It was an exceptionally rainy night in July. She was dragged by her housemate to a party of his friend’s, and now she was cursing herself for saying yes. He was nowhere in sight, and she was left alone in a house full of strangers.
She was standing awkwardly in the corner, watching the rain dripped on the double glazed window glass, when she sensed the presence of someone behind her.
She turned around and saw a tall guy in scruffy jeans and a Heisenberg shirt, smiling at her.
“Hi,” he said, handing her a plastic cup of wine. She raised her eyebrows.
“Don’t worry, I don’t spike your drink, if that’s what you’re afraid of,” he said jokingly.
“What? No, it just surprised me to be given a drink while I had my face looking the other way. Surely you can’t be giving me this because you’re attracted to the back of my head?” She smiled nervously, trying to hide her suspicion.
“It’s not the back at your head. It’s the fact that you’re standing alone, looking outside when there’s this crowd here,” he said, deadpan.
“So you’re giving me this because you feel sorry for me?” she asked, feeling somehow insulted by his blatant remark of her apparent loneliness.
“No. It’s because that’s usually my spot, standing in the corner and looking through the window, wishing I didn’t have to pretend I enjoy the party,” he explained, summing up what she was feeling at that moment.
The rain had stopped.
“Wanna take a walk outside? There’s a park just down the road,” he offered.
It was probably crazy to go out for a walk with someone she knew nothing about, but the party felt so intimidating and boring to her that she finally nodded, grabbed her jacket and followed him towards the door, into the breezy summer night.
Never had she ever imagined going out for a walk with a stranger she just met at a house party, let alone enjoying the conversation. But she did.
They walked around the park once before choosing to sit on a wet Victorian-style iron bench, smoking and talking like two old friends who just met again after 10 years, while drinking a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc they just bought at Tesco right before it closed.
He listened to David Sedaris’ Holiday on Ice audiobook around Christmas time, every year. He found solace in walking along the south bank, especially at night. His sister was currently struggling with leukemia, and she could hear the despair in his tone when he talked about this.
They didn’t talk about names, jobs, or anything that could reveal their identities. She felt that he wanted to keep it that way, and surprisingly, she found herself keen on that idea. The beauty of that night lied in the mystery. They were away from reality, and that night felt like a bubble for her. A night of her own, with someone unreal, within numbered minutes marked by London’s public transport operating hour.
It was almost 5 in the morning. He looked at his watch and said, “Time to go home.”
There’s a possibility she fell for him, that night. Maybe it was just the circumstances she fell for, or it could be that stranger himself, who knows. But in a split second when he looked into her eyes before they started walking towards the underground station, she irrationally believed that she might have fallen for this stranger, and that feeling was mutual.
They hugged for a long time before they parted ways at Hammersmith station. This time, there were no words.
As she watched him made his way to the other end, through the hungover, bedraggled fellow strangers who were coming back from a night out, she knew one thing for sure: The silent goodbye would create such turmoil in her heart.
It was already starting to.
Years after that, that night is still deeply imprinted on her brain. She can still remember the things they talked about, the grey Heisenberg shirt he was wearing, and most of all, the traces of rain that night. The puddles on the path walk and the faint reflection of the lamp in the puddles, the smell of wet soil, the light drizzle sometime after midnight, and how the presence of this particular stranger amplified her love for rain.
Many, many times after that, she found herself bumping into him. She doesn’t really know if it was really him, or it was just her desperate longing that created a vivid mirage of him. Sometimes it felt real, like the guy in the burgundy sweater she saw in Barbican, or someone she passed in the crowd at Carnaby Street whose perfume smelled exactly like his, or someone at Battersea Park who held a cigarette in the exact, same weird way of his, holding it between his middle and ring finger.
But most of the time, it was just a blurry recognition of a rushing passer-by that resembled him.
She’s never really sure if it truly happened, or it was only her wild imagination, induced by one too many glasses of wine. When she woke up in the afternoon the next day, she had nothing to convince her that it was real. No photos, no memento. Nothing.
It was a long time ago, and she’s been to places far away. She’s traveled 5000 miles to the west to her hometown at Christmas that year, 4000 miles to the south for a vacation the following year, and now, 5000 miles to the east for a business trip.
And still, a drop of rain never fails to transport her back to that one night in July, to the cold bench at a park somewhere in southwest London, to the most surreal few hours she might or might not have spent with a stranger she might have fallen for.
The whole thing could be a dream and he could be a mere chimera, and she will never know.