AN UNUSUAL ENCOUNTER

 

A small suburban park in North London.A summer's afternoon.A young man and a young woman are seated at opposite ends of a plain wooden bench, the young man having taken the seat some minutes after the young woman.They are complete strangers to each other.However, feeling subtly attracted towards the young woman, who is reading a book, the young man decides to say something to her.

 

YOUNG MAN: (Turns towards her) Is that an interesting book you're reading?

YOUNG WOMAN: (Slightly startled) What...?Oh, yes.Quite interesting.

YOUNG MAN: You wouldn't be interested in some conversation, by any chance?

YOUNG WOMAN: (Blushes slightly) No, not really.

YOUNG MAN: I just thought you might like to talk to someone.To put it bluntly, you appeal to me.

YOUNG WOMAN: (Thinks to herself, "God, he's forward, isn't he?Fancy telling me that!He might as well have asked me to make it with him.I'd better be careful.") Sorry, I'm waiting for someone.

YOUNG MAN: (Coolly impertinent) You arenít wearing red panties under that skirt, are you?

YOUNG WOMAN: (Somewhat startled) Pardon?

YOUNG MAN: (Smiles) I bet you're wearing red knickers.

YOUNG WOMAN: (Starts to get up from the bench) Sorry, but I don't want to answer that!

YOUNG MAN: (Catches her by the arm) Just a minute!I'm not intending to rape you, if that's what you're thinking.I'm essentially very civilized: in fact, too damn civilized!Sit down a moment, let's talk together.Are you really waiting for someone?

YOUNG WOMAN: (Reluctantly sits down again) Why should I lie?

YOUNG MAN: To keep me at a distance, of course.

YOUNG WOMAN: (Laughs nervously) I needn't lie to do that!Besides, even if I were, what business would it be of yours?(She closes her book and is about to get up again when he puts a restraining hand on her arm.She begins to look frightened.)

YOUNG MAN: You're very beautiful.That's the main reason why I must speak to you.A man like me could spend years looking for someone like you, someone who corresponds to his tastes.In a sense, you're very fortunate to be so beautiful.Probably more than 90% of the young women I encounter in this area make either no impression on me at all or only a rather unfavourable one.Very few of them actually appeal to me, the loner of loners.But I won't go into details.Normally I'm quite incapable of getting worked-up about strangers.I have to get to know people first, to find out more about the person in whom I happen to be taking a physical interest, just to be on the safe side.But you pleased me from the moment I set eyes on you, and that's very unusual.Look, I don't really know why I'm telling you all this, spilling the beans to a complete stranger ... but, well, I haven't spoken to anyone like you for ages and, since you look intelligent, I'm making a fool of myself for your benefit.You see, I need someone who'll listen to me with a sympathetic ear because, whatever you may think, I'm no monster but a human being in need of a little love and understanding every once in awhile, just like a lot of other poor buggers who are daily coerced into maintaining a false, pernicious, and self-defeating persona without necessarily realizing it!Believe me, I'm not homosexual or stupid or poxed or mad or dangerous or commonplace or ... believe me, I'm a damn sight more caring and considerate than most of the men in this world!Maybe you wouldn't understand ...

YOUNG WOMAN: (Shows signs of interest, in spite of her misgivings) Go on.

YOUNG MAN: Well, for a time I thought I was homosexual, not having a woman and not particularly going out of my way to get one.But slowly, gradually, it dawned on me that I wasn't really homosexual at all but simply choosy.I mean (He sighs, as from a realization of the complexity of what he is trying to convey and the odds against his conveying even a fraction of it convincingly), I had to have someone whom I felt it would be possible for me to admire, to talk to, to love, to worship even - yes, don't laugh!I mean it!But poor and solitary as I was, I never encountered anyone who sufficiently inspired such noble intentions in me.In fact, I rarely encountered anyone at all, even casually.So things just drifted: weeks, months, years, a face here and there, the occasional disappointments, blunt refusals, hypocritical excuses, etc.I didn't go to university and I left all my school friends behind in Surrey.I loathe church institutions, pubs, discos, bingo halls, snooker clubs: you know, all the usual social conveniences that are basically intended to cater for average people.I loathe them all!

YOUNG WOMAN: (Begins to show concern) But haven't you tried computer dating?

