I don't know what to do. It's just so tantalising. This is my fourth or fifth sighting of him in - what? - must be four years.
"Sightings!" Jonathan explodes with laughter. "You mean you think you've seen someone who looks like someone you used to know."
"That's a sighting."
"You make it sound like the Beast of Bodmin."
Frankly, it might as well be. This is just so unlikely, so much not what I'd have expected. Is it that it's so close to home? Is it the kids - so many of them?
"Only two more than us," says Jonathan.
"Two more is lots more. Five little kids! Can they all be his? He just wasn't the type."
"The type, the type! There you go again - there's no such thing as `the type'."
But of course there is. Jonathan is always glad to point out that he has no expectations; I live submerged in mine. Sometimes I can't breathe for them. And Tim Evans? Five kids?
Sixteen years ago, we advertised for an extra person for our university house share and he answered. It was the smallest room, the shabbiest, the cheapest. It wasn't that Tim was unattractive (on the contrary, as I've said, he was rather cute), but he was so achingly green - the only one of us who hadn't had a year off and grown an artificial layer of cool in some foreign country.
Fresh from the sixth form of a home counties high school, Tim was unashamedly interested in girls' legs and Pink Floyd, openly excited by the communal cooking of spaghetti bolognese. My best friend Natalie and I discussed Tim a lot. We decided early on that he'd probably never had a girlfriend.
His mum had ironed his duvet. He had that Athena poster (blonde in a tennis dress and no knickers) on his bedroom wall. We laughed at it. We believed it proclaimed his niggling virginity to the world. We were repulsively superior. And yet his virtue was to make us feel we were at home, among brothers and old family friends. We could relax with Tim, stop playing the game.
He fell continually, uselessly, in love - always with some cold-hearted, flaxen-haired siren who was reading history of art or French and philosophy and just biding her time till she trapped some equally cold, rugby-playing Old Etonian called Ant or Cosmo or Niff.
The sirens had relentlessly skinny waists and private incomes (of course) and names like Sally-Ann or Sarah-Jane or Lucy-Su. They chain-smoked Lucky Strikes and ditched Tim every time on the second date.
Tim was too nice. Feeling sorry for him (and, naturally, only contempt for the sirens), Natalie and I offered our services. Not in bed, of course, but as vivacious and desirable extras in the pitifully inadequate montage of his life.
On the student-strewn pavement outside the union building or the library, we'd rush up to him (at a previously agreed time), fling our arms around his neck and chat and laugh and appear to hang on his every word. The sirens - smoking, scowling, ignoring - would slowly, agonisingly notice. The idea was that Tim would seem in demand, desirable. Once or twice it almost worked.
Tim and I inevitably lost touch. We had little in common beyond the house and deluding the sirens - until the first sighting four years ago.
It was, of all places, at the local baby clinic. A tired-looking man came in with a newborn in a carryseat and a gaggle of little kids. By the time he turned around and I saw it was Tim, it was time for my baby to be weighed, so I escaped, flushed with shock and cowardice. The End.
Except it wasn't. I saw him again and again - always fleetingly on a street or in a shop as I drove past. It was as if our lives were layered on top of one another, never touching but sharing precisely the same space, co-existing in eerie, random tandem.
Why didn't I just go up to him and say hello? Why don't I?
"No point," shrugs Natalie - naturally the only person in the world who treats these sightings with the excitement and dignity they deserve. "You want to know how his life turned out, and so do I. But, ultimately, it's just common curiosity. You know we'd have nothing to say to each other."
I sigh. It's true. "Probably not, but that seems sad. Why does it make me feel sad?"
"Not sad," says Natalie, spooning carrot puree into her baby girl's mouth. "Just old. Seeing him makes you feel 20 again - particularly as it's always in unexpected bursts. You are suddenly reminded of your youth."
"My youth!" We both laugh.
"And, let's face it," - Natalie wipes carrot and chewed-up rice cake from under the rim of the kitchen table with a piece of kitchen towel - "we liked him then and he was cute and all that, but at the end of the day he was just the tiniest bit dull."
"But Nat, he's got five kids."
"I look forward to the day," says Natalie with all the sagacity that confirms her exalted position as my absolute best friend, "when being the parent of any number of kids makes you any less dull."Reuse content