On Friday I was walking from the train station to the supermarket via the shopping center and I saw an old school friend coming the other way. When we were at school we were good friends but in the intervening years we lost touch entirely. The only time I have seen him since was once a few years ago which resulted in a very awkward, stilted conversation. Seeing him walking towards me made me worry that I was heading for another awkward, stilted conversation. I immediately began weighing up my options, and saw that I had precious few. I could not take a turn as there were no turnings between us. I could not go into a shop as they were all closed. I could not turn around and walk back the way I had come as that would be a ridiculous thing to do.
I had one final option open to me. I could, as I have done in similar situations in the past, wait until we were reasonably close and then feign receiving a text message on my phone. A text message so absorbing and urgent and interesting that my attention was now solely directed at it and the world and all the people in it had become invisible to me.
But then I decided not to do that. These awkward situations keep cropping up and I wondered if maybe it was time to start facing up to them. In the same way that I am trying to be a better public speaker by actually speaking in public rather than becoming frustratingly mute or saying something woefully ridiculous, as has been my way for too long, I decided the right thing to do would be acknowledge him. Smile, maybe say hello. Stop and talk if that seemed the right thing to do. I would say normal things that normal people say when they encounter an old friend they haven’t seen for a very long time. I would not hide behind the thin facade of a fascinating text message.
But then as we drew close to each other he pulled out his mobile phone and didn’t seem to notice me at all.