Somewhere out there is a chap who by now, must be in his early to mid-50s. His jet-black hair has probably turned grey. He’ll still be wearing the wire-framed glasses of an intellectual, but may have discarded his once-fashionable sports coats. Maybe he’s given up teaching for something more lucrative.
And maybe he still believes that one night, more than 20 years ago, he sat next to a half-Irish, half-French artist whose mother had absconded with a Lebanese millionaire to Switzerland.
He didn’t. I lied.
It was a long journey, and I had to amuse myself somehow. As we pulled out of Victoria coach station, the hours stretched before me like a void to be filled. So fill it I did. One lie led to another, and another.
And he was easy prey: smiling, trusting, and slightly reserved. He warmed to me, and I warmed to my deception.
By the time we reached Bristol, I realised I had to pace myself. The story was beginning to spin out of control. So I pulled it back, and adorned it with the sort of minute details that would make it sound real.
Newport, Bridgend, Port Talbot, Swansea. As the placenames flashed past, I wove my web. Cars, holidays, Russian counts, bilingualism. Holidays in France and maids.
I lost him at Fishguard, and retreated to a lower deck on the ferry. But at Rosslare, we were back together, and the story continued. Adventures in Italy, and narrow escapes in Morocco. The long search for my lost mother.
As we pulled into Cork bus station, I gathered my things.
“Lovely to meet you,” I said brightly. And it was. I hadn’t had so much fun in years.
And there to meet me was my mother, alive and well. My real mother. The one who’d never been to Switzerland or met a Lebanese in her life.
As we strode off, I turned around and saw him adjust his glasses and blink in the slanting December sunlight. And I felt a pang of guilt.
So wherever you are, and whoever you are, please accept my apology. And the next time you sit next to somebody, take what they say with a pinch of salt.