“One stop darling, one stop away”.
Adriana is still chatting in the office. I console myself that a lesser person would be affronted, especially the time she was an hour and a half late because she had been listening to the end of Woman’s Hour, but she always arrives in the end. I’ll wait.
The busy tube station is filling up. It’s near the enemy’s ground on European night. I take refuge from the hustle in my reflections on the day, my sanctuary since childhood. People at odds with each other end it a little closer. On the way out of the meeting, the young man brushes past me and turns unexpectedly. There’s a disarming softening of eyes hardened by suspicion of adults, much of it sadly justified: ‘You know what I mean. You’re all right’. I start to reiterate something I said earlier, about how I see the good in in him, if only he could, but he’s half-way down the street by now.
My mood changes as the flow of supporters becomes a flood disgorged by the escalators, spilling out into the dark and intruding upon my reverie. Groups of people laughing and families clustering close in their excitement, but I start to feel uneasy. I stare into faces and see only blank faithless souls, lost and wandering. This is not right, not right at all.
How could you? This of all teams. How could you? What catastrophic lapse of judgement led you here? Others who are not part of this evening’s ritual wait with their free papers and frequent expectant glances. They welcome new arrivals with a kiss and pair off into the street lights. Yet I am distinctly uncomfortable, even though I stand anonymous in my grey suit, and involuntarily shrink further into the shadows.
A sour-faced former manager of mine once marched up to me after a conference and said, ‘The trouble with you is that you see the good in everyone’, before turning on her heel. In her rudeness I was damned with faint praise but she was right, for once. Yet now these colours distort my perceptions and banish any generosity of spirit. All I see is smug arrogance. You’re not the same as me.
Adriana emerges from the throng, upright and poised. She grips my elbow. “Do I look Japanese? Do I?” With her I am used to being wrongfooted but this has me flummoxed.
“Is it my hat?”
I mumble something about not knowing what a Japanese hat looks like. She explains that a man jumped out of a taxi and asked her if she was Japanese, or on holiday, and would she like to see the photos in the gallery opposite, or like a drink? Although I can move through London without any acknowledgement or intimacy from my fellow travellers, Adriana long ago lost this ability.
“What is it about me?” She gazes intently at me in search of an answer. My throat tightens. I catch my breath and gulp in some air. “Come on” and we move rapidly towards a waiting bus, dodging the crowds as we go. “The train was really crowded” she says, “Is there something happening?” I begin a reply but think better of it. I have to get away. “‘We can eat later” is my response to her puzzled expression but she acquiesces. The bus pulls away sharply and we tumble together into a seat. I sigh. I’ll calm down in a few minutes. Some feelings are hard to explain.