I met a boy once who was the kindest creature. He was quiet and still, and yet the world would effervescence around him in the most darndest way. His eyes were dark and they popped in his face, the details of which I can’t remember, and I only ever felt camaraderie when I looked at him.
I was standing all alone on a full bus during my first week at university, and I saw him sitting next to a girl who was wearing a multicoloured scarf. She seemed anxious and she kept chattering and I don’t recall what they were talking about because I was engrossed my my own deep thoughts.
Will he text me? Will this day never end? How will I get home? Will I make any friends?
As the bus lurched from side to side on its jerky journey over the hills of my University town, and people steeled themselves to avoid bumping into each other, the girl in the multi-coloured scarf leaned forward on her seat and touched my arm.
“Excuse me,” she said quickly, “what’s the time?”
I don’t know why I didn’t think this was an odd question. She was holding her phone in her hand. I looked down at my own phone and opened my mouth to tell her but she interrupted me and said, breathless, “Hi, hi what’s your name? My name is L____”
I was surprised. Also secretly pleased. Also rather relieved. What an interesting way to make a friend, I thought. The boy next to her observed us quietly as our chat became a crescendo, rising above the bus and into a world of shared experiences, discovery, and yes, friendship.
He smiled at me once or twice and then got off the bus soon after. As the bus emptied my new friend gave me her mobile number and when I got off at my stop I was beaming. Exhilarated, happy. My first day at university had proved to me I wasn’t going to have to brave this journey alone.
When we met for lunch the next week at university she told me it the boy next to her had urged her to talk to me. She was nervous, she said, she was telling him she was afraid she wouldn’t make any friends at Uni. He’d told her if she didn’t talk to anybody, she never would. He told her to talk to me.
“She looks rather lost,” he had said, “talk to her. Her style suggests you two might have some things in common”
To this day I am close friends with her.
And him? I saw him sometimes. He would hold a door open for me, or smile at me on passing.
One afternoon I sat alone in the University library, browsing the internet as I did some research. A shadow fell over my papers. A gentle voice murmured, “Hello”
I looked up. I am usually one to be startled but the gentleness of his voice calmed me. “Why, hello” I said, and I smiled at him.
We had a chat. It wasn’t a necessarily deep chat. We spoke about the things we liked, people we met. We nodded at each other and listened to one other. It wasn’t a matter of being particularly interested in what the other had to say, it was a matter of openness, respect human to human. He told me I should come talk to him if I saw him. I said I absolutely would. He said it was nice to meet me. I genuinely believed he thought that. I said, “it was a pleasure to meet you too.”
Then he ambled off, putting his earphones back into his ears.
I watched him go. Never have I felt so accepted by a stranger. Never have I felt that another person would open their arms to me in a friendship so free. So loose. So easy. It was so simple to speak with him! It was lighthearted, enlightening. There was no burden of fakery, no forced physical contact, no forced pleasantries. If we felt like smiling, we did. If we didn’t, it was accepted and not taken personally. There were no emotional shackles.
I have since left University. I have since dropped all contact with previous friends I met there. I want nothing to do with them anymore, because the person I was when I met them was broken and hurt. I needed to start afresh. Different city. Far away from anything that would remind me of the one who destroyed me. I had been living a lie. I didn’t want them to know who I really was. I changed my number, I changed my address, I moved on. That is not to say I don’t miss them.
I wrote this post to hail that boy. To say a quiet, online thank you for opening my mind and heart. For making me feel welcome in a world in which I felt hostility. For broadening the horizon of my confidence. Here is to you. You know who you are.