I was sure that nobody could see him but me.
The first time was in the square at lunch, Russell Square. I was still trying to find work then, waiting for the temp agency to call me with some kind of office job, anything. I was not going back to California, not for all the money in the world. I'd already told the Registrar's office that I wasn't signing up for classes in the fall.
Anyway, I'd been to the little market across the street from the Tube station and bought a cheese salad sandwich, a Cadbury's Dairy Milk chocolate bar, and a bottled water. As I sat there, wishing I had a cell phone so that I didn't have to rely on the front desk of the dormitory to take my messages, I saw a flash of movement out of the corner of my eye. I turned.
There was a man standing there, sort of indeterminate older middle age, hair both balding and graying, wearing a tan raincoat and Converse high-tops. He was looking right at me. But the people walking around him didn't seem to notice him. It wasn't like he was somehow not there; it was just that they walked around him without even noticing they were taking a one-foot detour to the left or right. The slight breeze that provided some relief from the hot June day, ruffling my hair around, did nothing to budge his coat. It was like the wind, too, was compelled to go around him.
But I thought about all that later. At the time, all I could do was sit there, my sandwich halfway to my mouth. I couldn't break his stare for a long moment. I didn't know what he was staring at me for. It creeped me out, and after a while I looked around, hoping there was a policeman or somebody authoritative, though I wasn't sure what I'd tell them. All I saw were people having lunch on the benches and under the trees, or hurrying back to work along the paths that criss-crossed the square.
When I looked back at where he'd been standing, over by one of the flower beds, he was gone.
After that day, I started to see him everywhere. On Baker Street the following Monday, when I went for an interview at yet another temp agency. In the British Museum a few days later, standing next to one of the donation boxes in the rotunda, and then, when I was looking at the Rosetta Stone, next to one of the obelisks on the other side of the gallery. Always looking at me. Never coming nearer.
Then, after a few weeks of fruitless daily phone calls to three different temp agencies, I got a job, in the front office of an elementary school a few blocks from Westminster Abbey. That was when everything changed.
This week's piece was inspired by o by Flickr user eyeblink. I'll admit it; I don't know what happens next. This is sort of an alternate-history version of the summer when I was 19 and working in London. (Obviously I did go back to school in the fall...and there was no strange man in a raincoat lurking about. Not that I noticed, anyway.) Check the usual suspects for more Flickr Fiction: The Gurrier, Isobel, Elimare, Chris, TadMack, Neil, Valsha, and Mari.