It couldn’t have been.
It takes more strength to resist doing a double take than you imagined it would. He is somewhere to the left behind you and while you were surprised he hasn’t seen you yet, you also know that he wasn’t looking for signs of you everywhere he went. The best sequence of actions would be to not look, get to the counter, collect the popcorn, and then head into screen 2 without a pause. As if nothing happened. Because nothing did.
It serves as a harsh reminder, and now you want to be anywhere else.
You look back at the menu overhead. 3 more to go ahead of you. That gives you ample time to change your mind about the kind of popcorn you wanted. Then make a run for it. He was always the classic popcorn guy. You never found out by direct information from him. But you knew. From the day you saw his hair combed and parted like a wet dream from the 80s. The same week that he had your reluctant heart swallowing his filler-less taking down of Bollywood’s blue-eyed filmmaker (even though a later conclusion was reached that he had contributed an unhealthy but essential chunk to your adolescence) whole.
You are now the first in the counter. You know that the man in the next queue 7 turns away from you wants classes popcorn with coke. You still don’t know if popcorn is what you want.
Very well. “Nachos and a coke,” you tell the server, tapping your fingers on the glass. The chatting of the servers, the passing of the card machine, the inefficiency of it all is getting to you. Theatres can be managed so much better. A 14-year old inside you clucks her tongue at the loss of patience and empathy for the working crew.
Food’s here and you let out a nearly audible sigh of relief.
Screen door’s to the left. You turn right. You hear him. You’re hoping he won’t/hoping against hope that he will notice you and thank goodness he doesn’t because now is not the time for pleasantries. You’re at the door. One last glance at the queue to make sure that was him so that you aren’t wondering through the movie is worth the risk and so you turn infinitesimally to your left and nearly drop the coke on his very visible, very chequered, very close shirt.
He helps you with the drink, says sorry and moves ahead. That he didn’t do anything to show recognition of your face, your presence, your hurricane emotions hurts you – again – after so many years.
Flashback to every time you passed each other in the corridor, in the train, in the parking lot. He never stepped back. And you never touched. You never had to. You and he, only wanted to feel his breath on your neck.
Very well then. Good riddance. Movie in peace.
You’re fucking sitting at the beginning of my row you sly fuck.
He mumbles an apology for his legs obstructing the way and lets you pass.
He still hasn’t recognised you and you want to deliberately drop more cola on him to start a conversation but what will you say and of course, that’s just rude. Also, no more drawing attention, he knows you from the crowd already and again. You want him to feel sick and leave. You want this thumping in your chest to slow down so you can breathe – afraid that he will hear you breathing from 10 feet away.
He’s looking at his watch now.
Stop looking that way.
The lights are off, and you want the movie to start. Your friend, long forgotten and used to it, can’t connect the twitchiness of your movements to you and has settled herself into her seat. The movie has begun and you’re trying to keep a ready review of it in case he asks. Pat on your back for letting him trigger another hypothetical scene in your head. But it’s dark and you’re allowed to glance at him, because you aren’t interested anyway and any more. Besides, he doesn’t know you’re looking, so you turn your head to your right to see him looking right at you.
You both pretend to look away and you know it’s okay to speak for him.
The movie seems decent. You squirm in your seat because English movies without subtitles always make you feel uncomfortable just in case you miss heard the dialogues courtesy the accent. Is he still looking at you?
He’s watching the movie, as you should. Obviously you have increasingly no idea what happened in it. Your friend does, you can ask her later.
You decide to stay put during the interval because movement is only getting him to pay attention to you and while a younger, naive you would have lapped it up, you don’t want it right now. It’s easier to say yes to a cake, than to say no to a cake, and especially one you love, when you’re on a diet. What is this analogy about? You hope he’s read your mind and nearly turn to look at him, ready with a knowing giggle from a version of you from centuries ago. Nearly. He’s just getting back to his seat. He still has the same neck. Your fingernail can feel the coolness of its skin and you’re not embarrassed, not here in the dark. The movie has begun. You’re out of coke. It’s alright.
Must he have changed, who is he seeing, is he writing anymore, was he ever in the same town before, what songs does he like?
You want to know it all. But not here. Not like this.
Not by pretence. Maybe you should ask him. What’s the worst that could happen.
You can’t put a finger on it.
You want to put your finger on his chin. Then, more than a finger.
You shake these thoughts off and that subconscious movement startles your friend.
You look apologetically at her, and for some reason no one else can decipher, look at him too, except he isn’t on his seat.
He’s gone. You’ve lost him. He’s gone again. You’ve lost him again. The rush from the train is back. The tide of regret rising like bile inside you and the movie is drenched and out of focus in the world of your tear-filled glasses.