At lunchtime, as I was walking down the hill to a meeting, I saw a man coming the other way. He was in his late seventies, silver haired, and wearing a pretty snappy tan ensemble: brown tinted aviators, tan overcoat and cords, light brown brogues. They were clothes I might pick now for an autumn day, and in three or four decades they’d be even better suited to the person I will likely become. His shoulders were only a little rounded by age, and his walk was confident, if fractionally one-sided. He was familiar. At first, I thought he resembled my father, but he didn’t: he was lighter, and a little taller.
It wasn’t just his shape. It was the way he moved. There was something about that I thought I knew as well. I looked down at my shoes: blue brogues in roughly the same pattern. It was amusing to think we might be time twins, shadows of one another out of phase.
At a distance of about three metres, it abruptly wasn’t funny, it was uncanny. The familiarity I felt with his walk was because the rhythm and roll of it was very close to mine, especially if you assumed a slightly painful hip. We were the same height. We had the same sense of distance and personal space in a crowd, we were moving at the same pace – and more than that: something about our way of being in the world, our awareness of others and our sense of place, was identical. My playful idea of meeting myself across a gap of forty years became abruptly a certainty, self-evidently absurd and none the less solid for it, that I was doing exactly that.
I glanced at him directly, looking for the same recognition, and realised that I would not find it. His eyes were concealed behind the aviators – the same cheap brand I’d picked up at the tourist shop in London Zoo the other day, when the sun was blinding and low in the sky. His head faced straight past me. If his gaze took me in at all, I don’t know.
I assume it’s an artefact of vision and the brain, a bit of mad pattern recognition or a variant of déjà vu. The emotional power of it was enormous, even through an intellectual confidence that no magical time travel event was taking place. Genetics and environment made the two of us similar in that moment, and some part of me recognised that and was affected by it.
Just a weird moment, like seeing the face of a dead friend in the window of a shop, then turning and finding a stranger.
But still extraordinary, and intriguing.