For a long time scientists couldn't agree whether a photon of light was a wave or a particle. Eventually they decided it was both – or more likely something 'other' which we can only conceive of as 'either'. And that's the thing, because even when you've realised that somehow it is both, you've still got to accept that, in any given situation, you can’t actually do anything unless you see it as one or the other.
It was a surprise, I'll admit that, when he walked in and stood next to me. He was holding the edge of the bar, so the cuff of his expensive shirt was pulled back to reveal an expensive watch, but when I looked up he had a face as long as a wet Monday.
"You alright there, pal?"
"You know, I can hardly believe it."
That was obviously my cue to say something but, rather than go for the bulls-eye, I said,
"Oh God, no." he laughed, forgetting himself for a moment in that familiar tone – easy and patronising, but with a hint of self-deprecation. "No, just the bloody car. Just some bloody idiot decided to cut a gash in the hood, that's all." Then there was a confused sadness, something very Prince Charles, when he added, "What makes these people tick? That's what I can't understand."
Not really my sort of question, so I just cast him a glance. I knew already that he was about my age, but what struck me close-up was his hair. His is going a dignified grey at the temples, mine is going thin on top.
He must have realised the ball was still in his court, because he snapped out of his reverie, checked the half empty pint in front of me, and said,
"Look, let me get you a drink."
Why not? I was going to listen to his problems anyway, so it wasn't like he was buying my company.
Then, as he talked on, I had to feel sorry for him – genuinely, I mean – because, alright, he has got three cars but, as he pointed out, that meant there was always something wrong with at least one of them. So, with all his cars being the expensive kind, that meant sending it back to the original manufacturer, and that meant waiting three weeks during which time he only had two cars – i.e. one less than he'd paid for.
Not only did he have a whole load of problems, but they were all silly little problems like that, and a life full of silly little problems doesn't exactly make a man of you. So, like I say, I did feel genuinely sorry for him.
Eventually though, I said I'd have to be off, and I even explained I was on a split shift. I didn't bother saying I'd be working till nine o'clock that night without any kind of overtime bonus. Not the sort of thing he'd be interested in.
"Okay, look sorry." he said, not apologizing for anything in particular, but the easy self-deprecation was back. Then he added, "Still, let me give you a lift."
I hesitated, but then decided I could get him to drop me off a couple of blocks before my actual destination. And though he must have recognised the area, sure enough, he didn’t put two and two together.
We exchanged a few words of farewell once I'd got out the car. Then, when he put it into first gear, I leaned over and touched that gash in the leather fabric, allowing it to glide slowly under my fingertips as he accelerated away.
He was none the wiser, but my world felt a bit more real.
Mick Parkin © 2008