Wednesday, 23 November 2011
Overheard on Oxford Street
I caught the question, uttered in an accent I couldn't place, as I picked my way through Oxford Street last week. I turned my head but couldn't identify who had spoken - or to whom - and reluctantly I allowed myself to be carried along in the throng of people leaving the Underground.
Who was he asking? And why was it phrased in that way? Not will you marry me? but do you want to? More like a business proposal than a romantic declaration. Had she just broken the news of an unplanned pregnancy, and he was doing the honourable thing? Maybe she needed a visa, and his offer provided a practical solution to her dilemma. Was it the hundredth time of asking? Had she changed her mind more times than the wind? Was he despairing of yet another row? Do you want to marry me, or not?
I could write a dozen stories based on a single overheard conversation, and I love to eavesdrop. Snatches of arguments drifting from an open window, or the tail-end of bar chat. Hairdresser laughter, bus-stop banter, or the window-cleaners' hollered hecklings. All grist for the creative mill. Hearing accents, local expressions, vocal tics and curses adds so much colour, inspires so many ideas my fingers start to twitch, searching out a keyboard, a pen, a pencil.
When I lived in Paris I spent a lot of time alone. I'd go to the cinema and listen to the couple behind me make whispered plans. I'd sit in cafes stirring my espresso and smiling at the women discussing their husbands' sexual prowess. I'd listen to the English girls on their French exchange and the furious waiter slamming his tray down with an ever-varied range of expletives. Colour so rich and varied you could never be bored.
"Do you want to marry me?"
I hope she does. And I hope it's for all the right reasons.