Strangers. Friends. Lovers. Strangers again.
It was one of those unremarkable business trips on a Friday, outbound from London to Vienna. The morning rain dazzled outside as I dragged my tired self to the Business Class lane. Throwing the Financial Times copy on the seat, I was putting my carry-on luggage in the overhead compartment when I noticed her doing the same on the other lane.
It has been years that we hadn’t met, nor spoken. Somehow we ended up on the same flight, in the same row, just one seat away. Perhaps it was my gaze that made her eyes meet mine too. Fortunately, thanks to the empty Business Class seat in between, there was enough room between us not to feel too awkward.
“How have you been?” said she, with a surprised smile.
“I’m fine, just going to Vienna.” I then realised it was a somewhat redundant remark since she was on the same flight. “Oh, I meant going there and returning on the same day. And you?”
“I’m also there for business but staying for the weekend. I got some tickets to see The Vienna Philharmonic. It’d be amazing!” A sense of familiarity sparked inside me. She spoke with the unchanged enthusiasm, just as years ago when we shared the love for classical music.
I was about to say something perhaps trivial, yet our conversation was interrupted by the first welcome-on-board call of the air hostess. We exchanged an air of final courtesy and got seated.
I made myself comfortable while the plane took off. I thought I’d tuned in to listen to The Vienna Philharmonic, just as she had inspired me. The sound of the quintessential classical music reminded me of our time together, years ago. It brought me back to when we were young, hopelessly romantic and free. Our innocence and naivety were never tainted with the nuisance that we now called life.
As I drifted through the highs and lows of the notes, I heard a familiar voice. It was her who then sat on that empty seat, speaking to me in a velvety voice.
“So, how have you really been? I guess you didn’t expect this encounter”, said she.
“Yes, I meant, it was rather surprising,” I spoke diffidently, as I didn’t quite expect her to be so direct, “It has been years since we last spoke.”
“We were once strangers, then friends, then lovers, then strangers again.” She smiled, “We have not been speaking for so long because we are strangers now. That fact has been rather well-established for a while. Yet, that is now challenged since life forces us to be on the same 2-hour flight unexpectedly. Now you’re confused as to how you should treat me.” said she.
I looked at her bewilderedly. Going straight to the point is not so typically her, the timid girl I once knew.
“Yes, perhaps so. I wasn’t expecting we’d meet again, hence entirely unprepared to know how to act. I’m not entirely sure what the point of this is.”, muttered I.
“I believe we meet again for a reason”, said she. “Perhaps I have made you reminisce of our old times. Perhaps we’d speak again in Vienna and rekindle where we’ve left off. Or perhaps I’m just a mere reflection of your past, to simply show you how far you’ve come.” Her solemn eyes turned away from me. Her melancholy softened my psychological barrier, to the point I uttered words that didn’t sound like me at all.
“Hey, I’m sorry for what happened years ago. I don’t quite know how to respond to you now. We’ve grown and become different people. Actually, I’m not quite sure why life made us met in the first place many years ago – if after all that we’ve been through is just for us to become strangers again.”, murmured I.
She leaned in, to speak to me. “I’m not the first stranger-again in your life. There are not only lovers but also friends that you’ve left behind. All of this is just your endless search to be understood.”
“Really? Why so?” I was puzzled, also intrigued and amazed as she had never spoken this way to me before.
“You let people onto your journey as a form of self-verification. You look to be understood by others because then you’re seen, and known. You feel accepted and more so, feel a stronger sense that you exist. Different people engage with a different stage in your life to fuel this search to be understood. There are some people who are like a boomerang, who come back to your life, times and times again. However, most people are not meant to stay, after they’ve faithfully served their purpose in your life.” said she.
I was baffled, rather speechless, while she continued.
“I was once part of what has been, and what will be, to you. Yet we diverged when we grew out of our innocence and naivety. We changed. We now have our own paths, which seem to cross. Have I showed you enough about us? Yes, but more so I showed you enough about you.” Her starry eyes seemed to have the depth of the night sky that we once star-gazed under.
“Why are you telling me all this?” I felt overwhelmed having to face all that she said.
“Because now you might have learnt that there are things you think, but can’t say, as stranger-again.” Her soothing voice faded into the buzzing sound of the aeroplane, as I was awoken by the pilot announcement.
I glanced at her from a seat away. She was also peacefully in her sleep.