What If

Disappointments in love always send me back into reminiscence about missed connections – about those once-off encounters, fascinating conversations and deep instant connections with a stranger I will never see again. I’m not one for regrets but I can’t help wondering what could have been had I not just said goodbye, assuming we would somehow meet again.

I have experienced this a few times in my life, and as a rather shy, introverted geek I don’t instantly feel a deep connection with many people, which is why these experiences stand out in my memory. The one I remember the clearest and with the most longing, happened nine years ago. I was 20 years old and in the third year of my geology degree, and I happened to be taking jazz piano as an extra subject.  I was working late on campus and before leaving, I went to the music library to borrow some sheet music. I wanted the original for the two piano duet Scaramouche by Darius Milhaud, which my sister and I were going to perform at a classical concert soon after and were practising from photocopies.

The only other person in the library was a guy who was working the night shift and came over to assist me. I told him what I was looking for, he pronounced ‘Milhaud’ incorrectly and thought that I did, I assumed he wasn’t a classical musician, and we made our way to the counter to check out the music.  He asked me what year I was in and what my major was. I explained that I was actually a geology student and a classical musician, and only managed to gain access to the music library because I registered for jazz piano that year. He told me he was a fourth year student majoring in ethnomusicology. He explained to me what ethnomusicology was and how it fitted in with African culture and the social sciences. We discussed our differences in our academic pursuits and what we found interesting about our studies, how I was a scientific, logical person who liked working with facts and searching for the truth, and how he loved understanding people and culture, and the role and development of music in Africa. We spoke about our plans for when we finish our degrees. He also told me a fascinating story about how social scientists managed to save a rural community from disease where doctors failed, by ‘translating’ medical instructions into their cultural belief system. For the first time in my life I saw a point to social science. I told my friend studying social science that story on the bus to campus the next morning and never forgot it.

We spoke about our differences in the music we played, about how my scientific background and strict classical piano training fitted well together, and how he was more of a spontaneous improvisatory musician. I was fascinated, and so was he. Time flew by and a few hours later, while still standing at the library counter, my parents start messaging me because they have been waiting in the car for a short while thinking I am still busy working. I tried to prolong the conversation – a few minutes more, I told myself. After more than a few minutes of guilty, hurried talking while thinking of my poor parents in the car, I finally said that I really had to go. We could have talked all night, and I’d felt like I’d known him forever by then. We quickly wished each other good luck for the upcoming exams, said that we’d see each other soon and really enjoyed chatting, and I sped out the door never to see him again.

I never really thought much of our meeting after that. Just that that was one of the best conversations I’d ever had with a stranger. It is only many years later that I realise that first meetings like these are hard to come by for me. He probably doesn’t remember me at all and I wonder what he is doing with his life now. I just wonder sometimes what could have been if there was a second meeting…

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