Chance Encounter

A guest post by a friend, Sharon.

I have had the weirdest of weeks; a cocktail of grief, wonder, respite, fear, weight, lightness. This week has been healing in bits and hiding in spades. I do that a lot, heal and hide all at once. Today I woke up locked out of my own existence; a stranger body. My soul, unsurprisingly, had gathered the grief in my bones and here we were, it demanding for me to do something or to let it process and lead me on as I stood on the outside watching. I have spent the better part of the day healing it through music: Emeli Sandé’s Long Live the Angels album.

It rained today. I love rain. I romanticize rain. Rain is the orgasmic, earthy scent of soil when the first drops hit the ground. Rain is the warm blankets and hot drinks, a good book or a good movie sort of experience. It is mildness and preparing a good meal, listening to music, walking around half naked; wearing a baggy sweater, settling in bed, nowhere to go off to, simply settling in a moment that is all too rare to find. Rain to me is coming home.

I had looked forward to doing all these things as I left work. It has been quite some time since I last cooked intentionally. A long time since cooking meant more than just having something to eat because I was hungry, long since cooking has felt like therapy. It has been quite some time, too, since I simply settled into self without urgent things to attend to. But life and plans and all the detours we sometimes have to take because things never go according to plan.

Six thirty o’clock,instead, found me sipping on a cold African Vanilla cocktail/milkshake,seated in the crook of a staircase, reading a book. Surrounded by people, all of them, like me, waiting for rain to abate before going home. How anyone would think this would be an attempt at coolness escapes me because there I was, minding my own business, living as usual, largely uninterested in what was going on, trying to finish a book that I should have been done with a week ago. So when this guy said hi as he was walking by then retraced his steps five minutes later to come talk to me, I was caught completely off guard.

I have an immense wariness towards most people, especially the sort that approach me when I least expect it. My first instinct was to tell him I was busy and didn’t want to be bothered, but I figured it was the book that had brought him back(I have a weakness for people who can read anywhere) so I let him carry on with the mindless small talk that exhausts me with first time interactions. Five minutes in and I knew a couple of things about him: he wasn’t much of a reader(simply gave the book a cursory glance), he had assumed I was a student(in his defence, I think, I had tied my stunted dreadlocks in a pussy cat style 🙂 ), he was desperately looking for a job, he had recently broken up with his girlfriend and for a guy who was clearly quite conflicted about things, he had emotional depth that I found lacking in most people. Also, I liked him.

Something about the way he spoke about life, something about his struggles, about the way he wasn’t afraid of wearing his hopes and fears on his sleeve, the way he carried his struggles without shame, the way he spoke with such self awareness, never once worried that I would judge him; someone he had only met a meanwhile ago, his honesty about life; that had me putting away the book and listening.

It struck me, in that moment, and for the rest of the time we sat talking, how much like him I was and yet how so completely different. He had yet to find a job that suited him, he told me. Everything that he had found was either an internship, which would be terminated after three months, or work where he worked weekends and was paid very little.

“I have applied for so many jobs in this country. Let me tell you, I am at a point in life where if I am in a position to steal money, I will. I am tired of being unemployed. I will do anything, even become a political mercenary, as long as it pays my bills.”

This admission, unique in its own sense, but familiar in other ways, could not be received with judgement. I understood. I had seen what unemployment could do to someone. And this is not a unique story in this country. Too many young people are unemployed,and this hopelessness, trying to beat systems that are burgeoning with injustice and failure can be crippling.

I wanted to tell him about my bewilderment too, not about being unemployed. But about how this country made me angry. How it was possible to love a country that hurt its young ones so badly, a country that had leadership so bent on looting that they forgot they carried the entire dreams of a nation, but he had moved on to something else. He spoke of his passion and his frustrations in the same breathe and I wondered if he was aware that in between the anguish, hope still shone through and I sat there worried for him, hoping for him, that this country wouldn’t further break his spirit, that surely his dream would amount to something.

Over a cup of tea, he spoke about love and its heartbreaking potential. How he didn’t think he was ready to date again, and yet, even with me, I saw the silver of hope still gleaming though, as he reached out to help me fold the hem of my baggy sweater when he noticed I was struggling, and I flinched visibly, disconcerted, everything about him so direct, while everything about me so skittish, so cautious. I don’t love like you, I wanted to tell him, I don’t jump in all at once. I don’t know how to walk with such hope in my belly, I am too cautious, too afraid of hurt. I don’t wear my struggles so proudly, I am afraid of them making others uncomfortable.

I did a lot of listening, I wonder if he cared about what I thought. We spoke about family and the heartbreaking imperfection that it sometimes can be. He spoke about struggling with depression and seeing a counsellor, a conversation I have engaged in so many times, it keeps breaking my heart. I wanted to ask if it helped, if he feels more whole than he did going in, battling with having male friends he couldn’t exactly talk to, friends who provided alcohol as a solution to his problems.

I found him a deeply flawed, complex, wonderful man and even after we left, after I took his number and he promised to buy me a drink the next time we met, even though we both knew there was a chance I would never call, this chance encounter stayed with me. He would be the first person here, outside of work, outside of anything familiar in this tiny town, that I had sat down with for a conversation, on a day I had planned to go home and heal. His parting shot was, “If you ever need someone to talk to, not just to hang out with, give me a call.”

I wonder if someday I should take him up on his offer. Maybe I will talk to him about my complexities, my flaws, my dreams, my frustrations. How I am embracing a personal revolution and trying to figure out a new identity, outside of everything and everyone I have known. Maybe I will talk about fear and anxiety filled mornings, and how I am teaching myself to embrace all that I encompass in this season of my life. But I think top on my list, I will tell him how listening to him talk about his life and struggles made me feel less alone on this journey.

Above all else, I hope life is kind to him. I hope he finds love again. I hope he still carries his struggles and triumphs without a trace of fear.

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