A pleasant encounter?
People have different views about which are "the best years of one's life." One common idea is that the teenage years form this happy period. The modern Irish novelist, Edna O'Brien, is particularly sensitive to the views of young women, and perhaps one can judge whether she views teenage as necessarily the happiest time in a young girl's life from this description of Caithleen in The Girl with Green Eyes. Living in Dublin, Caithleen has fallen in love with Eugene Gaillard, and has been seeking every possible way of `just bumping into him'. Now, unexpectedly, they meet in the street ...
Coming down the stone steps from the bookshop I met him. I saw him in that instant before he saw me and I was so astonished that I almost ran away.
"Oh, you!" he said as he looked up in surprise. He must have forgotten my name.
"Mr. Gaillard, hello," I said, trying to conceal my excitement.
In daylight his face looked different longer and more melancholy. A shower of rain had brought us together. He came up to shelter in the porch and I stood in with him. My body became as jelly from standing close to him, smelling his nice smell.
"What have you been doing?" he said. "We went to a marvellous dance last night, a marvellous band and supper and everything."
Oh, God, I thought, I am as dull as old dishwater. Why can't I say something exciting, why can't I tell him what I feel about him?
"The rain sparkles on the brown pavement," I said in a false fit of eloquence. "Sparkles?" he said, and smiled curiously.
"Yes, it's a nice word." "Indeed." He nodded.
I felt that he was bored and I prayed there would be a deluge and that we would have to stay there for ever. I imagined the water rising inch by inch, covering the road, the pavement, the steps, our ankles, our legs, our bodies, drawing us together as in a dream, all other life cut off from us.
"It's getting worse," I said, pointing to a black cloud that hung over the darkening city of Dublin.
"It's only a shower," he said, shattering all my mad hopes. "What about a cup of tea, would you like some tea?" he asked. "I'd love it."
And in the rain we crossed the road to a tea shop. I forget what we talked about. I remember being speechless with happiness and feeling that God, or someone, had brought us together. I ate three cakes; he pressed me to have a fourth but I didn't, in case it was vulgar. It was then he asked my name. So he had forgotten it.
"Tell me, what do you read?" he asked. He had a habit of smiling whenever I caught his eye, and though his eyes were sad, he smiled nicely.
"Chekhov and James Joyce and James Stephens and ..." I stopped suddenly in case he should think that I was showing off.
"I must loan you a book some time," he said. Some time? When is some time, I thought as I looked at the tea leaves in the bottom of his cup.
"I often wonder what young girls like you think. What do you think of?" he asked, after he had been looking steadily at me for a few seconds.
I think about you, I thought, and blushed a bit. To him I said in a dull stupid voice, "I don't think very much really; I think about getting new clothes or going on my holidays or what we'll have for lunch."
It seems to me now that he sighed and that I tittered to hide my embarrassment and told him that some girls thought of marrying rich men, and one I knew of thought only of her hair; she washed it every night and measured how much it grew in a week. He looked at his watch and inevitably he had to go.
"I'm sorry, but I have to see somebody at four."
"I'm sorry for keeping you," I said, as we stood up. He paid the bill and took his cap off the hat rack inside the door.
"Thank you. A pleasant encounter," he said, as we stood on the stone step.
I thanked him, he raised his cap and went away from me. I watched him go. I saw him as a dark-faced God turning his back on me. I put out my hand to recall him and caught only the rain. I felt that it would rain forever, noiselessly.