One day during the aberrantly sweltering summer of 2018 I found myself at a train station. It was early afternoon and there wasn’t a cloud in the usually reliably fluffy English sky. The station platform was raised, exposed. The only place on it to seek some shade was underneath the overhanging boughs of a tree on the adjacent road, so that’s where I went. The train was due in five minutes. The platform was deserted apart from me. Leaning against the wall there in the shade I enjoyed the momentary respite and the almost surreal stillness of the moment. It was one of those summer afternoons that make you see clearly the wisdom of the Spaniards: This was siesta time, no two ways about it. Nevertheless, there I was, outside, awake; my brow glossy with a sweat that always feels like a minor victory in the usually gloomy England. We’re not meant to get warm enough here for forehead sheen. When we do, we feel like we’ve been granted something we’re not usually supposed to have. No need to think about the reasons for the gifted heatwave. We’ll figure that out after civilisational collapse.
So there I was, on that raised platform, leaning against the station wall, idly gazing out into the lot below. It was full of retired taxis, crammed close together in the shade of the same tree and in various states of post-mortem decay. My eyes glided lazily across the oddly poetic tableau when suddenly a neuron somewhere inside my brain twitched. Something was out of place. I scanned back along the route my sight had traveled and there I saw it. A dead fox. The poor thing just lay there in between the taxis, a once effervescent entity now reduced to a still life impression, no more alive than the twisted lot of rusting metal that almost swallowed and obscured it. It was, to put it simply, one hell of a downer. The day suddenly seemed warped, twisted. The endless open expanse of blue hanging above now became an oppressive shroud. The stillness took on a menacing air. The heat meant death. I felt sad. Unable to take my eyes off the fox I couldn’t stop imagining its final moments, some despairing struggle for survival amidst angular slabs of concrete followed by exhausted resignation and an unmarked death in an alien graveyard. I felt defeated. I looked up and after a moment I noticed that I was no longer alone. Someone else had arrived on the platform and had had the same thought process as me. A man stood a few metres away, also leaning against the wall. He was gazing down into the lot and just as I looked up at him I noticed on his face a tiny change in countenance that could mean only one thing: He had just seen the fox too.
The man looked up much the same way as me, visibly deflated, and we made eye contact and silently acknowledged the futility of life. Then, a flicker. The barest hint of movement, but enough for the primal part of the human brain to instinctively pick up on. Our heads spun automatically and we fixed our eyes at the source of the motion. There, down in the lot, in between the corpses of taxi cabs, a small arrow-shaped head with emerald eyes looked up at us. The fox was alive. It was just resting in the shade, reducing its movement so much so as to appear dead. It flicked its casual gaze from one of the humans regarding it to the other, and then, satisfied that everything was under control, it gently dropped its head back to the ground and closed its eyes to resume its energy-saving nap. Suddenly everything surged with colour. The sky was radiant. The bricks of the station wall glowed. I felt a spring in my step. Looking up I saw my station companion had been effected exactly the same way. Beaming, he looked at me and said, ‘Well, shit, that’s good!’
And it was.
Anyway, that wasn’t an awkward encounter with a stranger, it was an awesome and triumphant one. Reddit has that covered though, asking the question: ‘What is the most awkward situation you’ve ever been in with a stranger?’ You can check out the full thread here but below are some highlights:
Header Image Source: AMC