The other day, while out running some rather domestic errands, I happened to notice an old friend at the neighbourhood vegetable shop. Now, I did need to buy veggies, but I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to meet this person. I hadn’t seen him or his wife in almost a year, and in the way these things happen, friends became acquaintances and became finally, a phone number one hardly ever dialled anymore.
I could have stopped at some other place; I didn’t. I parked my car and went and said hello. Through the inane conversation that followed (So how are you guys? What are you doing these days? You still in your old place? Come over some time, na? I heard about you from xyz) I was kicking myself for having put myself in a position that, though not uncomfortable, I could have comfortably avoided.
We sidestepped a lot of things one could have said that would put a different complexion on the dialogue: how come you two don’t call any more? You changed your number and didn’t tell me? And so on.
And I asked myself why, when I had that second’s chance to change my mind and go elsewhere, I stopped.
Just as a digression – it occurred to me that this used to happen in school and college a lot: you hung out with a certain set of people and a few months later, for reasons you never articulated, you’d pass those same people in a corridor and not even say hello or smile. They might have been total strangers, people whose names you didn’t even know.
Sometimes, though, the people you studiously ignore or are carefully polite to, used to be very close friends. But for one reason or another, that friendship is no longer a given; and then, you are faced with a choice – avoid them entirely, or make PC when you meet them accidentally.
This person at the vegetable shop was not a very close friend, so it ought to have been easy to make that PC and get out. What made the experience an annoying one was, the second I said hello, I knew that what I really wanted to do was make the other choice, the one I did not make.
And I’m wondering if this person was saying to himself, after we said goodbye, I wish I’d gone out a little earlier I wish I’d been in the next shop where she couldn’t see me.
Only, his wishes – had he made them at all – would have depended on blind chance. I had a choice.