“Well, I’ve been waiting in the cold for a bus for forty minutes and none have come, yet,” I remarked irritably, squinting at the horizon. “Anyone would be restless, don’t you think?”
“Yes,” he admitted, and I smiled smugly. It was pathetic, but I savoured the moment of being right. Score so far: me, 1, him, nil.
“Who are you?” I asked, more to change the subject than anything else. I still did not look him in the face – because if I did, I’d start laughing – preferring instead to study the concrete floor in great detail.
“A good question … but what will you give me if I tell you?” I was put off by the smile that I could see out of the corner of my eye: a wolfish, sly grin that I wasn’t sure I liked very much, because it seemed too – hungry, somehow.
“I’ll tell you my name.” It seemed like a fair exchange at the time, if he didn’t look at the wording too carefully. But what did I know about fairness, then?
E, B, E, D, E, B, E … The haunting melody hummed in my mind as he appeared to ponder, head on one side with a slight frown creasing his forehead.
“You have yourself a deal,” he said at last, and I was relieved. “My name … is Sean.” It was such an ordinary statement that the melodramatic build-up seemed ever more unnecessary.
“Shaun? Shawn? Or Sean?” I said slowly, carefully spelling them in my mind. I knew at least one Shaun, two Shawns, and possible a Sean, too. It was a quite a common name for my age group. Which version would he use?
“Sean. S-E-A-N. Now, tell me your name?” He smiled again, this time charming and sweet, and yet I was suddenly quite reluctant to share my own name.
“You haven’t answered my question,” I told him, pouting. When he looked confused, I explained, “I didn’t ask for your name: I asked you who you are.” The difference was – to me – small but crucial.