April 9: i refuse to shake hands

I was in the rose garden in Kennington Park reading another Patrick Modiano novel in today’s sunshine. In this Modiano novel two strangers are pressed against each other during a riot and become friends. I don’t know how you meet people. It is mysterious. Maybe I’m not open to it these days. The rose garden was fairly deserted. There are about six benches around the sundial. I was on one of them. Just one of the others was occupied. Suddenly a man in a suit with white shoes and a man bag appeared and sat down next to me. Hiya, he said. I said hiya back. He went to shake my hand. Instinctively, I refused to shake his hand. It was too much rapid intimacy. What deal was he already concluding with me? After a few seconds I felt the need to excuse myself. I told him that my hands were sticky from the sun cream I had put on. It was true, but it was significant that I only said this about thirty seconds after the refusal. I thought he was an Evanglical Christian wanting to engage me in idle conversion (the suit, the white shoes, the open friendliness) and I was busy with the more serious business of keeping myself to myself. After a few minutes he started making phone calls and putting the speaker on his phone. Not very Christian with me reading next to him. He had a silly coversation with a Nigerian man, to whom ke kept saying that he loved him and his family. Then he checked his credit (he had 79 pence left), then he phoned another man and asked him to call him back. He waited for a couple of minutes, then called the man back and angrily told him he had something very important to tell him but had no credit on his phone. He waited for the return call again. It did not come, so he called him again and got an answering machine. Then he started muttering angrily under his breath. After a couple of minutes he moved away to the next bench, knelt down on the gravel and joined his hands together in prayer. He remained like this for a few minutes. My assumptions about his religiosity had proved correct. I nodded smugly as I got on with my reading. Then he took up his man bag and walked off to the other end of the garden. When I looked round I saw that he had engaged someone in conversation.
My conclusion is that it is perhaps a good thing that I do not easily meet new people and that I do not lightly shake hands with strangers.


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