I thought I saw you today
I thought I saw you, today.
You were sitting on the waterfront, your back to me, so I could only see the back of your head, and when I saw that back of a head, then a caterpillar of fear crawled up my spine and up and up the ridge of my neck. I could only see the back of your head but still I turned my face away until I had gone a few paces and then, fatal mistake of myth, I looked back, quick once, quick twice, quick three times, to see, for sure.
It wasn’t you, of course.
It was someone who looked like you had looked ten years ago. That same radical haircut.
‘I could never understand it,’ you said to me once. ‘You being so pretty and having such awful hair.’
The me of now would’ve retorted. Pots and kettles, mate, pots and kettles; my voice a joke mock cockney accent. I’d’ve laughed, too. The right kind of laugh.
I hadn’t laughed then. Instead, I’d bared my teeth in a contortion of an amenable smile and fingered the ends of my hair.
It was just someone who looked like you had looked ten years ago. The same radical haircut, the rolled cigarette between small fingers, the sunglasses of the kind that came from a second-hand store, a similar tentative smile of trying to fit.
It wasn’t you, of course it wasn’t you, and as my steps put distance between the wasn’t-you and me, the caterpillar that signalled fear cocooned and was replaced by a hot sting of anger that reddened my shoulders and my face as I thought how it would be to turn back, to turn back right here, right now, in front of the Friday night drinkers and the buskers and the beggars and the gulls; to turn back right here and face you and lift you up by your elbow and say all the things I never had the chance to say.
To say it all, and because this is a fantasy, when I speak my voice won’t be high and faltering like my voice always is in emotion. No, my voice will be hard and it will glow with power as it dins into your head everything you never had the chance to hear, until you couldn’t forget any of it; you couldn’t forget any of it.
To say it. All of it.
I can allow myself to imagine this because it’s not you, is it. I can allow myself to imagine this because it’s not you, sat there outside, with the Friday night drinkers and the buskers and the beggars and the gulls, it’s just someone who looked like you had looked ten years ago.
You said I was strong, once. You said I was strong but I was never strong with you. I was meek like a child. I tried hard like a child. And then, in the moments when I was strong, when I bared my teeth and my tongue and told you the truth, you called it a lie.
Back home now. The you who is not you but just someone who looked like you had looked ten years ago carries on their evening with friends who look, perhaps, like we all looked, ten years ago.
And I wonder if I’ll ever really be able to write you, really.