Neighbours

Imagine wondering for nearly thirty years what happened to someone you once knew, only to discover not only that you both migrated two hundred miles south to the same neighbourhood, but were introduced to your spouse two streets apart, nearly in a straight line, east to west, two hundred metres between you.

You would think, “What are the chances of that?” And yet that is exactly what I recently discovered. I won’t say I’m freaked out — for life is filled with coincidences like these — but I will say I was knocked sideways.

I migrated down south for university in 1996 and, except for a year spent in Scotland, have remained ever since. I settled back here in 2000 when I got my first proper job, then I met my wife in 2001, which cemented my migration for good.

It’s not that I imagined I was alone in moving south. Of course, London is our capital city, home to nine million people. It’s a magnet for people seeking work. Naturally I know plenty of northerners who likewise moved to and settled in the south east for the sake of employment opportunities.

Nor is it that I had no idea that Hull has mostly emptied of its graduate population; that’s not really surprising. Though not quite as grim as Grimsby, Hull was always quite dull. I tried to persuade my beloved to move back there once, but she simply replied, “Bye then!”

The southward migration wasn’t a great surprise — I likewise discovered that others from that friendship group had settled here — but the close proximity for one of the most significant events of my life: yes, well, that was a shock.

For years, I wondered what had become of old acquaintances. As far as I was concerned, they had simply vanished into their own worlds, never to be seen again. I mostly imagined they remained up there, close to extended family.

Some old friends I rediscovered a decade ago. One old classmate turned out to be living in north London. He too had often wondered what happened to me, whenever passing my old house to visit his parents back home. Naturally, we arranged to meet one evening.

This new encounter won’t result in a similar reunion, however. When our paths last crossed, we didn’t exactly get on. That’s to put it mildly. I would call what happened between us conflict. In part because I was a fool. In part because other things were going on. All of which had a profound impact on me. But then we all just disappeared, and came to inhabit such different worlds.

I know I am not supposed to make contact. No, this discovery of proximity, I feel, was merely a reminder from the Lord of all the worlds that He is firmly in charge. I am just supposed to reflect on the profound realities of life. I am supposed to recall that the One has power over all things. I think I am just supposed to reflect on all that has happened in this life of mine.

Reality, it turns out, is much stranger than fiction. And that’s saying something as one who has spent so many years penning fictional works. If I didn’t know it to be true, I would never believe the plot of this novella that is my life. It reads more like obscure science fiction.

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