Brief encounters…

“Your eyes are far too pretty to look so sad”.

I looked up, woken from my melancholic reverie to find a kindly face smiling down at me.
“Do you mind if I take this seat?” he asked.
I smiled back and nodded my invitation to take up the space next to me, despite several vacant seats all around.

I exchanged pleasantries with my new tram companion then he introduced himself as Joe. He took my hand in his gnarled and withered grasp and stole it to his lips. I was enchanted at this old-school charm yet pink in the cheek from the small audience we had begun to attract, glancing at us from behind their smartphones and copies of the Metro at this unusual display of public, human interaction.

“So what did he do?” Joe asked.
I may have found the assumption somewhat impertinent if I wasn’t already halfway in love with him.
“He?” I evaded.

Joe smiled, a sage and knowing smile. His eyes, small and glassy with age, answered for him.

“There’s no ‘he’,” I added, somewhere between truth and self-deprecation, “There’s never a ‘he’.”

“A bonny girl like you? What the bloody hell is wrong with fellas these days?”

Bonny? I smarted a bit at that. Wasn’t that a euphemism for fat? I squashed down my cynicism and accepted the comment as a compliment. A couple of young men glanced up at this statement too, probably resentful at Joe’s implication that their lack of throwing themselves at me indicated a terrible personal flaw. With their trendy suits and pretentious haircuts, they could have happily given Joe a number of reasons why I, with my wobbly arse and too-big, quirky features, wouldn’t even register on their radar.

“I’m afraid I’m not very good with relationships’ I countered, “I must be defective! Ha ha!” I half-joked.
“Oh now, that’s nonsense!” he replied. “You’re the moon!”

Those three words jarred in my head. This was not the first time I had heard them. How could he know? My eyes narrowed, quizzically as I considered what the universe was conspiring at, or where I had met this soul before, in another place or another time.

He took this puzzled expression as a request to further explain. He continued:

“’Art thou pale for weariness
Of climbing Heaven, and gazing on the earth,
Wandering companionless
Among the stars that have a different birth,
And ever changing, like a joyless eye
That finds no object worth its constancy?’”

I gawped, unable to respond. I could feel a faint threat of tears begin to prickle my eyes.

“Percy Shelley,” he informed me. This, I knew. I had read the very same verse mere days before.
“It’s beautiful” I whispered.
“Yes it is.”

He took my hand again. The loud clatter, the violent jolts of the tram and harsh lighting could do nothing to distract my mind from reeling.  How could a stranger see me so? I felt exposed, uncovered.

He continued with such kindness in his expression, I almost wept.

“You have heartbreak in your eyes. It’s clear to see. But you’re the bloody moon!”

I smiled, not really understanding what he was trying to say. Intuitively, he knew.

“They can’t hurt you because they’re not worthy of your constancy. They don’t even know what a gift that is.  The one that is worthy, will be the one you’ll give yourself to.”

‘My mother would tell you that I give my heart away too freely!” I answered, remembering my last conversation with her, and also trying to lighten the tone.

“That could never be true though. Not for the moon.  And I mean really give yourself, with no fear. Nothing left in reserve.”

A fleeting image of his face crossed my mind. I had believed him utterly worthy of me (if anything, I didn’t feel I was enough for him).  But I hadn’t given myself completely. Nor had he.  And now he was gone.

As if reading my mind, Joe added,
“The only person truly worthy of the moon’s constancy, is the fella who knows that death is the only thing that could possibly part you. Not a word, not an action. Being apart is not possible, like separating your lungs from the act of breathing.”

I was now in serious danger of falling apart, right there on the tram, in front of the trendies, with their smirking mouths and inexplicable tans on a November day in Manchester.

Joe stood up, shaky and unsteady on his feet, leaning on his stick as the tram neared St Peter’s Square.

“Your eyes are so beautiful. But don’t fill them with sadness for anybody who is not worthy of the moon.”

With that, I watched the tram doors close and Joe’s frail, yet sanguine figure walk away down the platform, melting into the crowd.

I knew that I had always known him. I knew that I always would.

And I smiled. All the way up to my eyes.


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