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  • Writer's pictureLaura Forbes

[Short Story] Mamihlapinatapai

Taking a break from her work to pour another cup of tea, Amanda Jennings found herself looking out of the café window to the left of her.

Her eyes scanned up and down the street and settled on a tall man on the other side of the road who was waiting to cross at the traffic lights. It wasn’t until his eyes found hers from across the street that she realised she had been staring at him. Her eyes lingered on him for a moment longer before her cheeks flushed pink and she looked away back to her laptop.


She turned her attention back to the Excel spreadsheet in front of her but her mind was still across the street playing with the idea of the handsome stranger. A brief moment of eye contact had caused a chain reaction in Amanda’s body, heightening her senses and making her feel more alive than she had two minutes earlier. I wonder what he thought when he saw me looking at him, she wondered.

Amanda’s thoughts were interrupted by the ringing of a little bell above the café door. Amanda glanced up from her table at the back of the café and looked at the door in front of her to see who had just walked in.

Oh My Goodness! It’s him… he came into the café! Was he going to come in here anyway?

The excitable commotion in Amanda’s mind and body had disturbed her Inner Critic from its slumber. She was quickly reprimanded for being audacious enough to hope that something wonderful could happen. Of course he was on his way in here before he saw you gawping at him. Stop kidding yourself and get back to work you idiot.

When Amanda had arrived at the café, the only table available was one right at the back. It was a high table with stools instead of chairs. The position of the table meant that she was elevated above everybody else in the café making her feel slightly awkward. On the plus side, it made for a prime people watching spot and as she was already facing forward towards the door and the counter at the front of the café, she could keep sneaking glances at Handsome as he placed his order.

He was effortlessly good looking, the type of guy who could make an old pair of jeans and plain white t-shirt look exquisite. He glanced up as he took a seat by the door and their eyes met again… Or did they? Amanda wasn’t sure if there was a mutual attraction going on or whether she was imagining things. He’s probably not even looking at me she thought, feeling silly. She couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed that he was sitting so far away.

What did you expect you idiot! He’s hardly going to stride over and propose marriage just because you made eye contact. Get a grip for goodness sake, Amanda’s Inner Critic scolded.

A middle aged couple who were sitting at the table in front of Amanda had just gotten up to leave and in her peripheral vision, Amanda could see that Handsome had gotten up out of his seat by the door and was heading over to where she was sitting.

She felt the heat of anticipation rise through her body as he got closer. Nothing had even happened, nor was there any suggestion that it was about to, and yet she felt out of her comfort zone.

Trying to look unfazed, she focused in on the spreadsheet in front of her as if it was the most fascinating thing she had ever seen.

“Excuse me, actually would you mind if I take a seat up there with you? The sun was in my eyes over there by the door.”

Jesus Christ. He’s even more beautiful close up.

Handsome was looking at Amanda waiting for permission to sit down. His eyes were like dark brown portals to a place that enjoyed eternal peace and happiness. It was as if his exuberant soul had outgrown his body and was overflowing through his eyes and spilling out in to the world around him. His face had a sunny disposition that painted an understated picture of irresistible self-assuredness.

“Sure go ahead,” Amanda said with a smile that didn’t quite reach its full potential due to her awkward self-consciousness. As Handsome took a seat opposite her at the table, she quickly focused every ounce of herself into her computer screen. She felt torn. Part of her felt a deep attraction to the man in front of her and wanted to talk to him… she wanted to get to know him. But part of her felt so unworthy of his attention that it made her want to wrap herself in a safe cloak of invisibility so that there was nothing left of her to be seen by him.

Staring at her laptop, her mind raced with ten thousand thoughts and not one of them involved an Excel spreadsheet.

Did he just go out of his way to come and sit near me because he finds me attractive? Don’t be silly… Look at him, he’s beautiful, there’s no way he’d be interested in me, I look like a mess. I wish I’d made more of an effort this morning. If I looked better then maybe I’d have the courage to talk to him.

Amanda felt like she was bound by invisible restraints. She desperately wanted to talk to Handsome but she felt physically incapable.

There was nothing stopping her except her own twisted thoughts that bullied her in to resigned silence. She wished she had the courage to say something to him… anything. She willed herself to think of something but nothing seemed appropriate or worthy of his attention.

Amanda’s internal monologue was relentless. She tried to focus on her work but her mind was elsewhere – in a parallel Universe where interesting things happened to her. In a world where she had the courage to express herself freely. A world where she got to proudly tell friends, family and strangers the wonderful story of how she met the love of her life. A world where she and Handsome got to live happily ever after.

It had been months since Amanda had felt an attraction to someone and for all she knew it might be months until she felt it again. And yet here she was, wasting a perfectly good opportunity to talk to an attractive man.

He’s probably not even single. Amanda tried to justify her muted silence.

When it came to love and dating, Amanda was always disappointed by reality. No man ever lived up to her expectations. But then again, she didn’t live up to her own.

Amanda loved intrigue, romance and mystery but lived in a way that denied much of any.

After an hour of sitting in silence across from her, Handsome got up, put his laptop back in his bag, smiled at Amanda and said “Goodbye”. Amanda looked at him one last time trying to memorise his perfect face as she politely said goodbye. For a brief second she could have sworn his spirited eyes tried to communicate with her but the message was lost, spoken in a language she didn’t understand.

The handsome stranger’s disappearance reinforced her existing self-loathing. She couldn’t believe she didn’t even attempt to make a conversation. For a split second she considered running after him but even before her Inner Critic had chance to chime in, she had already convinced herself it was pointless. She’d had her chance and she’d blown it. She walked out of the café feeling utterly disappointed with herself.

She was aware that regardless of the result, the handsome stranger in the café represented an opportunity. A chance. A choice to be who she wanted to be. The type of woman who feels at ease with herself and comfortable enough in her own skin to allow herself to be seen. They type of woman who is able to strike up a conversation with anybody… even a handsome stranger.

She berated herself. Another missed opportunity another redundant connection. A waste.

Pushing the thoughts aside she climbed in to her car and filed the handsome stranger in the café incident away in a box in her mind labelled, ‘Regrets’. As she closed the lid on the box, words she’d heard years earlier echoed in her ears.

“She who hesitates is lost in the game of life.”

As Amanda drove away, she glanced in her rear-view mirror and saw the café recede behind her along with dreams of a happy ever after. She drove home lost in her thoughts oblivious to the fact the sky above her was grey and as heavy as her heart. She was so consumed by self-loathing that she didn’t notice the absence of the sun.

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