I love meeting people. I’m drawn to strangers because each unfamiliar person is brimming with unknown potential. I want to know who they are and I want to know their story.
I sat on the train, headphones on, blank face staring indifferently ahead. It was a night quite like any other on the Metro, apart from a curious couple I watched pass by my window at the Porte de Champerret stop, a lion mask in tow. At Pereire, a rather loud group of kids about my age clambered onto the train. Bored with the listen-to-music-and-stare-out-the-window routine, I paused the current song to try to catch what they were so loudly chattering about. They were speaking English. Definitely American kids, I thought. I was on my way to a birthday party with some American friends at an art studio apartment we had found refuge at on Nuit Blanche after the Metro had stopped running, and I had already gulped down enough wine before leaving to give me a slight buzz. I looked down at my iPod, then back at the group, debating whether or not to reveal my American identity. “Where are we getting off?” asked one of the girls. “Saint-Lazare,” a boy replied. Two stops away. I resumed my music, reasoning that if they were staying on the train longer and if I had a little more liquid courage, I would’ve struck up a conversation. The group soon departed and I didn’t think of them again.
Eating, drinking, and dancing without inhibition to 1960’s American funk music turned the soirée into an all-night affair. Somewhere in those hours between midnight and morning, the celebrating turned into smoking cigarettes at the back of the building in the rain, and eventually the 5:30 Metro opening time drew a mass exodus to the nearest station. After the parting bises, I rode to my transfer station and sat down to wait out the nine minutes until the next train.
And then, something extraordinary happened.
The same group of Americans, the very one I had seen on the train as I was headed to the fête, was standing nearby, waiting for the same train. This had to be a sign that I had to go talk to them. Didn’t it? I mentally debated for two more minutes, then stood up and confidently walked over. “So, this is kind of random, but I saw you guys as you were heading out for the night…” I began, proceeding to explain the situation. They received my introduction cheerfully and when the train arrived, I claimed a spot beside them, the conversation turning to the customary ‘who are you, what are you doing here.’ And then, it was Pereire again, and all of a sudden they were all standing up and walking out the doors. Caught off guard by the departure, I uncertainly waved and offered a goodbye. “What’s your last name?” called out one of the boys, already out of the train. “Kovtun, Rita Kovtun!” I called back. He’ll never remember that, I sighed as the doors shut. I’m never going to see them again.
By the time I got home, I had forgotten most of the essential details like names and cities of origin. The only one that stuck was one of the girls – a Melanie from Ohio. A few futile Facebook searches later, I gave up and accepted that even if I was meant to meet them, maybe I wasn’t meant to be in their lives again. C’est la vie, right?
But I realized I don’t need to turn this encounter into sustained relationships. I met these people, I learned a little bit about who they are, and then I went on with my life. I’m not saying people are disposable to me. I would’ve loved to have gotten their numbers, to have had the option to go out for a drink and be expats in Paris together. But this is one of many such meetings in my life. I know this is true because I know that I love meeting people. Because I’m drawn to strangers and because each unfamiliar person is brimming with unknown potential. And because there’s so many people, in so many more places in this world, to walk up to, strike up a conversation with, and understand a little deeper.