The Romance of Unconnected Lives
On the day of the incident exactly eight months, three weeks, and two days ago, two people bumped into each other.
Not like Jane and Matt bumped into each other. No. This was somewhat less intense. Her name was Toni, his was Geoffrey. They were both waiting to cross the street – completely oblivious to the other’s existence – when Matt and Jane came hurtling around their respective corners. Both Toni and Geoffrey clearly saw the incident and both rushed in to help. Both were rather adventurous people and trained in first aid. They did what they could until the ambulance arrived, then handed things off to the authorities.
A police car arrived with the ambulance too, and Toni and Geoffrey, along with the bus driver (who recovered from the shock of the incident after some time and continued to deliver people here and there), told the police officer what had happened. Nobody was in the wrong and so nothing further became of the situation. But the whole occurrence took some time – it included the ride in the taxi to deliver Jane to the hospital – and when they weren’t helping they got to chatting. As it turned out, they got along quite well.
Toni was married – happily – to a man named Jamie. Geoffrey was in a serious relationship of four years – happily – to a woman named Christine. Now, eight months, three weeks, and two days after the incident, both couples are still incredibly happy together and each deeply in love. They often double date.
In fact, the four of them are planning a weekend trip to do some mountaineering and perhaps a little mountain biking if possible too. Geoffrey even confided in Toni and her husband that he is planning to ask Christine to marry him. They have all been organising it so the question gets popped during the mountaineering trip. The plan is for Toni – who will be controlling Christine’s rope as Christine repels down the mountain – to stop the rope when Christine is only two or three feet off the ground. There, Geoffrey will take the ring from his pocket, get down on one knee, and ask her to marry him.
She’s going to say yes.
Matt and Jane did end up meeting: exactly eight months, three weeks, and two days after they bumped into each other and then the bus. By the time they both turned the corner with the park and the high wall, both knew who the other was and what they looked like. Matt had googled the lady in yellow after finding out from Kyle she was the woman he had bumped into all those months before and then almost met at the gala. Jane had googled Matt after finishing his book.
When Jane stepped into the elevator the day after the incident – exactly eight months, three weeks, and one day ago – she was greeted by two people. Apart from the customary smiles and nods it was as if they were never there, and Jane forgot about them the moment she stepped foot onto floor fifteen.
The two people, two women as it happened to be – Anna and Sophie – would have been much friendlier and on any other day would have been chatting away, mostly to each other, but also to Jane. Today they weren’t even holding hands.
You see, they had been attending premarital counselling to prepare themselves for the life they wanted to have with each other. The legalisation of gay marriage not too long ago had meant they could now get married, but neither of them wanted to rush into it. This was a life decision and they wanted to do it the way they felt was right.
Unfortunately, their parents – particularly their fathers – found the announcement of their engagement last year somewhat difficult. It had been a tough journey for the family through the years after each of the women had told their individual families they were gay. Anna had told her parents when she was sixteen; Sophie, when she was twenty-two. Now, both twenty-six, it seemed that their parents would never fully accept them.
Just before getting into the elevator, both Anna and Sophie had received calls from their fathers asking to meet them for coffee at 3 o’clock. It didn’t sound good.
What they didn’t realise however was that both fathers had reached out to one another several weeks earlier. They wanted to talk, to get to know each other now that their daughters were to be wed.
They both realised during these talks that they didn’t want to lose their daughters. Their love for their daughters was either going to win out over their misgivings toward the gay community and the concept of two members of the same sex getting married, or they were going to have to accept the loss of their two little girls.
So what was assumed to be an uneasy and confrontational meeting was in fact a peace offering. It wasn’t going to be easy – changing a belief system held in place for years never is – but the alternative was worse. What Anna and Sophie were going to be greeted with at the coffee shop were two incredibly apologetic men, each with a cheque which, when combined, would pay for the entirety of the wedding.
Now the money that both women had been saving over the past year to afford this wedding could be put to other things, like the dream they each had of honeymooning in Fiji.
