There is a particular solemn beauty about fleetingly meeting someone, and farewelling them, and realising that you will very likely never see each other again. Not those obligatory mundane exchanges, but the brief encounters and connections that begin and end without any expectations.
There was a Colombian photographer-journalist who wandered around Mexico City with me on my first night in the there, whilst we communicated in a broken combination of our languages. I’d been vaguely wary of venturing into an unknown city alone in the dark, and instantly suspicious when he addressed me, but before long we were comfortably exchanging our bastardised sentences, and we sat beneath the museum, on one of the surrounding benches, and afterwards we wandered back to our hotels, with respective partners waiting in each.
There was the Melbournian man who greeted me with “Hey, I’m usually the one by myself at a bar, so I thought I should say hi,” while I stood, bitterly sipping a delicious concoction, wondering where on earth my brother was, as he’d suggested we meet there for cocktails on his last evening in that well-loved eastern coast oasis. Unbeknownst to me, my brother had passed out somewhere, and the next I heard from him was through an angry taxi driver requiring payment in the wee hours of the morning, having delivered my brother to the airport sans wallet. So this man chatted to me for well over an hour, saving my evening, and when I left for the last tram we said our goodbyes.
Today I spoke to a Cambodian lady travelling to Phnom Penh for the first time. I gave her a magazine because she was keen to learn more English, and she gifted me a brooch (the inequality of this exchange is not lost on me, and the feeling of guilt is fresh! But she was adamant I take it). And there are no names or numbers scrawled on scraps of paper, grubby, stuffed in forgotten pockets. No friend request, no follow. No pretence of trying to prolong it. If we ever knew each other’s names, we’ve now forgotten them. And yet every one of these encounters has had an impact, and I suppose it would be nice if one could communicate some sense of thanks to the friendly, nameless, fleeting pals that have brightened days along the way.