“Who knows what the future holds, eh?”
“I beg your pardon?”
She’d been about to hurry past him. Her head down against the rain, she’d barely noticed the man in the trilby hat walking towards her until he spoke. She looked at him suspiciously.
“None of us really know. Want a smoke?”
He tucked his newspaper under his arm, and offered her a cigarette. She considered for a moment. As opening lines go, it was intriguing. But he didn’t seem crazy. His face, below the brim of his hat, was lined and tired, but somehow peaceful looking. And after all, a cigarette was a cigarette. She reached out to take it, and his warm fingers, rough as sandpaper, brushed against her own cold hand. She put the cigarette slowly to her lips.
“I’ll need a light.”
“Sure, hang on…”
The match flared behind the shelter of his cupped hand. She leaned in to light her cigarette, and didn’t immediately draw back.
“What did you mean? About the future?”she asked, surprised at the note of longing in her own voice.
“Like I said. None of us know. That church up the road, who’d have guessed Jerry’s bombs would fall just there? When I left home this morning I had no idea I’d see a girl in a cream coloured coat brighter than anything else on this dreary old day. And you, crossing the street now, you had no idea I was going to offer you a smoke, did you?”
“We’re all just moments in time. We might think we know about the past, but we don’t really know anything about the people who walked up and down this street before, what they thought and felt. They’re gone. And one day we will be too, and in our place there’ll be things we can’t imagine. Trees growing out of the ruins of that church, and music with a strange beat. There’s only us that will ever know about this moment, this cigarette and how cold the rain feels right now.”
“So it’s a special cigarette, is that what you’re saying?”
He tilted his hat back and looked her straight in the eyes.
“Yes. That’s exactly what I’m saying.”
Before she could say another word, he gave her the faintest smile, lowered his hat against the rain which was coming down harder than ever, and walked on down the street.