It was a beautiful hot day, early in the season, and I’d been tempted out to the coast, to Southport, for a walk along the promenade, then to the end of the pier, for coffee and doughnuts. Being rather challenged in the follicle department these days, I’d not wanted to catch the sun too much on the top of my head, so I’d called in to the Matalan store, just off the promenade, for a hat, choosing for myself an inexpensive, one-size-fits-all thing, made of straw.
Thus, protected from the sun, I re-joined the crowds making their way along the pier. It was a wonderful afternoon and my spirits soared. After feeling like I’d been cooped up in the house all winter, the sea air was incredibly invigorating. About half way along the pier we picked up a teasing breeze, and one of the mischievous little sprites of air lifted my new hat from head and snatched it out of reach of my startled grasp. Well, that’s that, I thought – I’d had the hat all of ten minutes, and there is was: gone! I turned then, just in time to see a quick witted lady, whom I took to be of Malaysian descent, catching hold of it with a dainty little hop and a laugh. Her companions, an English couple in their seventies, found the incident amusing and for a moment we all shared in the silliness of it. She had the most wonderful smile, this woman, and such playful eyes, and a charming demeanour. Graciously, she returned my hat and, a little embarrassed, I thanked her, then went on my way.
It was that same evening, at home, I got an email from a friend. I replied with some news about my day. I don’t know why I brought up the subject of nearly losing my hat – perhaps I was stuck for something to say – but anyway I described the incident to him pretty much as I’ve described it to you. Then, the very next day, he came back to me with another email. He said his sister, who lives in Southport, has a neighbour, a lady originally from the far east. She’d had some elderly English friends visiting recently, possibly the companions I’d described, and wouldn’t it be amazing if it was the same woman who’d caught my hat? Enthused by the possibility, he resolved to ask his sister to enquire at the next opportunity. And I, equally enthused, eagerly awaited news. The odds were pretty much against it, but stranger things have happened, plus I had this funny feeling,…
And you know what?
My friend’s sister’s neighbour said it definitely wasn’t her! But if it had been,… well, that would have been a really good story!
Of course, it would not have taken much for me to end my tale differently for you here, thus transforming rather a pointless, factual, anecdote into a more beguiling lie. Believe me, the temptation was strong, because I had wanted it to be true. I had wanted the neighbour of my friend’s sister to be the one who had caught my hat, because it would have created a highly improbable and possibly meaningful connection between strangers who were mutually, though rather vaguely connected already, yet entirely unknown to one another. That we are all more intimately connected than we suppose is, I believe, the way of the universe, and I’m hungry for stories that support this hypothesis, to the extent that I am often tempted to bend the facts in order to yield a more polished myth. This is, after all, what story-tellers do.
Sure, we’re all fond of amazing coincidences. It would have been like the universe singling me out on that sunny day, amid vast crowds, and raising me to the ranks of existential celebrity. It would have meant I was not just some insignificant twerp in a poorly fitting hat. But alas, in the absence of any miracle, as my good lady was kind enough to point out at the time, that’s exactly what I had been. That I’d been unable to hold onto my hat, and a stranger had caught it, was really neither here nor there, and barely worth the mention.
This fragment of an opening has the feel of a romance about it, and I’m fond of writing those, so I shall step aside from myself for a moment and put a fictional protagonist in my shoes. He’s single, perhaps divorced, or maybe he just never got around to it in the first place. He’s thinking life’s passed him by, that the time for love has gone.
Then the wind snatches off his hat, just like that!
And the rest, as they say,…
Well, you couldn’t make it up, could you?