Sometime when I was newly initiated to this Edinburgh place, some of my good friends walked me home late one night.
Very kind of them it was, too. Especially their gracious introduction to one of the cute wee alleyways: “There’s an Ian Rankin murder that’s set in here.”
All those wee neurons started running round at a frantic speed. No matter that I said to myself “Hey, Rachel, don’t lets get too irrational about this”, I knew that forever after this particular gruesome fact would be an inevitable hard-wiring of my alleyway bearings.
Despite extreme paranoia, I haven’t let that stop me enjoying the shortcut in some kind of quickened-heartbeat way. Usually it has more to do with running late than any desire whatsoever for cheap thrills, yet I talk myself into a few more cheap thrills than is quite good for me. Ok, a nod in the direction of common sense dictates that I don’t go down there by myself in the dark, but mid-weekend-morning seemed ok enough to me.
Sometime in the last week or so, I must have ran up there as time-pressure dictated. Just as I was entering the alley, something moved at the far end. I kept my eyes glued, and weaved back and forth, establishing the exact timing and size of my mugger-friend should they be attempting to hide behind one of the lamp-posts.
By the time I got half-way, there was no sign of said mugger. I was almost dissappointed, I’d tried so hard to catch my first glimpse. Plastic shopping bag, gone to join the trolley over the way, I suppose. Or maybe even a bird – now that would have been cute!
So, anyway, this latest time I wasn’t going to make a fool of myself again. Once again, I thought I caught a glimpse of something moving way up ahead. Once again I weaved back and forth to check no-one was hiding behind one of the lamp-posts, and once again I confirmed that there wasn’t.
So I blissfully continued walking, enjoying the tranquillity of the spring sun. It’s just beginning to get into the habit of dispensing the Vitamin D again, so I was glad to get my fix.
And suddenly he was there.
Trenchcoat, round black sun-glasses… ok, maybe an Agent Smith nearer retirement than the sleek-ness I would normally have guessed at, but perfectly Agent-y all the same.
Less than ten paces away.
“Ok, Rachel, don’t be *such* an idiot… that is so horrible of you to look at that guy as if you’re petrified out of your mind by him. What a horrible thing for him to have to experience.”
The fact he hadn’t been there before, and that he shouldn’t really have slipped by my round-eyed radar sorta wasn’t exactly the most consoling recollection I’ve ever had.
Now, its a reasonable-sized alley. It’s not like two people walking to meet each other have to *squeeze* past or anything. (I’m sure we had at least three of us marching down in unison before.) But despite this, I kinda considered it just plain manners to “get in lane” as I approached him.
I expected him to do the same.
I was disappointed.
In some strange way, he looked like he was walking right at me. He couldn’t possibly have not-seen me, I thought. It was me who had the sun pointing direct into my eyes and him who should have been getting the perfect birds-eye-view of my approach.
But he just kept coming.
Two paces left. “Surely he must move over now. He’s a respectable gentlemanly type after all. Even if he’s in some kind of sour mood, he has to move over at some stage, even if it is a grumpy concession.”
There was still this illusion as if he was walking at a slight angle heading right at me. Even as he passed, I was puzzled at the lack of “thud” as his arm tried to share the same physical location as mine. I don’t think there was even an “accidental brush” of trenchcoat and fur, but to this very moment, the physics of the situation still elude me.
He made absolutely no acknowledgement whatsoever that I so much as existed.
Instinctively, I turned as he passed… watching him. He clomped on. Relief made the next few steps seem like moon-walking.
Then I was confused. I did actually check behind me with the one single purpose of seeing if he was still there. Despite “not believing in ghosts”, the one question I wanted answered more than anything was “Is he really real?”
He was still there. I was even more confused. Reality smiled invitingly.
As I emerged into the world again, I got stopped by a girl on the street. Could I tell her where Haymarket was? I quite obviously gave her directions taking her round three sides of a square, despite the embarrasment of knowing she’d have seen me come out of the fourth side – the shortcut – just seconds earlier. I wasn’t embarrassed at all.
There was *no way* I was going to be responsible for another human – no matter how unknown to me – meeting my ghost. He is mine, and mine alone!
*is still shaking*
Even just writing this has made me remember just how scared I was. I have never in my life encountered anything quite as surreal as this. At the time, it all happened so quick, that despite the fear it didn’t seem that big a deal. But now as I look back sitting in the comfort of my home, I’m still withdrawing into myself at the freakish un-reality of it all.