Monday, 3 June 2013

A Trick Of The Mind

Her cheekbones were so light and delicate that he felt it possible to reach out and crush her face just between his fingers. 'As fragile as an eggshell', the expression came to his mind as he stole another glance across the restaurant. The plate in front of her bore the scattered remains of what she was eating. She was alone, and did not seem to be expecting anyone to join her, nor wished for that to happen either. She was eating at a glacial pace as if her mind were lost in another place, another landscape entirely. Lifting each tiny mouthful up to her thin insipid lips, at a pace that allowed for the complete assimilation of one tiny morsel before then next arrived at her mouth. He was fascinated by her delicacy, yet sure the apparent fragility was an illusion, a trick of the mind.

Not that he made a habit of people-watching, but now and then it was as if his eyes were drawn to observe and note other people as if he were looking at the human species for the very first time. It was the fact that no two faces looked alike, that was what inevitably amazed him. Each face was created from the same basic model; two eyes, nose, two ears, mouth and so on, yet despite the paucity of materials involved the range of differences seemed never ending. How could that possibly be? Was just a faint shadow of difference sufficient to create something so unique? Apparently. Miraculously so.

There was also a youngish couple, somewhere in their mid thirties, smiling and laughing over some witticism or bon mot. Their heads leaning in toward one another as if they were exchanging secret information. They were so obviously in the bubble of their own fascination with one another, so absorbed in each other, that the chances were the rest of the universe was held in temporary abeyance anyway. Then there was the group of three business men (it was obvious at even the most cursory glance what tribe they belonged to) who would from time to time lift their heavy looking glasses of beer and clank them together before calling out in loud voices. The only other people in the room was a middle aged couple sat opposite each other in such a way that a wall of dense wall of silence had fallen between them. Nothing could travel across that all consuming space, not light, not emotion, not a shard of communication, nothing, not even the will to break through.

He finished up his meal, a bowl of noodles with wafer thin slices of pale meat floating in the delicious broth, and looked for the waitress. Without being bid she immediately came to his table, her professional smile preceding her arrival at his side. "Is everything alright?"

After he paid up and was about to step outside, he realised that he had not seen the woman with the delicate, fine-as-porcelain face, leave. The chair where she had been sat was tucked back under the chair and the plate from which she had been picking her food was gone. It was as if she had simply dematerialised, vanished, gone, evaporated into the warm evening air. On the far side of the narrow street was a stream lined with cherry blossom trees, just a thin wash of water running over a coarse gravel bed, intense bursts of light reflected from the neon signs dancing among the ripples was the only sign that movement was occurring. Any sound was swallowed by the city's greed for attention to itself.

He was just about to aimlessly follow the water downstream, just allow it to take him somewhere, anywhere, when he heard the voice from behind him. "You know, its rude to watch others' eat." That voice! It could only belong to one person, one person in the entire world. Then the night folded in about him as the river ran on and on, this time it had a voice.

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