I can’t say when I am first aware of her. When she stands out from the crush of people I navigate every morning on the way to work. Perhaps it is when I return to a five-day week, when I heal enough to attempt a routine. Once you notice someone, you can’t remember when you didn’t. It is this way with her. With the woman who stares at me from over the coffee she tentatively sips each morning. Always the slight grimace with the first taste, an odd little reaction when others seem to sigh into their first hit of the day. Maybe this is what I notice first, the way she drinks her coffee. And then, of course, the way she stares, the way she smiles and looks away too fast. How can you tell if a smile meets the eyes, when the person looks away too soon?
It is clear that she knows who I am. People have no idea how unsubtle they are. The little nudges, the whispers that really aren’t. It is far easier to manage the strange boldness of those who come up to me directly, who say I saw you on the TV and make no secret of their agenda. These people, I can hold their gaze, or drop mine, as I let them stake their claim. I saw you on the TV, and – the story is different for each person who accosts me. Some want me to know what happened to them, some want to offer their god or advice. Others want to scold, and then offer god or advice.
But she does neither of these things. This woman with dark hair who watches me every morning, who bites her lip as she stares down at the table between us. Whoever this woman is, she is sad. A sadness like this – like ours – it announces itself on a person, it walks them into every room. I can see this ache, this unwanted companion of hers, right from the start. Before I know her name. Before I know Maggie Valentine. This woman who is weighed down by her sorrow, and, I will soon discover, her secrets.
That’s the other thing about people, Ben. They think if they don’t look – you won’t see. But at the same time there they are, desperately wanting to be found out. It’s obvious, once you know. Every one of us silently saying – Come on, look a little closer. Look a little closer at me. Please. Not even knowing that they’re asking. Not yet understanding that we only hide the things we most want someone to find.
When Maggie Valentine cries and tells me you were her friend, I am not surprised. I see her sadness and her secrets, and I know this is just the beginning of a story that has been waiting to be told.
My insightful little Lucy, the wounded philosopher of The Memory of Stars. Still working out if what she says makes any kind of sense …