Upon almost bumping into each other a second time, Matt and Jane stopped for a few seconds. They were completely in silence. It didn’t take long to realise the magnitude, as well as the irony, of the situation. Neither really knew what to say. Technically, technically, neither knew the other. They had never been formally introduced, and neither Matt’s nor Jane’s brain knew the proper social protocol for beginning a conversation with somebody who you didn’t know but shared a near-death experience with over half a year ago. Six seconds had now passed after turning the corner.
Whenever Matt was in a writing rhythm he would go for a run. Each and every day that he progressed with his novel, he went to the gym and ran.
Not every day, but many days, the treadmill just to the right of the one that Matt ran on – for he only ever ran on the same treadmill – was taken. Some days it was taken by Steve, some days by Harry. In fact, mostly it was taken by Georgina. She, like Matt, enjoyed the familiarity that came with running on the same treadmill each time she went running. She was also another who turned her back on the nine to five grind.
Georgina was a freelance photographer, working mostly weddings and similar events, but her dream was to travel the world and photograph life in all its corners. She was an avid reader of National Geographic and watched constantly for a job opening. It was the only non-freelance work she would take. She knew she wouldn’t be able to get in as a freelancer. She simply didn’t have the necessary experience.
Steve – who also ran on that treadmill but cared not which treadmill he ran on and so was less often on that particular treadmill – was unemployed. He had left his job earlier in the year to look for something better; something that, in his words, was ‘less soul-sucking’. It had been a good job and he had ample savings, so he was in no rush. He wanted something he could love doing and be good at. Still in IT, maybe he could work for a smaller company, maybe a start-up. He wanted somewhere where the passion for one’s work hadn’t yet been drowned out by the wails of the corporate monster.
Harry worked nights, and so was only really running on that particular treadmill at that particular time during the weekends. He was a security guard. He’d started at this new company not too long ago and so the nightshift was where he began, hoping to work his way up to a more enjoyable position.
He didn’t particularly mind it, but it was tough on his family. He’d gotten this job immediately after being laid off. It was nothing he did – he was an excellent worker, hence finding a new job so quickly – but the change was challenging at best and the prospects of having to work one’s way up the ladder again wasn’t exactly appealing. Nevertheless, Harry took everything in stride and hoped he would soon be offered a position more favourable to family life.
Eight seconds. Jane began to speak, so did Matt. Neither really said words, just sounds of shock and confusion. Slowly, these sounds began to resemble coherence and after stumbling around a conversation for a few moments they managed to get to talking. It took Jane about a minute and Matt about a minute and ten to realise they were just standing there on the side of the road and that they should probably move out of the stream of pedestrians. One must never simply stand in the city; one must always be moving in the city.
When she was in Brussels, Jane stayed at a hotel just a few streets down from Parc du Cinquantenaire, a beautiful park situated right in the heart of the city and within walking distance of everywhere she needed to go.
She spent much of her time in the city wandering around this park, resting in the shade of the trees or picnicking on whatever solitary bench she could find. There was enough glorious street food in Brussels to never really have to eat in a restaurant at all – though often her social stature meant she had to be seen fine wining and fine dining.
When she wasn’t in the park she was wandering around the city, getting lost in various streets and altogether loving life.
One particular street she remembered with fondness was the Avenue de Tervueren (it was actually the Rue de Trévires which turned off the Avenue de Tervueren that Jane remembered fondly, but she kept forgetting the name so to her it was the Avenue de Tervueren).
There was nothing particularly exciting about this street save for an open window on the second floor of one of the buildings which let out the sound of a beautiful piano, played – Jane assumed – by an equally beautiful pianist.
This mystery musician was practicing, made apparent by the frequent stops and repetition. But even in practice the sound that was emanating from that window was magnificent. Jane wasn’t familiar enough with the classics to distinguish Bach from Beethoven or Chopin from Schubert, so whose symphonies it was she couldn’t say. All she knew was that the music was beautiful.
