Short Story: Brief Encounter on the Number 19

I had been walking for a while since leaving Soho, following another random after work drinks. By the time I had reached Hyde Park, the novelty of walking home on a summer’s evening had worn off, so I jumped onto a bus and headed back towards the King’s Road.

I stayed standing with my back to the passengers seated in the back half of the bus and gazed out to continue my train of thought. Suddenly, I recognised in the window the reflection of a man looking back at me.

I looked away in shame. I had been staring at a random stranger all this time and didn’t even know it. He was a King’s Road suit. Twenties. This guy was going places. He was smooth looking; a perfectly chiseled face. He was clearly out of my league; the type you admire from afar.

Not sure where to put my eyes or whether to sit down, I caught his eyes a few times. And then he smiled. I smiled back, to be polite. He then motioned to me and back to him and then to the doors. I smiled, shook my head but saw that we were already on the King’s Road. I had to get off soon. Again, he motioned for us to get off the bus. This time I laughed and said “no”. Already I could see a few people noticing what was going on. A random man was trying to pick up a random woman on public transport: romantic if you believe in spontaneity, sleazy if you don’t.

And so the bus pulled up at the next stop. He gave me one more chance and I wished him well on his journey. The doors closed.

The bus drove away and I was left thinking, what? What happened to seizing the moment and letting go of the past? Perhaps Milan Kundera was right when he wrote about the value of the fleeting glance but I wasn’t going to let life pass me by.

When the bus reached the next stop, I jumped off and walked back up the King’s Road, as quickly as I could. I was hoping to see him, bump into him and seize the moment. But he was gone.

So I crossed at the next zebra crossing and continued on my journey home. Then with a glance across the road, I saw him stepping out of The Chelsea Potter and smiling. Magical.

The next minute I knew, we were in The Builders Arms, knocking back tequila shots. This was a random evening on my home turf and I couldn’t help but think that this kinda stuff doesn’t happen unless I’m on holiday, when the risks I take are a million miles away from my own reality.

But then I asked him a question. I can’t remember what it was, just the answer. He had a girlfriend. I didn’t react. Instead, I worked hard to keep my cool. How could this man of perfect everything be such a slime?

So I continued to dig for more and he started to complain that none of his friends liked her. But all I could do was wonder how did I get from romantic bliss to agony aunt? Because you can bet I had already written him off upon the mention of the dreaded g-word. My illusions were shattered and I was quickly out of there.

This tall suited stranger asked if he could walk me home. I declined. But I had to ask him his name. Gilbert, he replied: just like my childhood romantic hero from Anne of Green Gables. Our next move was to give each other a hug on Sydney Street. Gilbert told me I was awesome. I smiled as we set off in opposite directions. But before he was completely gone, I turned around and shouted his name, Gilbert!

I wanted to imagine that Anne of Green Gables had finally arrived in Chelsea. He turned around. He smiled and then we continued on our separate ways. This was my favourite part of the evening. As we continued to step back into our own lives, my romantic delusion remained in tact. To an extent we were still both strangers and it was up to our imaginations to do the rest of the work and carry the story on.

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