Hello, Stranger

image of a parking lot from above; the parking lot is empty except for one white car, and a figure standing near the car, whose shadow reveals that the person is waving
[Photo by Sorry imKirk on Unsplash.]

"I'll be right back."

"I'll be right here."

I sat in the car and watched Iain as he walked across the parking lot to a store where he had to return something. His gait was so familiar to me — his long strides; his shoulders hunched against the cold.

I tried to force myself to forget that I knew him, in order to imagine what I would think if I were looking at a stranger.

He probably wouldn't even register at all, like the other man strolling past him in the parking lot hadn't registered to me, until just that moment. Like I wouldn't register to Iain, if he passed me on the street as a stranger. Just two nondescript, middle-aged people, like millions of others.

Iain disappeared into the store.

Maybe, I thought, if he were a stranger, holding a door for me, or I a stranger holding a door for him. If we paused long enough to smile at one another and say thank you. Maybe I'd notice the laugh lines around his eyes; the freckles scattered across his forehead.

But probably not. Even when I smile at someone holding a door for me, even when I pause to say thank you, I don't really see them. They don't really see me, either. Not in a cruel way; just in the way of people going about their business quickly, with purpose other than finding intimacy with strangers.

If I encountered Iain as a stranger, I thought, the truth is that I probably wouldn't think anything about him at all.

As the faintest gauze of melancholy began to lay itself upon me, at the thought of this world in which I didn't know him, Iain appeared once again, bursting through the swinging doors of the store with a grin and a wave.

Every inch of him seemed to glow with familiarity. His hair, his posture, his elbows stuck out as hands were plunged into pockets. I felt the force of knowing him — the things that make him laugh, the way his arms feel when they're wrapped around me, what he wants for dinner after a hard day.

I know him, I thought, with surety and gratitude. The knowledge of this person, so vast and comprehensive, filled my heart, and tears sprang to my eyes.

I could no longer even try to imagine him as a stranger. We have not been strangers to each other for a very long time.

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