There was a woman at the bus stop I thought I recognised, which is unusual for me. I am awful with faces. And names, as it happens. And cars. I would make a poor crown court witness. “It was definitely a person,” I would say, “beyond that I can tell you nothing other than he made off in a red brum brum. Or it might have been purple. Or she, come to think of it.”
I stared at the bus stop woman in puzzlement – had I worked with her, I wondered? Do I currently work with her? Had I met her at a party? I’m never invited to parties; it couldn’t be that.
But the cheeriness engendered in me by the pleasant day had made me sloppy, and made me drop my natural caution. I had stared for about a second too long. And now she was looking right back at me, with a gaze which said, “Who do you think you’re looking at, you four-eyed sleaze?”
“Argh,” I thought. “I still have no idea who you are and now you have caught me staring at you, which was very much not my intention. I know, I will pretend to be looking past you. Yes, if I act “naturally”, there is no way you will think I was staring at you, which, yes, I admit I was, but not in a way which would get me in trouble with HR if it turns out I do actually work with you. Oh, please come, bus. Please come right now.”
And, as if by magic, it did arrive. And I could have made a plausible case that I was definitely looking past the woman to check the number on its front if it ever came to court.
We both boarded it – because life is never easy – and we sat down, with me as far away from her as possible. I stared at my phone. It was for the best.
But somebody said something funny on Twitter, and it made me smile broadly. It was so funny that I could have written “LOL” in response, even though technically that would have been a lie, and I forgot for a moment that I was supposed to be looking down. I looked up, beaming, just as she turned around.
“Great”, I thought. “First I stared at her in an unnerving way, and now I have flashed her a big grin. I might as well just hand myself in at the police station.” I kept my head down. Again.
The bus approached my stop, and I flew to my feet, whooshing past the woman. At least she wasn’t getting off at the same stop…
She stood up and followed me off the bus, in fact, if not in intention. This was an unwelcome if predictable development.
I ducked into a mini-mart near the bus stop to prove to her, once and for all, that I was not a malevolent stalker. I didn’t need anything, but it was a useful hiding place until it all blew over.
But then I remembered I needed some milk. Oh, and some washing-up liquid.
And as I reached for the washing-up liquid so did the woman from the bus stop.
“Gah!” I said. And then my mouth said, before my brain could stop it, “We must stop meeting like this.”
I have no idea what I was thinking. I blame it on the sun.
She regarded me with befuddlement. I suspect she did not recognise me.