I met an Englishman about my age. I sat next to him during a Christmas play. He sort of hunched and was wearing a sweater over a button-down. We talked afterwards. I asked him if his name was Daniel, and he looked confused and said “No, it’s James.”
I told him I thought I had heard someone say Daniel, or maybe he had said it, and it had seemed to fit. He furrowed his brows and rubbed his hands and hunched a little more.
“No… no it’s James.”
Then I told him my name was James too but the American girl across from me frowned because she knew my name was Conrad, and as I tried to explain he just kept hunching further into himself as if he was attempting to burrow slowly to safety.
I asked him if he worked with the American girl, and he looked at the ceiling.
“Not… I mean not really. I mean we’re in the same…” he waved his hands in small circles.
“But I mean, in the grand scheme of things, ” I prompted him lightly, instinctively waving my own hands in a ghostly imitation.
He grabbed on to my lead, and his head started bobbing.
“Yes in the grand scheme of things we work together.”
We both leaned back in mutual victory at this conclusion.
We sat a few moments in silence. I fiddled with an orange peel and he concentrated on his hands, slowly rubbing at a fingernail with his thumb.
I was just turning to resume the conversation when a lady at the next table leaned forward and brightly let off a string of questions at him in heavily accented French. I saw his eyes linger on his thumb before they shifted reluctantly upward.
I was watching his shoulders advance protectively forward around his neck as he began to respond when my wife appeared at my elbow, and I stood up to take the crying child from her arms.