YOUNG MAN: (Faintly smiles and nods) Yes, I was desperate enough to give it a go.And d'you know what happened? (He hesitates to choke back rage and resentment) I wasted my money!Most of the bitches the firms informed me about didn't even have the courtesy to reply to my letters, quite apart from the fact that those who did took ages doing so.Some of the firms even had to be reminded about my application virtually every-other-month!And when they eventually got around to replying, it seemed as though they'd taken a lucky dip and, to pass muster, sent me whatever came up, irrespective of my preferences.Anyway, the few women I eventually got around to meeting were plain, to say the least!They'd have humiliated me on the street and exasperated me in the bedroom.†† As far as the likelihood of my being able to kindle any genuine desire for them was concerned, it would have been tantamount to flogging a dead horse!In fact, they might as well have been cows or sheep, for all the passion I felt towards them!No, I regret to say that computer dating didn't work for me.You never know exactly what you're getting and, besides, I found the whole idea too degrading.I had to take one girl back to the station after barely an hour of her company, because she was so damned incompatible.She hadn't even read one of the several hundred books in my possession at the time.Not one!And that was after I'd categorically stipulated a preference for someone literate.But if that was bad enough, I thought it even worse that she hadn't even heard of, let alone heard, any of the albums in my record collection.And they call that compatibility?Well, I soon got rid of her, as well as most of the others they inflicted upon me, too!Of course, a majority of people always end-up doing what they imagine everyone else is doing at the time.Climb on the bandwagon, let others think for you, and wait for the lucky number!For if, by any chance, a man with an ounce of self-determination approaches an attractive female in the park, on the street, or in any other public context with the intention of acquiring her, the spirit of technological progress will declare him to be either an anachronistic idiot or a potentially dangerous maniac who should learn to live with the times instead of wilfully following his personal inclinations, obeying the voice of his desire in his own sweet fashion, and taking the law into his own hands irrespective of the consequences!As though men were still capable of self-determination in an age like this, when the sheep-like collectivity counts for everything and the lone individual, especially the self-willed creative individual, next to nothing!Thus speaks the spirit of technological progress.

YOUNG WOMAN: (Raises her brows in apparent concern) I see!But what makes you so sure that I may be able to assist you?

YOUNG MAN: Simply the fact that you appeal to me.I mean, I wouldn't mind being seen in your company.You're very beautiful and, from what I can gather, intelligent as well.

YOUNG WOMAN: (Smiles) Flattery will get you nowhere.Anyway, I'm waiting for my boyfriend, as I think I told you.

YOUNG MAN: (Frowns) So what's he like: strong, tall, handsome?

YOUNG WOMAN: Oh, good-looking, hard-working, intelligent, loyal, generous, considerate, able.A good all-round sort really.

YOUNG MAN: And how long have you known him?

YOUNG WOMAN: (Obliged to scan her memory a moment) Just over a year actually.

YOUNG MAN: And you had other boyfriends before him?

YOUNG WOMAN: Yes, a few. (She becomes puzzled) Why d'you have to ask so many questions?

YOUNG MAN: (Unable to restrain himself from shouting) Because I haven't so much as kissed a woman in nearly ten years!

YOUNG WOMAN: (Becomes indignant) Is that my fault?I'm sorry, we all have our problems, you know.

YOUNG MAN: Yes, and some of us more than others! (In desperation) Can't you drop him?

YOUNG WOMAN: Are you out of your mind?

YOUNG MAN: (Frowns and sighs in exasperation) Why should that bastard take all my share of loving?Haven't I as much right to love as him, as you, as anyone?Or is that merely presumptuous of me, a gross delusion, a mode of self-deception engendered by the sight and sound of so much commercial propaganda pertaining to sex?

YOUNG WOMAN: (On the verge of tears) But itís not his fault.He's as entitled to choose a woman as anyone else, isn't he?It's not his fault if he happened to be in the right place at the right time and you, through no particular fault of your own, weren't.

YOUNG MAN: No, it's life's fault!Life is always to blame.That's why some people get everything whilst others get next to nothing.Fate!

YOUNG WOMAN: (Unable to hold back her tears) Oh, don't make such a damn fuss!There are plenty of people worse off than you.Look, if everyone went about spilling their problems over people the way you do, we'd have a civil war on our hands.At least you're still young.

YOUNG MAN: Yes, and that's precisely what riles me!Young and bitter!My God, it sickens me to see so many blatant half-wits, so many ugly, uncouth, depraved men with good-looking women just because they happened to be in the right place at the right time.I might as well have been born crippled, considering what use I make of the advantages I possess!

YOUNG WOMAN: (Dries her eyes) Haven't you ever had sex with a prostitute?

