I stood by a table covered in name tags, hundreds of them. People were being greeted, ticked off the list and handed a tag. My eyes flicked from face to name and back to face. Did I know them? Was this beautiful well-groomed woman the little girl I played with on the climbing frame, all grazed knees and scraped elbows? And could that possibly be the frustratingly cocky boy I desperately wanted to beat in the under fives swimming heats and never could; now overweight, purple faced and sweating?
I felt surreal. A cine film of my early childhood was flickering disjointedly through my head. I jumped as someone screeched and threw their arms around me.
“Oh, it’s you! How fabulous. Look at you, just look at you. Would I recognise you? Hell…would I recognise you? How could I not! You haven’t changed”
I stood back and stared at this stranger, smiling inanely, frantically trying to fast forward the cine film in my head to give me a clue as to who she was. I was just on the verge of responding with some absurd remark, when she dropped her arms looked at my face quizzically, squinted at the PAULA THOMSON tag pinned to my chest and said “Actually, I don’t think I do know you, do I? You weren’t at the Island School were you?”
“Sorry, no I wasn’t. It must have been a different me. But maybe…” I trailed off, her attention was already elsewhere “DAHling…dahling…” she shrieked as she bore down on another unsuspecting body.
The throng grew and throbbed. I went back to looking at the arrivals and turned to one of the organisers.
“You don’t know if Amanda’s arrived do you? That’s Amanda Rice that was.”
One of the few positive things about a parent dying is renewed contacts. Having lived and worked abroad my parents and I had large and varied group of friends and acquaintances and some of these old connections were revived when my mother died.
So that’s how I came to be at a Hong Kong kids’ reunion in the Royal China Restaurant, Queensway, London. Amanda (my best friend in Hong Kong from the age of four to eight) had been in contact when she heard about my mum’s death. Unable to get to the funeral because of the snow, she suggested I come to the reunion.
Not one for reunions I nevertheless decided to go. The circumstances made me nostalgic I guess, and I wanted to see Amanda again. Our mothers had been close friends for many, many years and I had heard snippets of Amanda’s life through their friendship. I hadn’t seen Amanda since I was eight.
It was bizarre. Ghost names and echoes of familiar features jostled around me. Of course it was their parents in them I was recognising. It was as if one generation had jumped to the next in an instant. Brain bending, reality contorting. You find yourself double-taking, back-tracking and fast forwarding all at the same time.
Back at the welcome table I found myself focusing on a small attractive fair-haired woman with a smile and eyes that certainly looked familiar…
“Amanda? Amanda!” I called and waved. She looked up “Paula!”
How peculiar. We had the majority of our lives to catch up on. Where do you begin? We began where we last left off…