Monday 22 April 2013

A4 : S7 - The Boy With the Crossed Palm

He'd caught me off guard.

"What... what are you dong here?" I said, completely astounded at not only his perseverance in tracking me down, but also his courage to just show up out of the blue. Perhaps I'd found a worthy adversary.

"I text you but I wasn't sure if it was the right number..." He said showing me his smudged hand.

"I'll catch up with you later, okay." Florentine said with a knowing grin, before heading off to locate her wandering family.

I looked at Marcus pleadingly. A tiny alarm bell sounded in my head. There's strangerism and then there's just plain dangersim. (Forgive the pun but you know that did sound just a little bit cool) I did not know anything about this boy and to be honest I was a little afraid. There'd been a power shift.

Marcus looked from me, to the boy, to me again, smiled and said,

"Well, I'm off to catch my train. I've got work early tomorrow. See ya."

Damn. I knew exactly what Marcus was thinking. I'd got myself into this, it was I who had to get myself out.

The boy with the crossed palm and I were left alone in the lobby of the theatre.

"Well," I said with a resolve, deciding that I was going to make the most out of the night, regardless. "Shall we?" I motioned toward the door and my fear started to ebb away. As we walked toward the exit, I was filled with a quiet, dancing excitement.

The other side of that door could hold absolutely anything. In a metaphorical sense, clearly. Really, it just held a dingy backstreet and maybe a few bins. But as soon as I put my hand on that door to leave the theatre, the adventure would begin, and I could only dream of what was going to happen. One thing I knew, was that it wasn't going to be normal.

"The gig was terrible" He said as we stepped out into the cool night air. "I thought I'd come and see what you were up to."

In my head I was screaming WHO DOES THAT? But I said nothing and smiled. We walked on over the cobbled street in silence for a moment.

"You know," he said, "After I got off that train, I couldn't make up my mind if you were actually real or not." I gave a small laugh.

"Why is that?"

"That sort of thing just... doesn't happen"

"I know." I said with a smile.

"When I got to the gig I told my friend what had happened, and he said you'd probably come out of a time warp from the 1950's and I'd never ever find you again."

"Well, it kinda looks like we're in an episode of Doctor Who right now, don't you think?"

The dark Greenwich street we stood on was paved with cobbled stones, and lined by brick walls on either side, with the far end opening out to the marina, with the perfect view of the Cutty Sark . The only light which graced the scene was from the distant flickering glows across the water, the big silver moon and one lone Victorian street lamp. I walked down the middle of the road slowly, examining the buildings. They were beautiful.

"I wonder what this is." I said, noticing an abandoned and crumbling building and crossing the street to look at it.

"No..." I whispered as I reached it.

"What is it?" The Boy With The Crossed Palm said. I stared up at the flaking paint on the dark blue board above the derelict store.

Silver Street Studios.

"You just... you don't know how weird that is." I said. I put my hands up against the grates over the windows and peered into the shop. I gasped again. All I could make out on the wall was a peeling movie poster, for the 1951 film A Streetcar Named Desire. The very same poster I have above my bed on my bedroom wall at home.

"Why is that weird?"

"Hmm... just a very, very strange coincidence." I said, backing away from the building, and turning to continue down the street.

"You don't give away much do you?" He said, jogging to catch up with me. I smirked as I caught the words 'Life is about the people you meet and you things you create with them' and 'This is not about you' flash across my mind.

"Well, where's the fun in that?"

We turned and walked to the other end of the street and I listened as he began telling me about his evening. Suddenly we both stopped still and silent in our tracks at a sound.

"Did you hear that?" He said and I nodded. The sound came again and it was the unmistakable zing of a jazz trumpet. We turned a corner to find a tiny door, surrounded by ivy and flowers, with a wizened old man sat outside on a stool smoking a fat cigar. A sign above his head pointed to a spiraling staircase below, with the words 'Olivers Jazz Club' scrawled in calligraphy. Me and the boy exchanged a look, smiled, and wordlessly descended down the stairs. I suddenly had de ja vu of when I went to the Top Secret Comedy Club with Mr X. 

The interior was almost like a secluded Parisian cafe from the 1940's. We found ourselves a small round wrought-iron table at the back with a single red candle in the middle, and he bought us a drink each.
I got out a biro and started scribbling notes across my arms as in a hurry I'd forgotten my notepad.

"Do you do this often?" He said, returning with the drinks.

"Thank you," I smiled. "Do what?"

He held his arms up and looked around. "This"

"Not as much as I'd like to, but probably a lot more than I should."

He laughed. I told him the story of the first time I'd ever gone on an adventure with a complete stranger, when I'd ended up watching Einaudi in Trafalgar Square as the sun set. I marvelled. That was almost a year ago.

"Why do you... do it?"

I frowned.

"Why?" I thought about Florentine's play and just how perfect it was. "Because strangers are the most incredible people in the world. Do you not think? I know absolutely nothing about you, and you know absolutely nothing about me. And all that you do know about me I've told you, and just could be a complete lie. Isn't that funny? And you'd never know and I'd have nothing to lose." I took a sip of my wine. "I haven't lied to you so far though. You're in luck."

"Okay well... good. I haven't lied to you either." He smiled.

