(diamond geezer [CC / Flickr])
The ferry was almost empty so Alison found a seat where she had several rows to herself. She tweeted that Ryde was even duller than usual today and set to liking her way through her friend’s feeds while she waited for her own likes to roll in.
She didn’t pay any attention to the man who sat down at the end of the same row. There were still several seats between them, and she’d just found a selfie of Carol with a new baby that warranted a ‘luv u girl’ as well as a like.
The man slid two seats closer to her. Alison darted a look in his direction, being careful not to make eye contact. The problem with the Isle of Wight was that if you didn’t quite know everyone, you’d probably met them at some time or other but another glance confirmed that nothing about his long coat or hipster beard looked familiar.
He sidled two more seats toward her. There was only one seat between her now, and no one else closer than the café bar at the other end of the deck. Now he was closer, she could see he was sweating, even though the air conditioning was, as usual, turned up so high that she sometimes wondered if Wightlink was trying to refrigerate its customers.
She gathered up her bag and was about to head over to the bar when the man spoke.
“I’m sorry. Aren’t you Alison McTiernan?”
“Yes.” Alison tried to imagine the man without the beard but either her imagination or her memory were failing her, or she really didn’t know this man.
“I’m Damien Jones.” The man was looking past her but his tone of voice suggested he expected the name to mean something to her.
It didn’t. “Do I know you?”
“Yes, you must remember. I’m… I used to, well, to make fun of you. When we were kids. Ventnor Primary.”
“We were at school together?” The name rang a bell somewhere in Alison’s mind, but she still couldn’t attach it to any particular memory.
“You must remember,” said the man. “I was the obnoxious little… the bully. I’ve wanted to say I’m sorry for… well, for years now.”
“Right,” said Alison. “I’m sorry, I’m trying to remember you, but…”
“No, please, don’t be sorry. I was a little… I was awful. Your parents moved across the island to get you away from me.”
Alison frowned. “I don’t know where you got that idea from. We moved to Newport because my dad got a job there.”
“Oh.” The man’s mouth hung open in surprise.
“You can’t have been that bad if I don’t remember it. Perhaps you should forget about it too.”
The man closed his mouth but still couldn’t look at Alison’s face. “And after I’ve tried so hard to find you. To apologise.”
“Oh well, don’t worry about -” Alison stopped talking as his last words sank in. “What do you mean, you tried so hard to find me? I thought you just happened to run into me?”
“No, no, I wouldn’t have recognized you. It was years ago and you’ve got so much… I mean, you’ve put on some…” The man called Damien Jones waved a hand in a way that suggested the outline of something round. “Anyway, it wasn’t by chance.”
Alison renewed her grip on her bag. “How did you find me?”
“I don’t let Twitter track my location,” said Alison.
“I know you don’t, but you tweet about Ryde and Portsmouth on the first Sunday morning of every month. There’s only one ferry every half hour. This is only my third try to find you. I just… I’ve been carrying this, this guilt all my life.”
Alison became aware that she was as far from the man as she could be without sliding into the next seat. She allowed her body to do what it seems to want to do and put another seat between them. “Have you been stalking me?”
“No!’ The man cringed his way to the seat next to the one she’d just vacated. “Not stalking you. Not exactly. I’ve been looking for forgiveness. Doesn’t everyone want forgiveness?”
“I don’t know what you think you’ve done,” said Alison, “but if you ever talk to me again, I’ll call the police. Leave me alone.”
“Please.” The man made it into the seat next to Alison and grabbed her hand with a speed that startled her. “I need forgiveness.”
Alison leapt to her feet, snatching one hand away from the man and scooping up her handbag with the other. She backed her way down the row of seats, not taking her eyes off the man called Damien Jones, who didn’t move but watched her go with beseeching eyes. Alison wished she could think of one last thing to say to him, but the only words she spoke between standing up and arriving in Portsmouth were to order a gin and tonic at the bar.
(diamond geezer [CC / Flickr])