Chance Encounters
A Short Story by Tim Josephs
Written using the suggestion "Companionship"
Originally featured on 04-17-2007
As part of our series "Things you can live without, but most people choose not to"

You: black pigtails, green dress, shopping for kumquats

at McGregor’s on 3rd. Me: short blonde hair, glasses.

You looked at me and smiled. Wanna sample some of

my produce?

 

Every Tuesday, when I get a copy of the latest weekly newspaper, I immediately check the “Chance Encounters” section first. I read it slowly and thoroughly making sure I don’t miss anything in case someone happened to have a chance encounter with me. But so far no one has.

It’s not that I’m incredibly lonely (not just that anyway) but I know a lot of people who actually met their future spouses through those ads. Well, not a lot of people exactly, it was really only one guy. And truthfully, he was more a friend of a friend.

But I figure it’s only a matter of time before I’m encountered and I’ve taken steps to improve my odds. For one thing, I hang out at several different places all over the city. Then I’ll do things like stand really close to the person in front of me at a bakery or hardware store hoping they’ll turn around suddenly and bump into me. Then of course I can help them clean up their cupcakes or drill bits.

Or in line at the supermarket, I’ll stare eagerly at everyone around me, including the lovely silver-maned lady behind the register, hopeful someone will make eye contact. But nothing’s worked so far; for some reason people usually avoid making any kind of contact with me, eye or otherwise.

I usually go to coffee houses wearing something distinct like a red carnation in my front pocket or a cardboard party hat or a powder-blue tuxedo and just sit there, sometimes for hours. Then when the new paper comes out, I’ll rush to the box and flip to the last page to see if anyone wants to meet me. But so far no one does.

I suppose I could just place my own ad; write up a little blurb about a cutie I saw at a tanning salon or bike shop. But I don’t think I’m quite that desperate (at least not yet anyway).

A couple months ago I got excited when I found an ad I thought sounded like me:

 

Me: Blonde ponytail, blue shirt, jeans. You: brown hair,

red T-shirt, ordering green tea at Wendell’s. Let’s get

together, the tea’s on me.

 

Except for the brown hair and the fact that I’d never been to Wendell’s, it sounded exactly like me. I nearly called. But then I remembered my only red T-shirt was destroyed in a fire some years ago. I still almost called anyway.

A few weeks ago I decided to try my luck at Starbucks. There are 12 in a four-block radius around my apartment, so I figured if I hit them all, I’d have a good chance of being encountered.

The first seven were uneventful, but number eight proved interesting. As usual, I sat at a table in the middle. If a middle table is unavailable, I’ll stand extra close to the people sitting there and stare at them or make weird noises until they leave. Instead of engaging me in a conversation or at least asking me to stop playing my nose harp as I’d prefer, they usually just finish their drinks and quickly depart.

So, as I sat there sipping my half-caff, double mocha, lite-soy latte with fat free whipped topping sprinkled with a faint dusting of Colombian nutmeg (I always order the most complicated drink in hopes of being etched in the barista’s memory), I looked around. There were a lot of people waiting in line and sitting or standing and talking, but hardly anyone glanced my way.

After about an hour, I figured I’d move on to Starbucks number nine and drained the last of the latte. I adjusted my sombrero and headed for the trashcan. Just as I got there, a young, blonde-haired girl holding a large tray filled with steaming cups suddenly stepped in front of me. I was startled and dropped my own cup to the floor.

“Oh, I’m sorry!” she said.

“Uh, that’s okay,” I replied.

She glanced up at me and smiled. “I like your hat. Is it Cinco de Mayo already?”

I blushed. “Uh, no. I think that’s in August or something.”

She laughed. “Yeah, something like that. Well, adios.” She slid past me and out the door. I went outside and watched her cross the street. After she disappeared around a corner, I started heading home, completely forgetting about the other Starbucks.

Over the next few days I couldn’t stop thinking about the girl — her cute smile, her vast knowledge of Spanish holidays — and I was sure she had posted an ad in the newspaper wanting to meet me.

The following Tuesday morning, I hurried out of my apartment. Crossing the street (and narrowly avoiding getting hit by an angry-looking man in a red Toyota), I rushed to the green metal box. The rusty door squeaked as I opened it and I grabbed a paper and quickly flipped to the last page.

Scanning the ads, I started walking back home. But besides someone who was described as having an “Uncle Fester vibe”, I didn’t see anything that sounded like me or my Starbucks encounter.

The last thing I remembered was stepping off the curb.

When I opened my eyes I saw I was lying in an unfamiliar bed. Looking around, I could see I was in a small white room with a large window. To my right and left were machines, one of which was beeping. I felt some pressure on my left arm and gazed down to see tubes extending from it. I could tell there was something on my head and lifted my weak arms to feel a thick bandage.

After a moment the door opened and a large middle-aged woman with a pleasant face wearing pink scrubs entered. She looked at me and stopped suddenly.

“You’re awake!”

I tried to say something but the only thing that came out was kind of a muffled grunt. She rushed over to the bed and stared at one of the machines for a moment.

“We were worried about you,” she said, looking back at me.

I cleared my dry throat a couple times and tried speaking again. “What, what happened?”

She smiled. “You, sir, are a very lucky man. You were hit by a bus.”

“A bus?” Suddenly I remembered hearing shouting and the squealing of brakes.

“That’s right. I think it was the number 14.”

“How, how long have I been…?”

“Well, let’s see, two I think. No wait, three.”

“Three hours?”

She laughed. “Three weeks. That’s why we were worried. Now get some rest, the doctor will be in to see you soon.”

She adjusted my pillow and then left, closing the door gently behind her.

I desperately tried to recall that day. Slowly, the memories started returning. I remembered waking up early and rushing outside. But why was I going out so early? After a minute it hit me: the newspaper—I wanted to see if the girl from Starbucks had written in to the paper about me.

I shook my groggy head; I couldn’t believe I nearly killed myself hoping some random girl wanted to meet me. I closed my eyes and started drifted back to sleep, thinking my days of checking the “chance encounter” ads were over.

The next time I woke, the metal rails on the sides of the bed were raised and I was being pushed down a hallway. A bald man with a shaggy mustache peered down at me.

“Hey, buddy, how ya doing?” he asked with a smile. “I’m Ted and I’ll be your driver this evening. We’re just taking you to get some more tests done.”

I nodded slightly.

“So what happened to you anyway?”

I opened my mouth to say something but nothing came out. His face started getting hazy and I felt myself dozing off again.

 

 

Ted shrugged. “Looks like he’s out again.”

“Hey, check this out.” Ted turned to the younger man walking next to the gurney. “Do you ever read these things?” He held up the newspaper in his hand.

“What?”

“These ‘chance encounter’ things, they’re pretty funny. Listen to this one:

 

Me: long red hair, black shirt, standing on 5th and Oak,

You: blonde hair, brown jacket getting hit by the

number 14 bus. Next time I’ll give you a ride, how

‘bout it?”

 

Ted laughed. “That is funny. Do you think any of those people ever actually get together?”

The man nodded. “Yeah, I have a friend who met his wife that way.”

“Really?”

“Well, he’s more a friend of a friend…”

Read More By Tim Josephs

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