woke up this morning thinking I haven’t met a stranger in nearly a year and a half. Yes, yes, I have missed friends too, but you can always catch up with friends. With strangers that is impossible. The stranger you see today is not the stranger you see tomorrow. This often means one casual glance, and she or he is out of your life forever.
I can remember the last friend I met. It was at a dinner at his house, and we were a small innocent group in the year 1 BC (Before Covid), unaware that our freedoms were being drained away. I can’t remember who the last stranger I met was. Perhaps it was the guy at the bookstore who asked my opinion of that "marvellous writer J K Rowling and his books."
My opinion was, of course that J K Rowling was a woman unless he was talking about a different Rowling who was famous for not writing the Harry Potter novels. But I didn’t tell him that, choosing instead to smile vaguely in his direction and move on.
With friends it is different. You can actually tell them off.
"Do come over," I invited an old schoolmate for dinner, leaving the actual date of the dinner to be filled in later. Once the lockdowns are over and the virus decides to move to another planet.
"Thank you so much. I am already looking forward to it," he replied with warmth.
And then we spoke of books and movies and cabbages and kings. Finally I asked him, "Oh by the way, have you been vaccinated yet?"
This is when things began to go wrong. "I don’t believe in vaccines," he said in the kind of tone he uses presumably when declaring he believes in ghosts or unicorns. It was a phone call, but I could sense the atmosphere thicken with a foreboding. There goes another school friend, I thought to myself. And that was that.
You can come, I told him, but you will have to bring your own food and have it outside in the garden, away from the house. You can’t say that to a stranger. But how many more unvaccinated friends am I likely to lose?
Losing friends is more upsetting than losing strangers, whatever the reason. Now you see why catching up with strangers might be more rewarding than catching up with some friends. We must all do it.
There are no strangers, wrote the poet W B Yeats, only friends you haven’t yet met. It’s a nice thought. But as 1 BC turns into 2 BC, I am beginning to think there are no strangers, only friends you haven’t offended yet.