Brief Encounter

At the party in Aberdeen on Saturday night, the woman in the silver-grey dress touched glasses and said “Cheers.”

“Cheers.”

“That is not how you say ‘cheers’.  You must look deeply into my eyes, as I do into yours.”

“Cheers.”

“Cheers.”

Thus, she hypnotised me.

She was very direct.  “Are you married?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Because I have zero emotional intelligence.”

“Were you ever married?”

“I cohabited.”

“What happened?”

“She saw through me.”

“That’s bad.”  It occurred to me that that was a line directly out of Notting Hill.  Julia Roberts said it to Hugh Grant.  Are we condemned to speak nothing but second-hand movie scripts?   I added, “But I’m impossible to live with.”

And although that is clearly a self-indulgent and therefore despicable utterance, there is some truth in it.  The fact is that since adolescence I have been irresistibly drawn to solitude.  I first became aware of it at a school badminton club on a Friday night when I would quietly withdraw from play, disappear into the school music room, Room 7, and play my viola.  I was happy to play unaccompanied Bach.

She continued, “What do you do?”

“I’m a doctor.”  No surprise there.  This party was crawling with medics.  “But I’m in abeyance.”

“Retired?”

“On sabbatical.”  After all, I still get the PTSD nightmares.  The profession still has me.

“You don’t look old enough to be retired.”  I took that as a tremendous compliment.   “How do you spend your time?”

“I write.”

She looked quizzical.  I explained, “I was lucky enough to win a literary competition, and won a contract for three books.  Two are published, and I’m working on the third.”  Suddenly she looked interested.  I wondered if being a published author was like being a rock star.

“What sort of books?”

“They are called crime fiction, but I prefer to think of them as psychological thrillers.  They concern a young doctor who is emotionally labile.”

“Labile?”

“Troubled.”

“Like you?”

It was impossible to evade her directness.  “Yes.”

“Why are you troubled?”

“If I knew the nature of my trouble, it would cease to be troubling.”

“Tell me about your last date.”

“It was in New Zealand.  I was driving around Northland and I stopped one night in a camp site just north of Dargaville.  A very beautiful woman sat in the lotus position alone by her tent.  She had long fair hair in a ponytail.  Her head was buried in a book.  I thought to myself, “Charming.”

Shortly afterwards I was busying myself about my campervan and became aware of a presence.  I looked up.  It was Keet.  (Pronounced Kate.  She was Dutch.)

“Where are you going tomorrow?”  Her English was perfect.

“Auckland.”

“Will you take me with you?”

I shrugged.  An affectation.  “Yes.”

We travelled, and spent a pleasant day.  The conversation was wide ranging.  She was 22.  As with so many people from the Netherlands, her linguistic skills were remarkable.  She said, “I’m thinking of learning Maori; it looks pretty easy.”  She loved English Literature, from Chaucer to Eliot.  I remember we had a conversation about the Canterbury Tales.  Can you imagine having a conversation like this with somebody from a foreign country?  We talked of the Latin tag, “Amor vincit omnia” – Love conquers all things.  I had always thought of that as a benison; two people in love face all adversity with courage and fortitude because they know their mutual love will see them through.  But Keet saw it in a different way.  Love was not a benison, it was a curse.  It undermined you, weakened your resolve.   Specifically, Love would impede your ability to serve the state.  You would be unable to wage war.

We drove down the west side of the Hauraki Gulf and lunched in Clevedon, on the periphery of South Auckland.  I said, “Where can I drop you off?”

“Where are you going?”

I mentioned the name of a Top 10 Campervan site in South Auckland, near to Ardmore Airport, out of which I was going to do some flying.

“I will come there also.”

That evening, we shared a bottle of wine, and chatted some more.  I thought, “What’s the Agenda here?”

I said to her, “You didn’t half take a chance, coming up to a middle aged guy and asking for a ride.”

“What is life without chances?”

I didn’t tell the woman in Aberdeen that I’ve developed a bad habit of talking to myself.  I wander about city streets and remonstrate with myself.

“You bloody idiot.”

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