Really, what were the chances? He was on his way to a meeting with a recruitment agency in the area; she was there to catch a Gatwick Express to the airport, whence she would be flying back to Brazil after a week visiting friends in London he never knew she had. The idea that the paths of the pair of them should cross at that very moment, after all this time… well, it frankly defies belief.
It had been more than 31 years since they’d seen each other, since she’d waved him off that time at the airport in Rio. He had to go home to complete his training, but he’d be back after that and they’d get engaged, they’d lied to each other at the time. Or you could come to London and get a job here?
Neither eventuality would ever transpire, they both already knew. The relationship hadn’t been working for a while. His easy-going, laid-back charm – so different from the men she’d known before – had turned out on closer inspection to be a craven, aimless passivity that bordered on moral cowardice. The only thing he ever got worked up about was his sexual jealousy. He thought she was becoming distant and less demonstrative because she was seeing someone else; he never knew – and she herself only half-understood – that she was slipping into a severe depression.
But still, they had been great lovers back in the day, no? When they’d met, back when he was still a student, they had been obsessed with each other. Their love lit up whole pubs and clubs – tramps came up to them in the street and danced for her. She dazzled. Other men always noticed her too, though they never seemed to notice him. She never made it clear enough they were an item, he raged.
When she had to go back to her country, he’d vowed to follow her. He borrowed money left, right and centre he would never repay, found a job that he hated teaching English (yet another stick he could beat her with). She had secretly thought he would never come; but now that he was here, he didn’t get that her family needed her and she couldn’t just leave them. He said he wasn’t ready to meet them, but secretly he fumed that he was never invited round.
Such memories! Such nights! Such passion! Such pain when, back in London, he called and she was in tears, and she said she’d not been well, and she really hadn’t, but he didn’t believe her. And then she ended up saying she’d met someone, because that was what he wanted to hear. And he hung up and never phoned her back. And he couldn’t believe that she’d done this to him. And she couldn’t believe that he didn’t even have it in him just to wish her better.
For years, his torch burned for her. He thought of her every time he met someone new. He dreamt of her often. She was his great impossible love, his grand obsession, and he bore the pain of her absence with a quiet stoical pride. When, years after they’d split up, he saw on Facebook that she had married and had children, he made friends take him out and console him. They did their duty by him, but he could tell they didn’t really get it.
And now, more than three decades later, the great love of his life walked the same concourse as him once more. She approached from the main entrance, heading straight towards the ticket machines, from where she would double back to platform 11 and her train for the airport. He, meanwhile, had entered from the coach station side, putting him on a course at right angles to hers. Their paths would meet at a point about 10 metres from the doughnut stand, where she – stopping to retrieve her ticket from her bag, and wondering aloud why she’d bothered to put it there when she knew she’d have to show it again almost straight away – turned aside to make way as some man in a beard she’d once known, himself head down and staring vacantly ahead, made to move past her on the left.
She had occasionally thought about him in the intervening years, if a story about London came on the news or someone asked her to translate something from the English. (She was so rusty now; he promised to give her lessons back in the day, but of course he’d just never had the patience.) But in her mind, the happy times were eclipsed by memories of his petty cruelties, his selfishness, and – massive irony, this — his infidelities. She had been happier since, and sadder too, had raised a family, divorced, married again, got it right this time. She was where she was, it was her life now.
He had married too, twice, and divorced, twice. He blamed her for ruining his chances with anyone else. His heart was a dried-up husk, and somehow this was her fault. It never occurred to him that she had been his only chance of escaping the prison of his personality.
And so it was that, when the paths of the great lovers crossed, each was wrapped up in their own thoughts, neither noticed the other – and no one would ever know how close they had come to meeting again. Not here, whispered the ticket machines. Not now, said the doughnut stand. Not ever, said the women in the purple sashes giving away free sample packs of a new brand of muesli bar.
Dan’s competition shortlists include Flash500, Sunderland University/Waterstones, To Hull and Back, Wimbledon BookFest, Fish, Dorset Writers Award and Retreat West. His work has appeared in Cabinet of Heed, Bending Genres, The Esthetic Apostle, Spelk, Ginger Collect, Fiction Pool… His agent is Ger Nichol; his collection of short stories, Hotel du Jack, is scheduled for publication in early 2020.