There was a time when the library was more than just a quiet place to bury your head in your books.
There was a time when I used to peek out of the classroom before heading out to the school canteen for lunch.
There was a time when I used to wait until everyone had left before finally heading home.
There was a time when I promised myself that I would, some day, wipe that jeering smile off his face.
There was a time when he was the bane of my existence and he knew it.
And he was here.
Had he stayed perfectly still, I wouldn’t have noticed him. I would probably have placed my order, bought my coffee, paid the bill and walked away. I would have remained oblivious to his existence and he, mine.
He closed the newspaper he was reading and looked up. Our eyes met. A brief moment of confusion flickered across his face.
Me? I knew instantly. Of course, the reflexive tightening of my gut accompanied by uninvited beads of perspiration might have had something to do with it. The moment passed and the flicker of confusion was replaced by an enlightened look of recognition accompanied by a broad smile. Another reflex kicked in.
I smiled in return.
“Hey! Fancy seeing you here! Small world, eh?”
“You too, V.”
An uncomfortable silence followed. The smile persisted. The genuine warmth of recognition was beginning to be marred by specks of recall and, dare I say it, flecks of embarrassment. Ah, so he finally remembered me, then.
“How you been, V?”
Damn these reflexes.
“Oh, you know, the usual. Wake, work, whiskey and women…”
No, I didn’t know. I didn’t want to know. I didn’t care.
“How about you? How you been?”
Revenge is a dish best served cold.
“Oh, you know. Wake, work, whiskey, wife and vacations.”
His eyes lit up and the smile that danced on his lips was two steps short of diabolical. “Lemme guess, you married that geek, didn’t you?”
“I’m not. We each found someone better.”
“Good for you, man.” Pause. “Does your wife know what a wuss you were?”
“Want me to tell her?”
“Sure. She’ll be here any moment, now.” I smiled.
He was puzzled. I smiled some more. “How ’bout you? You married?”
“What about that chick you were seeing?”
“Didn’t work out. She found someone better, I guess.”
“There she is.” I waved to her and turned to look at him.
He was staring, trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together. When the last piece fell in place, he was no longer smiling. Promise fulfilled. Guess what, V? She did find someone better.
“Two Grand Cafe Lattes, one Chicken sandwich – slightly grilled, less mayo and hold the onion, please. Also, one Russian salad – you know how she likes it, don’t you?”