Thursday, 26 November 2015

An Open Letter to River Man

For those of you who have been following my FB/Twitter updates about River Man over the last several months, I thought I'd give you a fuller picture of the ongoing River Story. If I ever end up speaking to him, this might be some of what I'd say...

Dear River Man,

I'm not wanting to plagiarise Adele, but, hello - it's me. You know, the girl who also walks to the river at lunchtime and likes to stare at the ducks too? (And talk to them - though I've never seen you do that, more's the pity). While you do wear the exact same clothes every day - and are therefore very easy to recognise - I emphatically don't, but I know you know who I am. Well, I know you recognise me, at least. I see you spot that it's me and quickly avert your gaze back to your intent river-staring, don't deny it. 
The down-streamiest bit of my River Walk 
I really love my lunchtime walks, whether you're there or not; they give me a chance to stop and observe. I know a lot of people like to walk and think, but I like to walk and not-think. They're space to breathe in a day sat still in an office. I've usually come from a morning where I've answered five emails in a row about completely different elements of my job, then worked intermittently on another three, and my brain has been going at 5,000 miles per hour. My ten minute walk lets some of that settle while my brain isn't working, and I focus on anything (or everything) else. Listening and watching for birds is a favourite activity, as well as laughing at squirrels (they're never not funny), walking 'at goose-speed' (so you feel like you're going for a walk down-stream with the geese as they swim), trying to befriend the ducks (though they just don't seem to want to know if you don't have food for them), and, of course, observing the other River People. 
They don't want none unless you got bread, hun.

And that's where you come in.

The thing is, River Man, you are by no means the only person I see every day: a regular stranger presence in my life is nothing unique. There are a whole suite of River People who brighten my daily life. There's Professor Grey (you know, the slightly scruffy, eccentric-looking man who's out each lunchtime, with scraggly greying hair and fully grey-black attire?); and Red-Coat-Black-Hat-Lady who always walks towards me on the wrong side of the path when I'm cycling in each morning (and who gets her name wrong during the warmer months when her coat is blue and she doesn't wear a hat); and Lovely Libby the Librarian, who looks like she'd never hurt a fly, but also struggles with the 'keep to the left' aspect of the highway code. Heck, River Man, there's even a man I see walking his dog every morning just as I leave my house (not technically a River Person) who actually says good morning to me as I cycle past him. Says good morning. Crazy. But none of these people are so awkwardly in my life as you are. 

You are stand-out in your separateness, but I can't quite figure out why. You're an intriguing River Person to observe. Maybe it's because you genuinely do wear the same outfit every single day (don't those trousers ever get dirty? Do you have more than one pair that specific colour? I freaked out a few days ago because someone came into the office in your outfit while I was cleaning my glasses and in my blurriness I thought it was you...Would I even recognise you in different coloured trousers?) Or because you switch from staring intently into the river to aimlessly wandering so quickly and without reason. Or because instead of just acknowledging my presence like the other River People, you often so staunchly ignore me. Or because I so rarely see you smile, even when you're on the phone. Or because you always seem just a little bit sad. Or because you acknowledge my presence in your manner but not to my face.

But it's got a bit weird now, hasn't it? 

We have this almost-daily wandering past each other, or behind each other, or whatever. Never any eye contact, but often a bit of loitering (from you, not me - you know as well as I do that if I'm loitering it's because I'm looking for a bird in a tree). You definitely loitered this week, and it was a bit odd.

What were you doing? 

Wander with me...
Specifically, on the cold day, I started walking back to the office from downstream, all bundled up in my hat and gloves for the first time this season. And then you started walking as I approached you, meaning I had no choice but to dawdle behind you. You made me feel like a dawdly, bobble-hatted stalker: that's hardly fair. But then when you got to the corner you stopped. I hadn't noticed this as I'd already stopped, distracted by a robin. This happens. This really, really happens. But when I went to carry on you were still there. What do I do? For a moment I thought I was going to have to awkwardly shimmy on past you? Like a confused tourist in a big city you were looking at your phone and then looking up the path as if you didn't know quite which way to go. I mean, we both know that wasn't the case. You do that walk every day, dearest RM, you hardly need a sat nav. I approached again you hastened on your way, rather than making me shuffle past you, and allowed me to keep dawdling the stalky-walk behind you back to our neighbouring offices. 

There are SO many questions, RM. Why do you come out every day too - do you secretly love ducks as much as I do? Are you loitering deliberately so I'll catch you up? How long would you have loitered there if I'd ended up having a full-blown conversation with the robin, or realising the family of long-tailed tits had come back? Do you want me to talk to you? Because you know that I talk to people: you've seen me run into my co-workers out by the river and have conversations within your earshot. And you know that I smile - you saw me laugh at a sneezing duck only yesterday. Gosh, that was hysterical. A sneezing duck. Honestly. (OK, or maybe that's why you avoid me...)

I'm not asking for a Christmas Miracle, River Man. (Or a Thanksgiving Miracle, or a Mid-Autumn Miracle (that's a thing, right?)) I'm not expecting you to become my new best friend, or lunchtime buddy, or to persuade the ducks to be my friends with me. But, this holiday season, I'm going to hope for a couple of things. The first is that I'll catch you having a phone call where you're smiling, rather than fraught. That must be possible. The second is that you will allow me to look you in the eyes and smile, one time. Because we're all just River People, after all, it's OK to be in it together.

River Girl

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