It has been something of a busy old week. What with working and bake-sale-ing and London-ing and international travelling, this week was in short precisely that sort one does not wish to contemplate ever occurring when setting oneself a weekly challenge. Ideas for new things I had a few, a few fewer I started, and fewer still (that is to say, none) was I able to carry through. Wednesday dawned, the mid-week milestone, and my despair at fitting in a new thing, anything, became acute.
Which was when an opportunity quite literally fell into my lap.
Picture the scene: I am sitting on a crowded tube train, minding my own business, happily wiling away the minutes with some serious literature. My handbag and laptop bag and vital third bag-for-all-other-things are securely draped over different limbs and my cloche hat is pulled down low over my eyes. A wall of loud, lanky teenagers shields me from most fellow passengers, or rather them from me, and those not thus conveniently blocked out I am ignoring with all the skill of an old Londoner: that breed who knows how to be utterly alone in the most crowded of confined spaces.
I was not on this occasion however allowed to maintain the fiction of my isolation. The outside world intruded, in the form of a man who suddenly broke through the wall from the crowd beyond, thrust a business card into my hand saying “this is for you”, and with a magician’s skill vanished back again whence he came. I had not noticed him before, I did not see him again afterwards, and in the brief second it took him to hand me his missive I had time only to establish that he was tall and fair.
And of course to deduct from his intrusive behaviour that he was not a Londoner.
The card has a cartoon illustration of a girl being assaulted by butterflies on one side and details of the Japanese artist responsible for this alarming vision on the other. Upon this reverse was also scrawled by hand a gentleman’s name, his telephone number and the words “please give me a call”.
Now, last year’s me would never have dreamed of so much as considering acquiescing to this request. Last year’s me was the me who automatically said “no” whenever asked out by any gentleman stranger, before even stopping to consider whether going out with a stranger mightn’t be a good thing to do. Last year’s me was still the me who may have once stood the odd gentleman stranger up if I was ever bold enough to say “yes”.
But, for one year only, I am this year’s me, a me who tries new things, and one thing I have categorically never done before is rung up a gentleman stranger.
My decision to indeed call was not purely mercantile, that is, not based entirely on my need for a blog. I also wanted to call him out of genuine curiosity, to find out why he wanted to talk to me on the phone but hadn’t wanted to in person. Of course, when a man gives a woman his phone number the woman’s first conclusion is that his intentions are romantic or predatory – what presumption! Perhaps I was being recruited into MI6. Perhaps he wanted me to model for his Japanese artist friend. Perhaps I was finally going to Hogwarts – better 15 years late than never. Or perhaps he just really liked my hat.
So, that evening I gave the number a call. Straight to answer machine. I waited a half hour or so and called again. Straight to answer machine. Damn the man, the one time I opt for proactivity I was to be denied a beneficiary. Where is he? Is he calling his wife? Has he lost his phone? Or is he still riding round and round the Circle Line, dropping his cards into the laps of easily-flattered females?
I did at least establish one thing from my evening’s endeavours: judging by the language of his answer-machine message, my mystery man was German. Now I only speak one language other than English, and German it happens to be. So either the gentleman has an exceptionally good ger-dar, or it’s kismet. Either way, I felt compelled to give this master of disappearance one more chance, and so I tried again the next day. At last, my call was answered and the tantalising and fantastical possibilities of a mystery unsolved dispelled.
He’s not a spy. He’s not a crime lord, or a talent scout, or a wizard.
He’s an art-lover, a visitor from Berlin, and his intentions were romantic. Which, as nice as that is, was a revelation almost disappointing for its lack of originality. His reason for approaching me was, it transpires, a predictable desire to meet me (“again” – I must have missed the previous occasion on which we met), and because his, in hindsight, rather sinister observation of me from afar had convinced him that I too was an art-lover. So I was right: it must be the hat.