I have read this the first time in one of my Highschool English Manuals. It still impresses me.
He saw her from behind and recognized her immediately. He walked faster until he was just ahead of her, then turned round, wondering whether to smile. It didn’t seem like fifteen years. She didn’t see him at first. She was looking in a shop window. He touched the sleeve of her jacket.
“Hello, Amanda“ he said gently. He knew he hadn’t made a mistake. Not this time. For years he kept thinking he’d seen her – at bus stops, in pubs, at parties.
“Peter!“ As she said his name, her heart quickened. She remembered their first summer together. They’d lain together by the river at Cliveden. They were both 18 and he’d rested his head on her stomach, twisting grass in his fingers, and told her that he couldn’t live without her.
“I’m surprised you recognize me.“ he said, burying his hands in the pockets of his coat.
“Really?“ She smiled. In fact she’d been thinking about him a lot recently. “You haven’t moved back here, have you?“ Surely not, she thought. She knew he loathed the place. Even at 18, he couldn’t wait to leave and travel the world.
“Good heavens, no.“ He said “I’m still in London.”
She looked at him. He looked the same. He hadn’t begun to go bald like so many of the men she knew, but his shoulders were broader and his face slightly rounder.
“I came back for the funeral.“ he continued. “My father’s. A heart attack. It happened very suddenly.“
“I’m sorry.“ She said, though she wasn’t really. She remembered him telling her about how his father used to beat him regulary until he was 16 and grew too tall.
“Thank you.“ he said to her, though he felt nothing for his dead father, just a relief for his mother. She’d be happier without him. She’d been trying to pluck up courage to leave him for years.
“And I take it that you’re not living back here either?“
“I’m in London, too.“ she said. She pushed her hair behind her ears in a gesture he hadn’t forgotten.
“Just back for my sister’s wedding tomorrow.“
“That’s nice.“ he said, though his only memory of Amanda’s sister was a rather plump, boring 12-year-old.
“Yes.“ she agreed, feeling that her baby sister’s wedding only served to spotlight her own series of failed relationships
“And your parents?“ he asked. “They’re well?“
“Fine.“ She remembered how he’d always envied her middle-class parents, who ate foreign food and took exotic holidays.
“Are you rushing off somewhere?“ he asked.
“No, I’m just killing time, really.“
“Then I suggest we kill it together. Let’s grab a coffee.“
They walked towards Gaby’s, a small cafe just off the high street. They had spent hours there when they had first met, laughing and holding hands under the table, and discussing their plans for the future over cups of coffee. They sat opposite each other. He ordered the coffee.
“And so, Peter, did you become a foreign correspodent?“ she asked, remembering the places they dreamed of visiting together – India, Morocco, and Australia.
“Not exactly.“ he said. „I’m a lawyer, believe it or not.“ She looked at his clothes, and she couldn’t believe it. They were a far cry from the second-hand shirts and jeans he’d worn as a student.
“You enjoy it?“ she asked.
“Yes.“ he lied. „And you? Are you a world famous artist?“
He’d always loved her pictures. He remembered the portrait of herself which she’d painted for him for his twentieth birthday. He still had it.
“Well,…no.“ She tried to laugh. She wondered if he still had her self-portrait. She’d stopped painting years ago. He looked at her hair, cascading in dark unruly waves over her shoulders. He could see a few white hairs now, but she was still very beautiful.
“So.“ he said „What are you up to?“
“Nothing much.“ she said. “I’ve tried a few things.“ She didn’t want to tell him about succession of temporary jobs that she’d hoped might lead to something more permanent but never had.
“So you’re not painting at all?“
“Only doors and walls.“ she joked, and he laughed politely. She remembered the evenings they’d spent in the small bedsit that they rented in their last term at college. He’d sit for hours just watching her paint. She filled sketch book after sketch book.
“So where are you in London?“ she asked.
“North.“ he said. It was a three-bedroom flat in Hampstead. Nice in an empty kind of way. He thought about all the evenings he wished he had someone to come home to.
“And you?“ he asked, after a pause.
“South. It’s okay, I rent a room.“ She thought of the small unfashionable part of Clapham. “But I’m thinking of buying somewhere. It’s one of the reasons I came home. I want to sort things out a bit.“ she sighed, thinking about the letters from him that she’d found in her old bedroom. She’d been reading them only yesterday.
“Oh, Peter, I don’t know why I left that day.“ she said at last. He looked up at her.
“It’s all right.“ he said, remembering the evening she hadn’t come back to the bedsit.
“We were young. Young people do things like that all the time.“ he added, knowing that this wasn’t true, knowing that he hadn’t deserved such treatment. He thought of all the letters he’d sent to her parents’ home. He’d written every day at first, begging her to return or at least to ring him. He’d known even then that he would never meet anyone like her again.
“I suppose you’re right.“ She swallowed hard, trying to hide her disappointment and hurt that he seemed to have no regrets.
“Well, I ought to be going.“ she said.
“Already? I thought you had time to kill.“
“I did.“ she said, blinking to hold back the tears. “But I ought to get back now to help my mother with the wedding.“
“I understand.” he said, though he didn’t. Surely her parents would understand.
“Shall I give you my phone number. Perhaps we could meet up?”
“Perhaps.” she said.
He wrote his telephone number on the back of the bill and tucked it into the zipped compartment of her handbag.
“Thanks. Goodbye, Peter.”
Years later, every so often, she still checked that compartment to make sure his number was there.
by Fiona Goble