Jane stood and listened for a significant chunk of time, puzzling a few passers-by who were too engrossed in their lives – or too familiar with the sounds from the second-floor window – to listen.
To avoid the taboo of the city, Matt and Jane made their way into the park. Neither really suggested it, they just both gravitated together. Matt for a brief second thought of Kyle and the books waiting for him when he got back. He had time. Jane thought for a brief moment about Anette. She had a key and wouldn’t mind waiting. Plus, she would love this story. So as neither had anywhere to be, they found themselves walking together slowly through the park, neither still quite believing what exactly was going on.
The hot New Mexican sun beat down on the diner which Matt frequented during his brief time in the state. The steady, slow hum of life was found there before Matt arrived and it was still there the many months after he left. The only ripple his visit had was the introduction of a new response to a silly action – “you mean like that guy with the funny hair and silly accent?”
He was a slight disturbance to their lives and, though he left a mark, it was only small. Their lives went on without him. The customers at the diner remained the same, the menus remained the same, the slight buzz of cicadas outside and flies inside remained the same.
Theirs – for it was the community’s as much as the owner’s – was not a tourist’s diner, nestled in not a tourist’s city, and the disturbances to their lives were few and far between. Not often were there outsiders looking to learn about the history of the cowboy and of life in New Mexico’s smaller communities.
It’s strange, really. There are certain structures involved in all social interactions, certain things said, certain topics brought up. Unfortunately, as Matt and Jane found as they walked together through the park, all these structures and formulas seem to go out the window in a situation like this. In the guidebook for life, this particular scenario is never touched upon. Matt couldn’t ask her what she did – he knew already. Jane couldn’t ask him what he did – she knew already. During the initial bumbling of a conversation Matt even tried bringing up the weather, but that proved to be a disaster. Who talks about the weather at a time like this? So, after an aimless few moments of silence interspersed with conversation, Jane quietly said in the voice remembered by the back of Matt’s mind: “I liked your book.”
Unfortunately, Mr. Silva – it was actually Mr. De Silva, Tom had made the mistake when mentioning him – couldn’t make the gala. He tried to, he really did, but life pulled him away in the form of his father’s passing. His father, born and raised in Argentina, remained there for the entirety of his life. He lived in a small town just outside Salta, and though his late teens and twenties took him here and there with work, he always came back home.
Even when his son made his millions designing and selling tech necessary to run the mass of smartphones now in everyone’s pockets, father still stayed where he was. This was his home and his life.
It caused a great deal of tension between him and his son in the first few years. His son, a member of the next generation, believed his father should move out of rural life and into the city. He believed that, as the son, it was his job to earn for his father and mother and ensure the simplicity of their later years of life.
It took many years, but the two eventually reconciled. The father and mother would always have whatever they needed, the son saw to that, but they were content where they were and wouldn’t be moved. Eventually, the son developed a deep respect and pride for his father. The father was always proud of his son, before and after the millions, but the development of mutual respect and admiration led to leaps and bounds in their relationship. The son learned the value of family and cherishing community and the value of the small as well as the big. The father taught the son to see beauty in the villages that surrounded big cities all around the world. He showed the son the importance of nurturing these communities, of ensuring their survival and safeguarding their culture.
The father showed the son how to give, to truly give. Millions were great and all but having millions and doing nothing of good with them was like holding a life-saving vaccine in your hands and throwing it away, or ensuring it only be used on you.
So the son, Mr. De Silva, got connected with JRR Investments right around the time that Jane took over. Since then, he had been one of their biggest donors and they had worked together to invest back into the communities that existed around them, within and without the cities.
But now the father was passing, and Mr. De Silva was pulled away from attending the gala to pay his last respects to the greatest man he knew. The father had lived a good, long, enriched life, and it was time to go. The pain was still great for Mr. De Silva, who cried deeply as he stood beside his father’s hospital bed. His guide, his mentor, his champion, was leaving him. Now it was Mr. De Silva’s turn to take up the mantle and lead his generation into a better world, a world taught to him by the man who lay there, breathing his last.
