The Observer recommended an Asda wine. The trains weren’t running. I took the rail replacement bus for the first time. It went down Manor Road but there was no one to pick up at North Sheen. The bus passed Mortlake old brewery where I’d worked and did a turn into the front of Mortlake Station where were people. We went by the river and right at a junction of five roads at Barn Elms to Barnes, a station which serves a community of trees.
A man who might’ve been Josh, the son of an old friend, came up the stairs and sat front. If he were Josh he hadn’t seen or, having seen, hadn’t come towards. I lost interest after that. The journey was slower than the slowest train.
The bus stopped outside an unfamiliar entrance to Clapham Junction and I didn’t want to go through the stiles and out the other exit in case the travel pass wouldn’t work because I hadn’t actually gone anywhere. As I was standing there in a quandary, I was accosted, “Johnny!” by whom I recognised as “Josh!” though he looked older, with dark crescents on little eye pouches. I hadn’t seen him in years. “Were you on the rail replacement bus?” I immediately asked. He said he hadn’t been and went on: “You’re looking well. You don’t look any older!” From the tone, he wasn’t just being polite. “I must do,” I demurred, “things are going wrong, like thumb joints.” I displayed the thumbs. “You’re looking …fine,” I could say in turn and asked how he was doing. He was doing music, this and that but not so well healthwise, or so I interpreted his shrug, though he didn’t go into what might be wrong. I asked of his brother, Caleb, whose name I couldn’t remember but did that he’d had a heart attack. He was married and this and that: dismissed. Josh proposed seeing me again. He had last time too. “You know where I live, Josh.” Nonetheless…. “I don’t have a phone.” I had to give him my address he wrote on the back of his hand. Now he wanted to know when he could. “Well, I go to the library in the morning, and come back, go to the library in the afternoon and come back.” “Six,” he decided. He asked if I were going on, accompanying him. I was going to Asda.
There I bought the wine and frozen gluten-free junk food, just catching the bus back. It stopped to let another bus pass in the opposite direction but the leeway was in inches and that bus stopped too before cautious manoeuvring was done for it to stutter nervously past and us to flow on.
It’s not unusual to be primed before meeting someone by a doppelgänger.