Sunday, 7 October 2018

I Never Forget a Face

 by Alison Allen


 You’d be amazed how many people have told me that.  What’s more, they actually believe what they’re saying.  Doesn’t mean you should. 
      Ok, some faces are instantly recognisable, the sort that no one forgets - broken nose, piercing eyes, double chin – you know the kind of thing.  But faces like yours and mine?  We could fit in anywhere.  Admit it, you’ve had strangers greet you by mistake, mixing you up with someone you’ve never heard of.  No?  I have. 
      If they notice me at all.  You see, some people are born to stand out while others like us just blend into the wallpaper.  You want proof?  Listen when people try to remember who was in the meeting, at the party or down the pub - we’re never there.  Invisible.  It used to hack me off when I was younger.  That was before I worked out the advantages.
      Today I’m taking a little walk down Memory Lane, back to my old boarding school.  Not the happiest years of my life.  No need to dwell on that.  I’ve come back for a little poke around.  It’s holiday time, nice and quiet, just how I like it.
      The buildings are locked, but it’ll take more than that to keep me out.  You’d think some of these places might invest in a few more security cameras.  They could do with someone like me to advise them. 
      Inside, I work my way through the smart IT centre.  Big changes since my time.  A lot of new kit, rather carelessly stowed.  Once I’m done, I can’t resist going past the assembly hall.  The trophy cabinet is still there.  How many times did I walk past that fancy collection of silver cups and shields, taunting me with its suggestion of glittering prizes that were mine for the taking?  On second thoughts, perhaps I should be grateful.  That turned out to be pretty good careers advice, after all.
      I’m across the courtyard before I’m spotted.
      ‘Can I help you?’  The tone is curt, but the man is stooped with age.
      ‘Mr Harding?’
      Rheumy grey eyes peer at me doubtfully.
      ‘Tom Dawlish,’ I say, ‘Winger in the First Fifteen.  We won the All England trophy in 2001.’  I could have picked any of them.  He’d have swallowed it just the same.
      ‘Good gracious, yes, what a year that was.’  Harding’s sagging face is warmed by the memory of past glories.  We amble down the main drive towards the gates, swapping stories about the past.
      ‘Great to see you again, Tom.  I expect you’re surprised I remember you so well,’ he says, with a hint of pride. 
      That little pat of self-congratulation gets me every time.  I can scarcely keep from grinning as I shift my heavy rucksack from one shoulder to the other.  I know exactly what’s coming next.
      ‘The fact is,’ he says, shaking my hand in farewell, ‘I never forget a face.’

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