Mysterious encounters in the supermarket aisle

I reckon about four weeks ago I was bemoaning how hard it is to meet anyone new since we’ve been in lockdown. By anyone, I meant predominantly women, but I’m always happy to meet interesting characters regardless of gender, but it just wasn’t happening. “It’s not as if I’m going to run into them in the supermarket,” I said.

Then, the week before last, on Thursday, I’m in the supermarket, naturally – in the fruit and veggie department, to be specific – when going one way I encounter a woman coming the other.

Most of the shoppers are women, and there’s barely a one in years I’ve given a second glance to. This time it was different, for any one of the umpteen indefinable reasons you find yourself drawn to one person, and not another. It was not as if she was beautiful, though she was attractive. At first glance, there was nothing particularly striking or different about her. But that’s not how it works, not in my experience anyway. I’m a believer in so-called chemistry, though I think of it more as a frequency thing – you resonate at the same level. And that’s how it feels to me. The rare occasion you meet someone and experience this it feels as if you know them. They’re familiar to you, even though five minutes ago you didn’t know they existed.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, and gilding the lily a bit much too.

So she’s coming towards me as I’m coming towards her. I glance at her. She has dark red hair and, though she is attractive at first glance, what I really think is how interesting she looks. She’s slightly taller than the norm, slender, wearing dark yoga pants. I feel something, nothing too big or dramatic, not much more than a stirring of curiosity. Without defining it, in that split second, I think she’s my kind of woman.

Then we’re past each other – and yet, I feel as if she has noticed me much as I noticed her. I go about my shopping idly wondering at her. I’ve never seen her in the supermarket to start with. And somehow I’m reminded of Katherine Hepburn, as if this unknown lady might just be as feisty as her.

The next day I’m at the supermarket at the same time – and she is there too. How strange, I think, two days in a row! We pass by without comment, but there’s the same sense of knowingness shared between us I think – though it could equally be my wishful imagination.

The next day is Saturday. Once more, I go to the supermarket – and once more she’s there. It seems so strange that we should both visit the supermarket at the same time three days in a row when prior we’d never set eyes on each other. And then something happens which I still don’t know the meaning of.

I turn into an aisle. She’s there, alone, looking at the shelves. From the far end of the aisle, a young couple enters. They’re talking animatedly to each other. I walk towards them, towards the mystery woman, watching as she peruses the supermarket shelf. As I draw near, my eyes shift from her towards the couple, but as I do, I sense her turning in my direction. There’s a knowing smile on her face as she looks towards me as if sharing a joke only the two us know. It all happens so quickly that I don’t know if it’s real or if what I saw was as it appeared, and I don’t react. Part of it is that I’m already turning away from her, but most of it is uncertainty, and I kick myself.

The couple goes by. I go by her. Nothing is said.

I return home pondering what just happened. By now something has woken in me. It feels as if encountering this woman has brought to the surface a yearning I had long buried. It’s more general than to be focussed on her alone. It feels like truth. This is who you are, H. This is what you want and need. It’s not an easy realisation because it exposes all that I have done without. I have endured but not lived. It felt as if this what I’ve been waiting for without knowing it – and without seeking to know. To be blunt, I had deceived myself because it was easier than to face the sad reality. How many of us do that?

I’m not so caught up as to think that this mystery woman had the answers for me, but I’m also afraid that I’ve blown my chance. Three days in a row, I encountered her, and did nothing! What are the chances that I won’t see her again? High. I’d been tempting fate, but I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. I had all the usual things run through my head at times like this. What if I’ve got it wrong? Why would she be interested in me? Don’t be silly H, it’s all your imagination.

I don’t go to the supermarket the next day, but in the afternoon I take Rigby for a walk. On this occasion, I take him up to the main road where the shops are. It’s crowded with people, and on occasion, I must manhandle Rigby to steer him clear of other dogs. As we approach the doors of the supermarket, I notice two greyhounds tied outside of it. They’re standing there, one resting his chin on the other. I point them out to Rigby. Look, two greyhounds, I tell him.

I look up just as we come to the doors of the supermarket. The doors open, and suddenly I’m gazing into the face of the red-headed woman as she exits. There’s a smile on her face again, but looking towards the greyhounds – isn’t she? Then we are past. We walk, Rigby and I, and somehow I know she is following. I’m conscious of her there. I stop to let some people through a crowded section. I murmur something to Rigby. I turn as if to look into a shop window, and from the corner of my eye, I spot her.

The congestion clears and we go on. Thirty metres on we turn off into a laneway, while she continues on straight.

I haven’t seen her since. I still don’t know what to make of it. A part of me feels embarrassed. I think I’ve imagined it all. Then I wonder why I didn’t have the gumption to do anything about it. But, by now, I have no idea what’s right.

I have a strange and irrational sense that this was a gift to me I didn’t accept. I keep thinking of the old joke about the impoverished man who prays to God each night that he might win the lottery. Finally, exasperated, God booms from the heavens, “meet me halfway, willya, buy a ticket!”

That’s me. I didn’t go halfway.

I’ll probably never see her again. That doesn’t concern me. Life is full of moments that escape from you. Now, I’m more curious about what it means for me – and what it reveals?

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