A Hint of Recognition

The last time he saw the girl, it was one of these days so overwhelmingly grey he had to squint to see if it was really her or simply a reflection in the bakery window. But he’d always liked days like that, the rain made him feel at ease, unburdened by the immense pressure of a summer’s days potential. Through the grey he saw the girl that day, sitting alone in the bakery. He didn’t know her, didn’t know anything about her but he felt reassured by her being there like the feel of the cold rain against his skin. If they were ever to meet, he was sure she would like the rain too. 

She was always busy when he saw her, going somewhere, doing something, but that day she sat by the window entranced by her notebook, a diary perhaps? Or maybe it was filled with poetry or sketches of passers-by, maybe he was in there, he hoped he was. 

His interest in the girl was as unfocussed as the grey skies. He’d thought of her at times as a lover. But the truth was when she often ghosted her way into his thoughts, it wasn’t in some candle-lit dalliance or an embrace in cool, cotton sheets. 

No, her presence was soothing, a friends embrace as blessed on consecutive days as it was years apart. And the frequency of her unexpected appearances, gave her substance and shape, she became important to him. 

They had come closest to crossing paths, first at the beach, her strutting carelessly through the sand with a broken umbrella in one hand and a can of lager in the other, her big black shoes heavy with seawater. Then at the arcade, chewing on a plastic straw rhythmically kicking an old pinball machine. And at the park in a raincoat chasing a Scottie dog. She never looked sad exactly, just hazy, as if waiting for important insights to emerge but the thoughts had not yet fully formed. 

He’d liked her unpredictability, her spontaneity, but two things he noticed were constant, she was always alone, and her notebook was never far away. She clutched it now sat in the bakery. He allowed any plans he had to go on without him, instead he watched her there. In truth she never really seemed to be able to find her way out of his head, she lay heavy in his mind like mist.

He sat on a bench in the town square, pretending to read his own book, checking to make sure the girl hadn’t disappeared forever. His sightings of her were so coincidental that he worried every time he saw her may be the last. Should this happen he was sure his mind would determinedly re-cast her in some role he’d created. 

He liked seeing her around town, knowing that she was alright and that whatever their connection it had remained unbroken. He was comfortable in the knowledge that when he saw her, she probably hadn’t seen him and probably never would. 

He looked up from his book, a story he could never really focus on when there was another more important fiction unfolding. The girl had risen from her seat and was walking out of the bakery, towards an old archway to the left of where he was sitting. He didn’t look at first but he allowed himself a glance as she walked past. She walked with her heavy black shoes that she dragged along the cobbles, the rain beginning to darken the bottom of her tartan trousers. The baggy sleeves of a green woollen jumper that hung out of the arms of her long beige coat, reminded him of a child wrapped in a blanket by their mother. Her blonde hair, wet from the rain, was tied up by a colourful bandana of greens, oranges and purple and surrounded by straggling locks of hair that hung down and clung to her face like ivy to an old house. 

As she passed him, he wondered if the grey day was what pulled down the corners of her mouth and held her gaze to the rain gurgling down the gutters. 

Her cherished book was missing. He rose to investigate, feigned reading the plaque on the bench to give her enough time to pass undisturbed, before he approached the small bakery and entered. 

A delicate bell tinkled as he pushed open the door. In his haste he pushed a little too hard, drawing more attention than he’d like as it clattered against the frame. He wondered later how he must’ve looked to the people inside and whether he should’ve bought a croissant or a wedge of chocolate cake.

Instead, he wandered over to the table and took her seat. The book lay there, it had a plain cover no distinguishing features or markings, it was covered in a brown material, crinkly and dry as an autumn leaf. 

The book felt heavy, he wasn’t sure what it contained but he knew it was full. He contemplated putting it in his bag, but he didn’t want to scuff or mark it. Perhaps it contained her deepest thoughts, details of a torrid story or at the very least her name. No, he thought, it can’t start like this, not if this is the day we’re finally to meet. 

He left the bakery and followed the cobbled path, the only clue she’d left for him, through an old brick archway containing a statue of a moustached man and his dog. He walked quickly he was excited but apprehensive, aware it could be the day his illusion was shattered for good. 

It was a good ten minutes before he caught up to her on a rural trail just outside of town. He’d second guessed some turns and wynds in the road, terrified the wet leaves would conceal her tracks and he’d lose her forever, but he found her. 

She stood on a dirty metal bridge high over the river. It had patches of burnt orange rust like the cover of her book he held so tightly. She was leaning against the railings and looking out over the water. He stepped towards her slowly, running through a thousand possibilities of what to say as he returned her precious book. 

Still too far away to call out, he moved forward, as he did, he saw she had begun to remove, first her big black shoes and then her white socks. Now barefoot, she grasped the railings and heaved herself on the metal girder, steadying herself on a crossbeam with her other hand. He stood, book in hand, frozen, as she stepped off and disappeared into the grey.

A Hint of Reflection written by Clem Brady in collaboration with Beauty & the Beast Publishing. Image: Ronaldo Santos, Pexels.com.

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