By Lizzie Enfield
Have you ever had a 'brief encounter' moment?
Lizzie Enfield has written a fantastic short story about a chance meeting with a stranger, inspired by her new novel UNCOUPLED, coming out in paperback this September.
And this got us thinking…we’d love to hear about a memorable encounter you’ve had with a stranger and what the outcome was. Email your story to email@example.com by 31 October 2012 and we’ll select 10 people to win a copy of UNCOUPLED.
THE KINDNESS OF A STRANGER
They’d seen it all before: madness, anger, canoodling, smoking, even though the sticker on every window forbade the latter. They clocked it, ignored it, pretended it wasn’t happening, rather than say something. So why would anyone be moved by a young woman crying, shaking with heavy, grief laden sobs?
It hadn’t hit me at the hospital.
"I’m afraid there’s nothing more we can do."
I just wanted to get out, away from the doctors and the patients they had been able to revive or do whatever it was that needed to be done to keep them alive.
"Amy wait!" Jem had called after me.
But I ignored the pleading in his voice, left him there to deal with it and allowed myself to be swallowed up by the underground.
Surrounded by strangers, ignorant of what had happened, I thought I could blot it out, at least until I was back in Jem’s flat. I didn't mind losing it there, in the privacy of my big brother's home. But it happened sooner than I’d anticipated – the breaking down whilst strap hanging, tears staining the denim jacket of the man I stood wedged up against.
No reaction, not at first. Then I felt a hand on my shoulder and heard a voice.
"This is my stop. Let me get you a taxi home. Whatever it is, you’re in no state to travel like this."
I must have agreed. I must have let him guide me off the tube, onto the street and into a cab.
Perhaps I'd reasoned murderers and rapists don't offer to pay for taxis for women whose fathers have just suffered fatal heart attacks? More likely I wasn't reasoning, just following an instinct to accept the kindness of this stranger.
Did I ask him to come with me? I remember him being there in the back of the cab. "Is there anyone I can call? A friend? A relative? Someone you are close to?"
Did I tell him my friends were in Perth, where I lived, and that I was only in London to celebrate Dad's birthday?
I never really looked at him properly but I knew he was beautiful.
A beautiful stranger took me home the night my father died.
He stood there, as I fumbled on the threshold, going through my bag, searching for keys. His dark eyes looked at me, concerned. The taxi was waiting for him.
"I’m sorry for your loss."
I remember Jem picking up the scrap of paper from the coffee table in the days after, when everything blurred and nothing made sense.
"Is this important Amy?" he asked. "Nick Walker?"
Did I shake my head, because the name didn’t mean anything to me, a name so common as to make its owner virtually untraceable?
I know that by the time I realised the name belonged to him, the scrap had long since been discarded; the kindness of that stranger scrunched in the palm of Jem's hand and thrown away.
Yet, it’s stayed with me.