I used to believe that there was no such thing as a coincidence. It’s what all my mates used to say. Then something happened. I took a flat in a small Gloucestershire town. The old dear – sorry, the elderly lady – who owned it told me that her previous lodger was constantly in trouble with the police. He held parties, she said, entertaining ‘all kinds of girls’. Finally she’d made him to leave. Assisted, she added, by her friendly local police sergeant.
One year later I left the place and went to college to study maths and physics – a scary two years – and then went on to uni to study geology. As part of my fieldwork I got vac work in Canada, on a mine surrounded by hundreds of miles of dense forest. Fifty miles away there was a one-horse town, with single-storey wooden buildings strung out along the main drag. The mine was new. Though it had been operating for three or four months, they held a grand opening ceremony soon after I arrived, attended by mining company bigwigs flown out from London. The mine organised an impressive outdoor party with food and beer. And invited the great and the good from the one-horse town.
It was July, and it was hot. The organisers provided tables, those heavy wooden outdoor things that pubs have. I sat at one with the mine’s engineers and geologists and a big stash of Labatt’s Blue. We had been there a while when a guy in his late 20s like most of us (I was a mature student by then), slid onto the end of the bench. One by one my new colleagues got up and left. I got chatting to the new arrival. He had a Canadian accent and said he didn’t work on the mine. ‘Got a business in town,’ he said. He asked what I did, and where I came from. I told him I was at uni, and that I had worked on the engine test beds at a firm in this Gloucestershire town. ‘Hey, so did I!’ he said. ‘I had a place in an old house in High Street, you know it?’ I knew it. I knew it because I had lived in the same flat for over a year. ‘Got out eventually,’ he added. ‘Coppers never left me alone. The woman who owned the place had me thrown out so I decided to get as far away from the bloody place as I could. It’s good here. I’m a respected member of the community. And the police leave me alone.’
The mine’s geologists and engineers had taken their beer with them. I went looking for it. When I found them they looked at me inquisitively.
“What?” I asked.
“You get on all right with that guy?”
“He didn’t ask you to his place?”
“No, why should he?
“You best keep away from him. He’s married to a local girl. He lives in a house in town, he invites all kinds there, men and women, you know? Just wondered if he’d asked you there….”
I grabbed a bottle, managed to snap off the crown cork by whacking it on the wooden bench like they did, and took a big swig. I stayed with them, I didn’t go back. The last I saw of the mechanic he was still on the bench, talking to another young man.
Coincidence, or what?
*apologies to J M Barrie