August 22: the alluring secret of your identity

I was sitting in a cafe this morning looking through a window and I saw a woman get off her bike and cross the road. She was a bike woman, a bit sporty-looking with a helmet. I looked away or back to my coffee or read a bit more of an article in the paper. A few minutes later I looked out of the window again. The Portuguese cafe was opening up on the other side of the road. A waitresss in apron was sorting out the shutters on the window. The biker-girl had become a waitress. It was the same woman, now in a different costume. A few minutes ago I was in the Tesco picking up a couple of things for dinner. In front of me down the vegetable aisle was a shopper. It was a woman. It was the same woman again. She must have finished her shift at the cafe. Now she was a shopper.I have experienced three snapshots of three different roles of one woman today and, like an ethnographer, accidentally broken her down into three emblematic functions. I suppose we all incorporate a number of roles in a day, although not always with a variety of costumes. For each of these roles we are viewed differently by outsiders. In the park cafe the young man who works there once came up to me and said ‘What is it you actually do?’ He must see me hanging around a lot, as though with nowhere to go. I was somewhat flattered by being unclassifiable and looked to find an answer that would preserve the mystery of my enigmatic self. In fact, I enjoy those contexts in life where you can emphasise your own anonymity. Travelling is a nice one. When in transit who can know who you are and where you are bound? You are just some random, existential hero shuttling between meaningless dots on a map. This is perhaps why in a survey I read about yesterday most people in the UK prefer not to be addressed by strangers when travelling, because when you open your mouth you give the game away, and not even by what you say. Your accent or the tension in your voice may be enough. How much better to turn your head away from your eager questioner, look out at the landscape flooding past the high-speed train window, to blow out the smoke of a forbidden and imaginary cigarette and to keep the alluring secret of your identity intact.

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