"But you're, what..."


"You're 22 years old, and you've had a whole unfathomably complex life, 22 years worth of experience, characters, situations, problems, circumstances... and I never would've even contemplated that or known you existed if I hadn't laughed at you on the underground."

"Damn, I knew you were laughing at me."

We both smiled.

"But do you see? What was meant to happen was that neither of us said anything, we would be on the train, you'd get off the train, I'd continue on and come here and it would be nothing. Nothing. There would be that one window of slight marginal opportunity and it would just pass. I reckon stuff like that happens every single day, chances for our lives to change forever, but we don't realise it, millions of chances just gliding past every single second, and we're totally oblivious.

Because I spoke to you, because I did what I wasn't supposed to do, we both inadvertently seized that window of opportunity, and now whether we realise it or not, we've both just altered the course of our lives, forever. Because we've done this, we have altered the path that our lives were on, even just by a fraction now, but I think that now whatever we will go on to do, where we will one day end up, will ultimately have been changed by this experience. We took destiny into our own hands and forcibly changed it. Things like that just completely baffle and excite me."

He stared at me in silence with a small smile on his lips.

"...But you do realise you sound completely insane, right?"

I gave a half-laugh, half-sigh.

"Pretty much."

We stayed in Oliver's for about an hour, talking, chatting and laughing, soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying the bands. In my head, I thought about what he'd said. 'Why do you do this?' and it stuck with me. Why did I do this? I subconsciously realised that I actually had a set of rules of what I am now, for reasonable reasons because of reasons, going to call 'Strangerism.'

'Strangerism (noun) - Consciously going out of one's comfort zone to considerably interact with the life of a complete stranger in an unexpected way.'

Rule #1 - Keep the mystery. It doesn't work if you give too much away, you have to keep as much information about yourself as ambiguous as possible. Strangerism loses the ability to inspire with the more detail you give away. Hold back as much about yourself as possible because it's not about you, it's about them.

Rule #2 - Keep romance out of it. As soon as it crosses that boundary it becomes tainted and sordid. This ain't about having one night stands.

Rule #3 - Only ever meet once. That one night you chose to indulge in a bit of strangerism must be the only ever time you meet them. After that, the magic and mystery of that first meeting completely falls away and becomes less significant and the impact of it decreases rapidly. On both sides, Strangerism is about having just one singular profound moment with someone completely temporary, that will have an impact in your mind for the rest of your life. The main essence and basis of strangerism is the unknown - deriving meaning, finding reason and learning invaluable lessons from understanding all that you don't know.'

And I guess overall, strangerism is about learning about yourself. What information you choose to give away, how you decide to present yourself to someone entirely new, and seeing the judgments and opinions passed about you, from someone who could not have any bias or loyalty, or any knowledge of context about you. The only true honesty comes from someone who is entirely clueless. You can learn so much about yourself by talking to someone else. 

From there on, we went on the most ridiculous adventure. We jumped on the tube and let it take us wherever it could, resulting in us tumbling out in Soho and heading for Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club. We told each other of all the most bizarre adventures we'd ever been on, and the adventures we wished we could go on. We managed to sneak into the club for free as he knew the Sound Engineer, and it turns out his influence went further than that, as we were plied with free alcohol the entire night.

We got a bit merry and the evening blurs a little, but I just remember two things. The first was just how much we laughed, and secondly was the passion on the face of one of the pianists who was playing. I wish I'd got his name. I have never seen a more animated musician so avidly in love with what he was doing, and be smiling just so much.

"That's when you can tell it's real." The Boy With the Crossed Palm smiled to me.

We spent the evening sat in the plush red leather and dark wood booths, with him writing down his favourite songs, books, albums and films on my arm (they can give as much about themselves as they want) all across my arms and I just smiled, being more at peace than I think I've been in a long time. The music was incredible, the atmosphere was dark and seductive and the company was fantastic.

He found a pencil on the table, and I was struck with an idea.

"Here, I want you to keep this forever, okay?" I picked up the pencil and started to carve something into the wood. It took a lot longer than I thought it would, but when I finally finished, I proudly handed it over to him and he read it aloud,

"If ever finds you a moment where you so wish you could talk to a stranger, never, ever refrain. For you have but nothing to lose, yet to gain, the world."

And just looking at his face gazing down at that pencil and then flicker up to my face, I could just tell that from that day onward, his perception of the world, if only even by a fraction of a change, would forever be different.

Then perhaps one day, he'd be sat on a bus or on a train, and see someone that he would give anything to just say something to, he'd feel that pencil in his back pocket, and he'd just do it. And he'd go on to have an amazing adventure, altering the worldly perception of that person, who'd go on to do the same. Thus the spirit of adventure, life, strangers and silverness, would forever be inspired on like a tiny little silver thread of excitement running through the grey majority.

After walking for three hours through the twilit streets of Central London, I finally tumbled on to the first train home at 5.32am, feeling rather sorry for myself but with a massive grin on my face. I'd bumped into the stranger 10 hours ago, and I was just now, leaving.

So I bid my farewell, committing his face to my memory for I knew that it was over. I was never, ever going to see him again and with that, we parted and he was gone.

And after all that, he still never even knew my name.