The world is not a big place.
I see the faces of friends long lost on strangers in foreign countries and I wonder: are our human genes only able to produce a finite number of physical traits? Or maybe doppelgangers exist to unknowingly ease the minds of the strangers they encounter?
On Wednesday, I told Lauren about you. About what happened. “I didn’t know,” she said. She was silent for a minute, fiddling with a tassel on one corner of the sofa cushion. She crushed it between her knees and chest, braiding and unbraiding the individual threads.
I sat at the table, picking at the callouses on my palms.
Lauren readjusted herself on the sofa, sat up straighter. “Did you ever know Tanner McKinney?” she asked, without looking up.
“No,” I said, “why?”
“He went to high school with us,” she said. Then, “I had a thing with him for a summer…he joined the army.”
My head jerked up. “Wait, wait, the recruit? The one you parked on my street with?”
Lauren smiled, lips turning up mischievously, bringing out the dimples in her cheeks. “That’s the one.” Her eyes grew distant, remembering.
“Yeah, didn’t you park in a church parking lot?”
I grinned at her, “Heathen.”
She put her hands up, “Jew.”
“So what about the recruit?”
“He did it too,” she said, serious again. “Last year. I heard about it through Facebook.”
“Oh,” I said, lowering my voice, as if fearful of disturbing the dead. “Did you talk to him much?”
“Every now and then,” she said. “He was married, too. The whole family was devastated. PTSD I guess.”
We sat in silence for a minute, then I took a breath. “You know, he got in touch with me a week before it happened. Through Facebook. Just said he thinks I’m awesome,” I paused, let out a slow stream of air. “I’m really glad I responded to it.”
Lauren moved her jaw around, stared at the floor. “It’s weird to think that someone you’ve been with…” she trailed off, eyes growing dim.
“Sometimes I wonder if I could have done something, if I’d stayed—“
“There was nothing you could have done.”
I sighed, stared at my hands. Lauren picked up the tassel on the cushion and started braiding and unbraiding, braiding and unbraiding.
On Thursday, I dragged my suitcase through rush hour on the Tube. I turned left onto the crowded platform, but my eyes were drawn to the right: there was a guy staring at me. Out of habit, I turned my head away, kept walking, but a nagging feeling, a passing resemblance made me look back. He was still staring at me, and as I took in his appearance, my stomach dropped. Short brown hair, stocky, small dark eyes, goofy smile, standing with his chest out and shoulders thrown back. He looked like you. I gaped at him, and he smiled at me, waved. Slowly, my lips curved into a smile. A nod, an acknowledgement, and I resumed my course without looking back.