by Deborah Hemstreet
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It is hard work to accept mediocrity, not to excel at anything, and yet to be more than adequate at everything. I suppose that is why I chose to excel at the one thing no one can imagine, hiding. The problem is I played hide-and-seek one too many times—and got lost.
I read this book by a psychologist—quite popular you know—he talked about playing hide and seek and how there is always the one who hides too well. Everyone gives up in the end, and the shrink is calling, "get found kid... get found." But I don't know where or when I lost myself.
Have you ever walked down the street and looked in a window, seeing all the reflections of people behind and beside, but the face presumably reflecting your image, is totally unknown? I don't know this person, I thought, one particular day....
The face looking back at me was not quite round, a hint long in the chin, normal. An unremarkable nose, and a short pixie style haircut with a fringe; brown eyes looked back at me. Unremarkable, not too big, not too small, not wrinkled or lined—I faked a smile. The face I was watching could almost have been pretty, but for the eyes; they were not smiling, rather searching, desperately searching.
I turned away from the window and moved on with the Saturday shopping crowd—another face, another body—blending into the nonsense of living inconsequential lives steeped in mundanity from waking to sleeping. Endless errands, shopping, driving, home to clean and cook. If one was married, perhaps talk to your spouse, chase after the children. If it had been a good or romantic day, perhaps make passionate love; if it had been a bad day, make violent love, or no love at all.
If you were single you went out at night, unless you were religious or afraid of aids. Or, you stayed home with a book and the proverbial pet cat, or bird, or fish, depending on the rules of your rented flat.
A million lives living in utter isolation, all playing hide-and-go-seek and playing by the rules. You hide, I seek, until I find you. Found, I hide, you seek, until you find me.
With such thoughts in mind, I turned to go into a cafe for coffee, but turned back out as I noted the walls lined with mirrors. I could not bear another reflection that even I could not really see.
I found another café, no mirrors. I found a place at a table by a window. Now I could do what I liked best. I sat down, ordered a pot of coffee and a croissant, and looked out the window at the people passing by. Having a window seat I didn't need my novel of the day, always ready in my handbag. Rather, I sat wondering how some of these people could bare their state of undress or dress, and what a couple saw in each other as they walked, hand-in-hand, kissing, somehow managing to keep moving despite their total absorption with each other. Actually, I noted, the crowd, to which they were oblivious, would just kind of part before them, I supposed something like the Red Sea. I saw no Moses with his rod, only a blind man using his cane, tapping into the heels of the couple, and walking around them as they bemusedly looked around and then continued on their intimate journey.
Before my mind could conjure up what would happen next, a voice jarred me. I started, and just missed spilling my coffee.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to startle you."
I just looked at him. The him invading my thoughts was staring back, apologetically.
"I said, 'do you mind? Can I sit with you?'" He turned and pointed to the other tables, all of which were full.
Don't ask me what he looked like, generic male. "Go ahead," and then I forced a smile, "I'm almost done anyway."
"Hah," he laughed back, pointing to the coffee pot. "There are still two more cups left."
Suddenly he was no longer generic. His face was shadowed by dark stubble that was either an early attempt at beard growth, or unshaved due to rush or laziness. I guessed the latter. But his eyes were what caught me, dark, dark brown, but full of light. Here was someone who probably found everyone when he played hide and seek.
"Olly-olly-ol-free," I murmured.
"Huh?" He looked up from the menu he had begun to scan as he sat down.
"Oh, nothing," I mumbled and refilled my coffee cup.
Six months later I'm sitting now, at the same table, drinking another pot of coffee. I recognize my reflection in the window, but I cannot look for long. I'm afraid it will fade. A cup of coffee, a wry joke, and I made a friend—or did the friend make me? I don't know. He searched, I don't know why, and found me. He introduced me to myself, got me thinking I wasn't half bad after all, got me thinking that maybe the mirror did not lie, rather my eyes did. I stopped thinking about mundanity.
Then, I started to see him. But when I told him I saw light in his eyes, the light disappeared like a flame on a match snuffed out by a quick breath. Like the wind he came and like the end of autumn, he fled. He did not play by the rules, and now....
"What?" I look up. It is someone else now. The tables are full again. I smile, get up and nod to the stranger across from me. "I was just going," I say, "the table is yours."
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