And then he appeared again, as if out of a dream; he was there, right there.
No. No, she thought, the world cannot possibly be that small!?
She’d seen him, versions of him, dusins of times before; all the shadows and doppelgängers he had wandering in the streets; a tall, lanky, yet lean, dark-haired boy with a Grecian profile. There were too many, but never him. They came close to him, too close, but they were never him. Yet, in that split-second of resemblance, of recognition, their mirroring appearances merged together and always managed to throw her off, completely off track, to make her mind spin and doubt. She wanted them to be him, and yet, she did not.
Now she was in more doubt than ever. And never so certain! If it wasn’t him, it could only be his unliving twin, a mirage made true, so unchanged from her memories of him he looked! But now, instead of a fading memory of him – that she had half-convinced herself was a fantasy by now – here he was, living and breathing, in flesh and blood, right in front of her, sitting (seemingly, but probably not) alone by a table in a busy café in a small alley she and her family had just turned into. It was too good to be true! Too fantastical to be real! Too coincidental to be a mere coincidence!
And in that very moment she saw him, he looked up and by chance looked directly at her, and it was as if he too for a split-second saw a ghost from his past, in a shared moment of shocked recognition darting confused between them. And then the frail line was cut. Whatever it was – or whoever he was – he seemed to quickly brush it off and look away again, yet not as casual as a mere stranger would react. He looked slightly … baffled, disturbed, as if by something he had just witnessed. Or was it just her overactive imagination that told her so? Then all breath left her. Because in that exact moment that followed he did one of the most recognizable things she remembered about him: He pulled out his phone to check it as if out of nervous habit; the very thing he did when he didn’t know what to do with himself…! A very common, banal thing for people to do nowadays, you’d probably say, but there it was, the connection, and she couldn’t help but wonder …
But his eyes were gone from hers; as if suddenly both deaf and blind to her presence; and he seemed … out of reach, cut off from her, as if a fatal gulf had opened in the small space between her in the street and him in the cafe, where he now sat, disinterested, disengaged, disconnected from whatever would have happened if he had held on to his curiosity or if she had paused and taken off her sunglasses and given some sort of signal; his name, a timid smile, saying hello for the first time since so long ago. If it really was him, wouldn’t he have reacted immediately? With surprise and smiles? Or would it be a disappointing reaction? Was he somehow too surprised, too confused or too ashamed to try and reach out when she was with her family, or because he wasn’t sure it was her either? Because it was simply too incredible an coincidence if they were both here at the same time?! Or he was simply afraid; cowardly trying to ignore her, pretending he didn’t know her, ashamed of even knowing her..? Or could he simply not recognize her? If it really was him? It had been so long; did she really remember him as well as she thought? Did she really recognize him?
She wondered which would have hurt the most. For the moment it was her head. She could hardly believe it in the first place. That was why she kept on walking, looking back over her shoulder, in wonder and confused, but still walking farther and farther away. She was a coward as well. She hadn’t and wouldn’t have dared finding out if it was truly him. What if it hadn’t been him? What if it was just her mind trying to play tricks on her again? But then again, for once, she hadn’t thought of him in a long time. Actually, her mind couldn’t be freer of him than it was in the very moment leading up to it. Which made it all the more incredible…! It had to be him! But how? How could he be there – of all the places and all the times? Could it be something so cliché as fate’s intervention? Or just life playing a stupid trick on her? It comes when you least expect it, for sure it seemed. That was the only thing she was certain of in her all her muddled conclusions.
She pondered and pondered, feeling everything and nothing at once. It seemed to have hit her like an invisible wave of burning ice in the moment it happened; drown her in uncertainty and doubt as she walked away and wash over her in waves of painful nostalgia, of hurt, frustration and confusion; a frightening undercurrent of an old wound re-opened. A wound she had thought closed, everything forgiven and forgotten. Was it him? Was it not? Why now? She could never stop asking herself. And she hated him again; she hated him because she knew this was a moment that would haunt her for the rest of her sad excuse of a life and it simply wasn’t fair! Not when she had spent so much time and so many tears on forgetting all about him, her own stupidity and what they never had. She simply couldn’t bear for her life to evolve around him once again since she had no other alternative to turn her mind to. Wasn’t her life sad enough?! His sudden re-appearance – real or not – reminded her of how pathetic, weak and easily affected she was to begin with. And she couldn’t stop an insistent voice in her head from telling her that it just was one of those unbelievable coincidences in life where two people stumble across each other again and that (believe it or not) it was him; that he did recognize her, but was either too surprised, too confused or too cowardly to give himself away. He had tried to forget her, too. He wasn’t curious enough to look back up again and over his shoulder to see her looking back at him as well with a confused expression of recognition and surprise planted on her face. Or he was just too afraid to do so; to see that it was her, truly her. Was this the reason she was too afraid to go to him as well?
What the worst part was: Neither of them would ever know for sure.