I am a man with a faltering faith in the story of his own destiny, but like a salmon following its instincts, I attempt the waterfall of life because that is the basic expectation. Apart from working, I get through my day by a system of manners and an acceptance of my lot which some people call “character” and others “fatalism,” depending on their point of view. All good and bad, you know the score, and so it would have continued if something like connection had not lifted its skirt and flashed a beguiling glimpse of thigh at a man parched of every nuance of intimacy.
The conversation was innocuous enough: we both liked the same kind of bread, and she was the cashier at the shop where I purchased it. “Life on this planet would cease to be as we know it if they stopped making this bread” I told her, and, amazingly she replied, “I know. I love it too, the seeds the texture, that maltiness.” Astonished by this shared passion I continued, “Even without butter it speaks to me. Just the texture and those seeds: yes. It’s so amazing,” Again she agreed.
I am past my prime, and just beginning to discover what chronic ill health means when mixed with declining vigour but a primal longing surfaced from inside me and, noticing she had no wedding ring, I asked her, “Are you married or involved in a long term relationship involving catering and moments of intimacy?” Her face changed colour somewhat, and became slightly “Arch” if you follow me. Clearly I had stepped outside that circle of generalities which define the conversational norm for casual acquaintances.
I’d had a sense of manners once. Perhaps my mother taught it to me, or I’d picked it up from foreign films. I remember a Polish film about a man who is dying from a stab wound in his back, and spends his final moments holding the door open to the Out-Patients department at the local hospital saying “After you” to some lady suffering from a sprained wrist: “After you” turns out to be his final words. The film was in sub-titles and with music which made little sense to me but you get the idea. I am that man who lacks a sense of proportion, and nothing works for me in terms of “Just being yourself,” but I learnt that, as a last resort, being polite prevents you from being barred from that club called “Casual Connections,” where I spend a lot of my social life.
“Being polite” was my last card in the pack, but this unknown lady, who shared a sense of the pleasure you could gain from a single slice of bread offered up the promise of a new dawn and hinted that something deeper was still possible. Suddenly I was saying. “Are you married or co-habiting with a fellow human being, or possibly a hamster or a cat, with whom you share wardrobe space and a similar taste in television programmes?” Alright I agree the “Hamster or cat” bit might have been a little bit “Out there”, but that’s what comes from being a failed lawyer among other things, and attempting to “Define your differentia” which is a baffling academic concept.
By now she was backing away from the till, and saying “One pound ninety-eight,” which was the price of this hallowed product. I said nothing more to her but offered up the correct change. At that point the manager, possibly seeing her discomfort, walked over and said, looking at her, “Is everything alright here,” and I said, “Fine, I was just reminding her that we didn’t know each other.” before turning to leave the shop. I wonder if they sell this bread anywhere else.