The Post Office still puts a note through the door when they can’t deliver, a red and white form telling you where you can collect whatever it is and asking you to bring identification.
So I set off with my son’s driving licence (it was his parcel) and my passport: best to be prepared. In similar circumstances I have been asked for one and both and neither.
The man behind the desk recognises me; grinned, got the package and I went out to get a bus because it was too cold to walk if I didn’t have to.u’
So there am I clutching something from New York and my scarf round my throat while standing at the bus stop when a tall young man in front of me half turns and I catch his eye.
“Freezing” I remark.
He looked at me.
“What will happen to the birds?” he asked.
I say the first thing I can think of. “I know the wrens are at risk, because they are so tiny, the body can’t manage the change in temperature.” (I love wrens, they were the instruments of my return to happiness at a very difficult time – I don’t tell him this). “But they are great survivors, they come again.”
“How?” he asked.
“I don’t know” I said. “I belong to the feed them and admire them school, I don’t know much about birds. Are they your interest?”
He nodded. “I like the country” he said, shrugging away from the buildings round us. “I go wherever I can, to walk and watch and listen. I’ve been to Spain and Romania and Ireland, just to walk and see.”
“If you like birds” I said” you must go to Crete. It’s a sort of way station for all sorts of birds; the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds recommends it.”
“I don’t know Crete” he murmured.
Oh I do. “We went for holidays when my son was little. He fell in love with a book called Birds of Prey of Greece. He loves raptors.”
“What’s a raptor?”
“Like an eagle, a bird of prey. I bought it for him, thinking he would like to look at the pictures but he insisted on reading most of it and we’d go out in the car to spot different kinds of birds from the drawings …”
“Like?” he said.
“Brown eagle, probably immature – on the left!”
He laughed. “That sounds like fun.”
“It was wonderful” I said, remembering the heat across the undulating land, the simplicity of it away from the holiday coastal strip, the weight of it waiting for me.
“You see I had wanted to go there since I was about 14, when I found a book call The Bull of Minos, about the ancient civilizations …”
“It’s very old?” he asked.
“There is a street of jewelers in Chania, the state capital, which is 8,000 years old. (I don’t know if this is true but I like the idea.) And old castles and forts and villas. And wonderful people, invaded by everybody of course, because they are an island – the Turks and the Venetians and the Germans – but still themselves.”
“I’ll think about that” he said.
The bus approached.
“You’ve made my day” he said.
“Well, you’re white and I ‘m black. And white women don’t speak to black men, not young black men.”
“But this is all there is” I said, gesturing to the space between myself and him, from him to me. “If we don’t talk, there is nothing. And this – this exchange – is the most political thing, not party political, political meaning of the people, the most political thing that any of us ever do and when we stop doing this, we’re finished. It was a pleasure to meet you” and I held out my hand. “I’m Anna.”
“Hi” he said, beaming. “Hi, Anna. I’m Dean.”
“Some believe that with an estimated 125 billion friend connections (the world population is just over 7 billion) Facebook has become so vast that it is undermining face-to-face interactions and replacing them with online ones” (Sunday Times 13.05.2012)
Not when Anna and Dean met on a cold morning in the Wandsworth Road.