I hadn't seen Tom for several years.
Nor would I, had not the conference finished early. Thus quite by chance he caught me sitting at a coffee house pavement table, enjoying the early spring sunshine, and fending off the pigeons with my foot.
Unwisely, I let slip that my train was not until five that afternoon.
I don't drink Guinness, I never have. Yet on this crawl back to the station: no same pint twice: compared to the unappealing selection offered by the electorate array of golden taps, Guinness was the safest option. Perhaps it was my mood, but the poorly drawn shamrock perfectly matched the unmatched surroundings: the neon red patterned velour competed with autographed photos of amateur boxers and horse brasses.
No wonder the place was empty at three o clock in the afternoon.
Tom was prattling on about various embarrassing incidents from our schooldays. It being the fifth pub, and this being the fifth pint, and Tom being a man hide-bound to a schedule, he was predictably recounting the time I fell in a ditch on the cross-country run. Part of me wished we could just move on, if only so he could moan about his divorce.
I checked the clock behind the bar, still two hours to the train.
It was while pouring cashews into my hand that I saw him.
Being well dragged up, I immediately looked away: it being impolite to stare. But, every-time I sneaked a look at him, he was doing the same, in the same furtive manner. Same was clearly the operative word. His tweed jacket was the same as mine, his red checked Ben Sherman shirt, the same glasses, with the same long-sighted lenses, even the way he shook his cashew nuts in his clenched fist matched my manner. His Guinness was drunk down to branding on the glass, just like mine. His hair was receding at equal pace, with the same island of hair clinging on as a relic of fringe.
"Tom?" I asked, interrupting his story about how his ex-wife had slashed the tyres on his car and got him arrested for domestic violence; "does that man look like me?"
"He does a bit."
Confirmed in my suspicion, I began to rationalize matters. My first theory, of a mirror, was exploded when the barmaid walked through the connecting door from the other bar.