Some phone numbers you never need 

Sometimes it seems that you are destined to stay Connected  however grand or other your own plans.

It may not be a connection of significance – or maybe it is and we are too stupid to pick up on the hints the universe keeps throwing in front of us.

I know a person – let’s call her Libby, and it does not matter how many miles or years are between us, it would seem, like a law of physics, that we are destined to meet up like a recurring figure after a decimal point, again and again.

I first met Libby maybe thirty five years ago. I had moved to Australia – the other side of the world. I had started at a school. I knew no one.

It was the last year of senior school and everyone in my year knew everyone in my year, except me. I went from a place where I felt safe and I knew the rules to an unfamiliar landscape that was not hostile, but was deeply unfamiliar. I had not had to work at making friends, for a long time – the last time being when I had moved from primary to secondary school, and that had been many hormones ago.

Word got around pretty quickly that I was from out of town and I felt like some sort of object of polite curiosity in the class. One day a girl approached me. She had orange curly hair, but her most distinguishing feature was nine earrings making their way up the outer cartilage of one ear, ten on the other and one in her nostril.

She introduced herself and asked where I was from.

‘England,’ I replied, trying to keep it simple.

‘No,’ she said, ‘where in England?’

‘Oh,’ I said, having had this conversation a few times, ‘near London.’ It was best to give a big landmark at this distance.

‘Where near London?’ She asked.

I sighed inwardly. I came from what was a very small village at the time (now it is better know as a load of premier league footballers moved there).

‘Surrey,’ I said – the county should be enough.

It was not.

‘Where in Surrey?’ She persisted.

‘You won’t know it,’ I explained, ‘it is a tiny village called Oxshott. You know, like …’  (at this point I held up my hands like horns to my forehead) ‘Mooooo: BANG.’ I pantomimed a cow falling over, the victim of a rifle wound.

‘I know Oxshott,’ she said, ‘I used to live in Ashtead.’

‘You are kidding!’ I said, ‘I used to go to the dentist in Ashtead.’

How can you travel 10 000 miles from your home and run into someone from a country of 60 million who lives in the neighbouring town? Where you went to the dentist? Perhaps it was time to question the wisdom of the universe.

‘How do you blow your nose with that earring in it?’ I asked.

‘Very carefully,’ she answered.

Fast forward five years. I left school, I left Australia. I went to live in France and when I went back to the UK, I went to live in Guildford. Principally, because I was going to college there, but secondarily because Phil Collins lived there and I was in love with him after following the band Genesis in my teens.

I knew one day I would run in to him – he would look at me and know It would be love at first sight. I had even tried to learn the drums so we could have something to talk about . For example, we could talk about how I couldn’t play the drums to save my life.

I had been there about two years EVERYONE I knew had run into Phil sodding Collins, except me. You know who I ran into? Libby, while walking up the high street. I had not even known she was in the country, we had never stayed in contact after school. We had a chat – she had left Australia and was like me back in the UK. I remember joking with her that we would never have to exchange phone numbers – how weird was that? We had both lived without meeting in the UK, travelled 10 000 miles and met in Australia, then with no further contact met on the street of a town we had both moved to that was different from our original home.

That was it – a chat and a joke. Libby was lovely but we had moved in different circles at school so there was little reason to catch up other to gasp repeatedly, ‘Oh my god! What an amazing coincidence!’

Fast forward ten years, after a bit of back and forth I am back in Australia, living in a suburb I had never lived in before. I am at a gym. I joined it because I arrived back from the UK carrying a lot of weight and I have managed to shed most of it, and am keeping it off with a lot of exercise – a plan ultimately doomed to failure.

I walk out of a class and see a figure walking towards me. The earrings are gone but I recognize the red hair, darker now but still distinctive. It is Libby. She has been back for a while and has been coming to the gym for a few weeks. We say hello, chat about remarkable coincidences and then she goes to her class and I head for my car.

As I do, I set a mental date for ten years hence. I don’t know which country I will be in or what I will be doing, but I am confident our paths will be crossing again.

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