“There is no greater honour,” he whispered as he took his father’s hand, “than to have known you.”
The electrocardiograph beeped its last beep.
Jane saw Matt smile as she said this. “Thank you,” replied Matt, equally quietly. Both were highly successful and respected people in each of their fields yet meeting each other seemed to make them shy and awkward teenagers on a date. “Which one?” Matt asked, before realising how pompous that sounded and quickly apologising for being so rude. Jane laughed and said it was fine.
Exactly two minutes after Matt shook the hand of Mr. Grady at the JRR Investments Gala and asked about his son, Matt had forgotten all about him. There were simply too many people to keep track of and once one was down it was on to the next.
Mr. Grady, his wife Lily, and his son Jack had spent the last six months in and out of the hospital. Jack had weak lungs for a child his age. It was nothing serious and he would grow out of it, but it combined with a particularly severe cold earlier in the year to bring about a dangerous case of bronchitis.
Jack was fine now, though he was still being watched and went for regular check-ups just in case. But he was in school and running around as if nothing had ever happened.
This was, of course, not appropriate gala conversation and the Gradys would never have brought it up. For them, the gala was the first opportunity to go out since this whole thing started six and a half months ago. They were both nervous about being away from Jack so long, and the babysitter – a close personal friend of theirs – had to all but throw them out of the house.
To Matt, this conversation was business and it was over when the next conversation began, but to the Gradys the question about their child meant the world to them. All the stress and unease lifted. They loved their son and would be back with him soon. After Matt turned his back, husband and wife looked at each other, smiled as only happy couples can, and went about the rest of the evening with elevated spirits. Everything was going to be okay.
And Matt had no idea as to the impact he had made on the lives of these people.
As they walked past the trees with the people resting in their shade and the flowers and the fence with the two poles bent out of place, the conversation grew and by the time they were halfway through the park you couldn’t tell that only a short while ago Matt had panicked and tried to talk about the weather. He didn’t even notice the poles bent out of shape. Jane had untied her hair and it was now dancing in a slow breeze that moved through the park. It kept distracting Matt. She didn’t even notice. Jane’s mind was lost in the last eight months, three weeks, and two days. A great deal had happened between then and now. She felt a whole new person, someone who actually took time off from work! Not six months ago she would have been working today and would never have gone to glassblowing. She wouldn’t have bumped into – or rather almost bumped into – the man she was currently walking and talking with. And the conversation wasn’t about work! My, how she had changed.
The day after the gala, Matt did meet Kate for coffee. She was unsure. This was a huge opportunity for her and could very well be the start of the rest of her life. But she was nervous and scared and unsure.
What if it didn’t work? What if this was a mistake? What if something happened to her mother?
The day she got the news, she was over at her mother’s house and they talked for two hours about it. Well, her mother told her repeatedly – for two whole hours – to accept the offer while she kept thinking of feeble excuses why she couldn’t. Her mother knew her well enough to discount all her reasons. Fear is not a reason to quit, it is a reason to keep fighting.
She called back immediately after the talk and accepted the position.
Matt could tell, too, that this was an incredible opportunity for her, and her conversation with him progressed remarkably similarly to that with her mother. It was not quite as overt – the decision was made and Kate would honour that decision – but Matt could tell she was unsure, anxious.
As he looked across at her dark brown eyes, he felt a series of conflicting emotions. He was not in love with her, and neither she with him, but there was still something there as they stared back at him. “Lost Possibilities” was much too grandiose a term, and yet something of that feeling lingered. Perhaps in another world they could have fallen deeply in love and lived the rest of their days together; they were two highly compatible people. But it takes more than compatibility for someone to let another into their own weird little world the way love requires.
Perhaps it was just that: the possibility of what might have been. In another life…
Though Matt knew she was nervous, he was not blind to the immensity of this opportunity and even if the thought of her leaving him was in fact too much – it wasn’t – he would still tell her to go. She saw this in their conversation and the last leaf of her indecision fell to the floor. A new chapter of her life was beginning.
