So there I was, wandering around in a slightly unfamiliar building on campus, searching for a lady I was supposed to be meeting. (Spoiler Alert: She had forgotten about the meeting and was already at home with her children as I circled the first floor, searching for her – someone I had never met or seen before.)
She was late. Or, was I in the wrong spot? I thought we said we were meeting at the chairs in the front lobby. But, maybe to her, the front lobby is what to me is the back lobby.
I wandered around. I went to the back of the building. There was a lady sitting there, who looked like she could be who I was looking for. I still had my doubts, though. We said the front lobby, right by those squishy chairs! She must be talking about the same place as I am. Maybe she’s just late.
I walk past the lady sitting in the chair. No, that can’t be her. My eyes search among the other people sitting around the high tables and chairs of the school’s cafe. I make eye contact with a black-haired boy sitting against the windowed-wall.
I don’t look away. He doesn’t look away. It feels like I know him, though I don’t know him. He looks at me like he understands. It doesn’t feel like I am looking at a stranger, though I am. I could walk over to him and it wouldn’t be weird. Instead, I walk away.
I go back to the front of the building. No one new there, only a few high school students still waiting for their parents to come and pick them up. (Yes, there is a high school inside of my University. It’s where I graduated from.)
I check the clock on my phone. She’s almost 15 minutes late now. How long should I wait? Maybe she actually forgot.
I check my email. Nothing. Where is she? I wonder how much longer I should wait for her. I’ve been waiting for what feels like forever – 25 minutes. How much time does she need?
I wait. My mind wanders to that boy. I should have went up to him. I should have said hello. I should have asked him if he felt the same way – if he felt like I wasn’t a stranger, though I was.
I wander around the front lobby, as if changing the location of my body, and my line of sight, will make the woman I’m waiting for suddenly appear. It doesn’t work.
I decide that I need to double check that that woman sitting in the back lobby isn’t actually the lady I’ve been searching for all along – I’m trying to be professional, here. I don’t want to leave without making sure. I don’t want to leave her sitting there, waiting for me.
I walk back around to the area where she’s sitting. I walk in the same direction around as I did before, intentionally avoiding the place where the black-haired boy was sitting.
The woman is still there, sitting, reading something in a folder. This could be her, I think.
I walk up to her, a stranger. She looks up at me as I approach.
Are you M.?, I ask. No, she says. Sorry, I say. No problem, she says, and smiles.
I walk back to the front, passing the boy again. We look at each other. I do nothing. I walk away.
Back in the front lobby, I’m about ready to leave, though I still have some hope that the lady I’m looking for will appear.
I exit the building out of the back door. The boy is still there, watching me. I ignore him. I can’t do anything else.
As the door closes behind me, I think of him. Who is he? Why is it so easy to look him in the eye? That doesn’t happen very often. Why didn’t I say anything? Of course I didn’t say anything.
Later, I wonder. Our eyes keep meeting in my mind. I remember only his black hair, and his eyes, and how he looked at me, and how I felt. I remember how he was sitting alone in the cafe near the window. I wonder who he is, where he is now. I wonder what would have happened if I had been brave enough, or curious enough, to walk up to him. A stranger. A stranger who didn’t feel like a stranger. A stranger with the eyes of a friend.