There is a park near where I live. More accurately, it is a patch of green with benches, hemmed in by three roads and a church that is also a historical landmark. It is where I go often, to read. Every time I go, if it’s 1 PM or later, I see a man, waiting. Soon, a woman joins him. She always looks exhausted, she might have just finished a shift. Maybe she was standing all morning, handling the expectations and urgencies of customers. She sits on the same bench as the man, but not close to him. She puts her feet up, on his lap. He massages her feet and ankles. They don’t talk much. He brings her snacks: a piece of cake, a packet of chips, a sugary drink.
I don’t know when they leave, I have always left before them.
It seems to me that the older I get, the more incapable I am of recognizing faces. It takes me a few minutes to find a familiar face, even a face I should have known instantly. Thirty minutes into a movie, I have a Ha! moment: “He looks like the guy in the film we saw last week!” But it is him, my companion explains to me. Can’t you see? I really can’t. I no longer make fun of half-hearted disguises in movies—one mole and you’re another person—because I believe such a disguise might actually work on me.
My mother confirms I’m getting worse. Age hasn’t dimmed her facial recognition skills. I tell her Scotland Yard has a team of super-recognizers. They go through numerous photographs and recordings and catch criminals. “I could have been anything I wanted, in another life,” she sighs. She’s right.
While waiting at the bus stop one day, I watch an old lady as she takes careful steps, clutching her walking stick. She looks nothing like my grandmother, but she moves her mouth in the same way—the manner of a person who is used to negotiating with dentures and doesn’t know what to do when the false teeth have been left on the wash basin. I cannot bear to look at her, this sanitized world I have created for myself is suddenly not enough. There is a crack and I fear the tears may come. As we wait for the bus, I ask her if I may know her name.
A friend introduced my partner and I to someone. “They had a Love Marriage!” she said by way of introduction. Yes yes, truly radical, we waited for years so our parents would approve, yes yes, truly subversive, wanting to marry someone not belonging to one’s demographic, yes yes, we use the word caste instead of the euphemistic community, yes yes, we wish more people would marry for love, or acknowledge what they did, even as they (alarmed and outraged) speak out against an advertisement for matrimonial services that simply put into words the hypocrisies they were already endorsing, yes yes, we don’t hold marriage in high regard, it’s just red-tape for cohabiting.
A birthday has gone by. I am now twenty eight years old. I don’t feel it, and I don’t know how I am supposed to feel. I don’t like to celebrate birthdays, and I am terrified someone will demand I do, so I am relieved as the day progresses and very few people wish me. They want to know what I am doing. Nothing, really, nothing at all. Maybe they want to commiserate (“but you should celebrate”), they encourage me to mark this passage of time, another year, another number, another opportunity to make memories. One person remarks that I could be less weird and more normal about things.
What other way to be though?