As this was happening, a new chapter in the life of two other potential lovebirds was ending. Perhaps it could have become something, but a first date – a blind one at that – seated one table over from a breakup, is all but doomed to fail.
Matt and Kate were being quiet and calm in their conversation, but it didn’t take long for the new couple sitting next to them to figure out what was happening. It was, unfortunately, a very awkward hour.
Jane’s phone buzzed but she ignored it. Matt’s phone rang but he silenced it and kept walking. The park and this moment were almost up and they could get back to their lives then.
Earlier today, Jane walked into her glassblowing lesson. There were four others in the lesson: one couple and one man and one woman – not a couple. Before the lesson on week one, Jane had got to chatting with the uncoupled woman, named Alisha, and was about to find her rather interesting when the lesson began and their conversation was abruptly finished. It wasn’t restarted and Jane’s memory of the life of Alisha remained stationary, forgotten until the next time Jane saw her at the lessons and was reminded of what she knew of her.
Alisha’s life, however, did not remain stationary. Like the lives of everything and everyone, it continued to move. She was a teacher, and though she found her job uninteresting, it was not. Alisha had simply fallen into what Anette once called “The Familiarity Trap”. She explained it this way: To most of us, the lives of others seem incredible and our own lives seem boring, mundane. Our lives are the majority of what we know and so they appear so anodyne – she had recently learnt of the word and wanted to use it in a sentence – however, they are not. We all have incredible stories; we simply have to look.
Alisha’s job was different every day. Some were easier, some were harder. She often forgot the easy days and instead focused on the harder days. She often forgot the lives she had helped to grow and instead focused on the lives she couldn’t – or at least believed she couldn’t – get through to. Alisha was a schoolteacher and the very nature of her job meant that she never fully knew what hand she played in the future of her students’ lives.
The metres between the duo and the edge of the park were in the single digits now, and each knew they would probably have to part ways. What they didn’t know was they were going to say goodbye and then both proceed to walk in the same direction for the next two blocks so the conversation wasn’t going to end when they thought it would.
But it would have to end eventually. And what happens next is anyone’s guess. Perhaps they continue their lives together, perhaps they don’t. The future of our odd little duo remains somewhat a mystery.
I’ll let you decide what happens to the man named Matt and the woman named Jane – or the woman named Jane and the man named Matt, depending on which name comes first.
All we do know out of this bizarre little tale is that Geoffrey and Christine are happily married, as are Anna and Sophie; Georgina got a job at National Geographic after years of looking for a way in; Steve got a job working for a non-profit; Harry eventually moved up to a managerial role; the pianist continued playing every day from the second-story window; life at the New Mexican diner rolled along and the man with the funny hair and silly accent faded from memory; Mr. Silva used his father’s teachings to better the lives of those around him; Mr. and Mrs. Grady’s donations to the Children’s Hospital helped kids like Jack get better treatment quicker for illnesses like bronchitis; the first date couple went on to meet and date other people – sometimes successfully, sometimes not –, Kate returned to her team a hero and still occasionally gets whisked around the world to help out the Olympic snowboarding team, though secretly she prefers working with her little group in their little studio; and Alisha continues her work, unaware of her impact on her students’ lives.
It might seem random, I suppose, to spare a thought for these passing strangers, but that’s the beauty of it. Countless lives interact with countless more in the cacophony of life. You never know who you’ve affected, what paths you’ve inadvertently changed. A smile here, a laugh there. Giving your umbrella to the mother and child in the pouring rain, buying a sandwich for the homeless man on the street corner, carrying the heavy suitcase of the weary traveller up the train station stairs.
Or just bumping into someone on the street corner and maybe or maybe not changing the course of their life. Who knows that which they cannot see nor of what they cannot be aware?
It might seem silly, I suppose, to spare a thought for these passing strangers, but I guess that’s just the romance of unconnected lives.