Tuesday, June 9

Nothing To Show

THE MEETING WAS down the road from the office, a fifteen-minute walk into Shoreditch where the buildings are not made of glass and the edges are rougher. It was a bright morning, but there was a wind that carried down the long London streets an unwelcome coldness. There was coffee and tobacco on my panting breath when I arrived. As I requested another coffee, I wiped my brow with a tissue. The meeting is run by a balding man with no humour and a smugness I cannot tolerate; he sits at the head of a large, varnished wooden table in a very old meeting room decked in varnished wooden panels. From underneath the shades, you can see a railway line, a bored lily grows in a vase with watermarks running down it so that the lily is slowly dying, but doing so with as much beauty as it can muster. I sit next to the structural engineer – a Dubliner with a slight lisp and completely opposed to eye contact; he looks down at the table, even during his sparse and succinct addresses. The architect sniffs up to the balding project manager, who gesticulates emphatically, before reclining in his chair and crossing his hands. There is a stuffy air within, only disturbed by the client, a startlingly attractive Spanish lady who often twitches both eyes behind the firework of rings on her fingers.
The coffee cools; although it is instant, it is better than nothing. The meetings are a chore, because so often am I scolded for the missed deadlines of my company. So I sit there defeated and take what the project manager gives me.
I am nervous so that I am very uncomfortable, perspiring still, a knot in my stomach. It was after these meetings that I would pass by L—’s work to see her on my way back to the office. It was not on the way back at all, but it was a quick detour. Now, I had no cause to pop in to see her. I was nervous because I was considering passing that way to see her again, regardless.
Shifting in my chair, I contemplated it. The meeting happened, mostly passing me by as I thought things through. What outcome was I expecting? It had been so long since I had seen her. I tried to count how long it had been. It has been the longest I have gone without seeing her, without my laying eyes on her superlative beauty. I just wished to see her again. Not a word would I say to her, nor would she even know I was there; I would simply walk by, see her and see that she is okay and I could be on my way. She would not know and I would be satisfied. I wished so much to see her! Either it would bring me joy or absolute sadness, but I wished to see her – of course I do not know what is good for me. So I sat in the chair, trying to look as though I were concentrating on the matter at hand, but really my mind was down the road.
What if she caught me? What if she was arranging the shop window and saw me, and became so upset and angry that she sneered? I could not stand to upset her further. She might think I was stalking her—‘Don’t be ridiculous! This is the way back to the office!’ What if she shouted at me? My being caught was terrible to think of, and it is that worry which twisted my guts. But so much did I want to see her. I even thought of stopping at my favourite cafĂ© across the road, but that was too risky for my yellow nerves. Impatiently I looked at my watch, not knowing whether I would go through with it.
‘Tom is moving on at the beginning of July.’
‘O, are you? I am leaving my job at the end of July!’
The meeting ended with everyone breaking into small talk as though it were the easiest house on the street. ‘See you later!’ I scarpered.
The day was still good. There was a fort of blankets beneath the bridge where no body lay. Still unsure what to do. Still debating it. The crossing was at my feet – and so I took it. Even when walking down her road, I wondered whether it was the right thing or not. On the opposite side of the road, safer. I was sweating profusely and my chest was about to explode. I look up and see her, and she looks up and sees me, and then what? I did not know what to expect, what I was doing, what was the best I thought would happen; but I walked on. Imagine her hair had grown since I last laid eyes on her. Imagine she looked healthy and happy. Imagine she took her days the same forlorn way I took mine. Imagine she was smiling to herself and no one saw the smile except for me, and I could have cherished it all day just to know that she was okay.
I studied my surroundings as though to look innocent and unintentional, lest she have already seen me. As I approached her shop, I swung looks in the direction. I saw the windows and I saw through the windows and through the doors and I saw some people, but I did not see her.
I did not see her.
Can I see her?
I could not see her.
I hid behind a van, stopped and looked, but, no, I could not see her. The behaviour of a sordid voyeur, a pest.
Rather than take the quickest way back, I had caused myself this ache! Defeated. It was not the worst thing that could have happened, but it was not the best. It was not what I had hoped for. All my excitement and nerves had built up and deflated, and for nothing. Still, at least I had not bothered her. She hadn’t even known I was there, nor had I known she was there. It was not meant to be. I was not meant to walk down that street. Back to the office. The sun had gone behind the clouds and the temperature was falling.
When would I see her again? What if I never saw her again? What if I could not even steal glances at her? It hurt too much to think of. I knew that when I saw her again it would be as though she were a Hitchcockian starlet, but not then, not today.

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