YOUNG MAN: No, I haven't!For one thing, I can't afford to.And, for another, I distrust them.†† Besides, they're not the kind of women who appeal to me, as a rule.So for anything approaching sexual satisfaction, I'm mostly dependent on the occasional wet dream.Actually, I used to be a bit of a wanker at one time.However, these days masturbation would only arouse my self-contempt, so I tend to avoid it.

YOUNG WOMAN: Masturbation's puerile.

YOUNG MAN: Fortunately I didn't succumb to it all that often, just once or twice a month in order to clean the works out, as it were, and reassure myself that I hadn't become impotent.After a while I loathed the self-degradation involved with the use of sex magazines, the models of which I rarely found stimulating.So I'd resort to my imagination instead, fantasize myself into a climax and hope that I wouldn't become irredeemably perverted or the victim of a cerebral haemorrhage.Nowadays I don't fantasize as persistently or regularly as I used to; I stop myself going beyond a certain low-key point and limit myself to one or two a day.... Frankly, I believe the fact that I was born in Ireland has something to do with my situation, since I'm the end-product of several generations of Irish breeding and don't feel particularly attracted towards Englishwomen.Now I don't mean to sound unduly endogamous, but the fact remains that, when it comes to the crunch, I prefer women of my own race or nationality to those of any other.I mean, there's nothing particularly unusual about that, is there? (The young woman smiles guardedly but says nothing, so he continues) Look, I'm sorry to keep going on like this, and I didn't mean to upset you just now, but there aren't that many other people around here who would listen to me and, besides, it isn't every day that I get a chance to talk to someone, least of all someone like you.The majority of people would probably think me mad and scuttle away in panic.They'd crucify me if they could.For most people are frightfully suspicious of what they either can't or won't understand.They only see what they want to, and are more inclined to consider anything that transcends their imaginative or intellectual limitations to be a form of madness, rather than simply something which lies beyond them.They'd strive, with all their limited powers of argumentation, to make me feel in the wrong, to humiliate and ostracize me, and not simply on ethnic grounds.If I suddenly went up to that fellow over there, the one in the open-necked red shirt, and asked him what he knew about manic-depressive psychoses or the psychological effects of long-term celibacy, he'd either take fright or, assuming he's as stupid as he looks, become abusively violent.Indeed, he might even point to the nearest female and say "Why not ask her, mate?"

YOUNG WOMAN: (Smiles through her nose) I wouldn't particularly blame him.After all, one doesn't normally ask strangers those sorts of questions.In fact, one doesn't normally approach strangers at all, at least not in London.

YOUNG MAN: I suppose I was being a bit silly then but, well, one sometimes feels the urge to do or say something unusual, if only to prove to oneself that one is still capable of self-determination and isn't utterly predictable.

YOUNG WOMAN: But having it off with a prostitute, or just about anyone, presumably isn't one of those urges in your case?

YOUNG MAN: No, I guess not, since the thought doesn't hold any great attraction for me.With a man of my sort it has to be all or nothing.I'd willingly continue to remain celibate until death, if only to keep away from half-measures, or anything which only served to compromise and humiliate me.I've seen too many half-measures in life to be particularly impressed by them.God knows what would become of me if I had to settle for someone I secretly despised!I'd probably become bad-tempered, jealous, cruel, cynical: any number of disreputable things!

YOUNG WOMAN: But aren't you most of those things already?

YOUNG MAN: (Sighs dejectedly) Well, at least I'm suffering on my own terms at present, which is some consolation.There's always the possibility of my meeting someone who'll really matter to me.I wasn't born for charity, that's all.I've seen too much of the negative side of it, its detrimental consequences.

YOUNG WOMAN: (Smiles gently and edges closer to him) So you think I may be able to provide you with the companionship you lack at present?

YOUNG MAN: (Visibly surprised) Eh?But aren't you waiting for someone?

YOUNG WOMAN: No, not any longer.

YOUNG MAN: You mean someone else is going to suffer on account of me, then?

YOUNG WOMAN: Not necessarily.Anyway, you've been alone long enough already, haven't you?

YOUNG MAN: Yes, I suppose you're right.But I may take some getting used to.

YOUNG WOMAN: (Smiles encouragingly) Don't worry!I'm a fairly patient person.

YOUNG MAN: Yes, you are, aren't you? (He squeezes her hand thankfully) By the way, my name's Stephen Kelly.What's yours?

YOUNG WOMAN: Susan Connors.And I'm not wearing red knickers.

YOUNG MAN: You're not? (Blushes profusely) Oh damn!I was just teasing you.Please accept my sincere apology. (They embrace each other and, following a tentative exchange of kisses, the scene ends with the young couple slowly walking away from the bench hand-in-hand.)