Image by S. Hermann & F. Richter from Pixabay
This story was written for the Reedsy contest "The Game is Afoot".
More specifically in the context of the prompt: "Write a story about someone who keeps coming across the same stranger."
I am face blind. That means that I don’t recognize faces. I see two eyes, a nose, a mouth, and I know these elements make a face, but I don’t know who that face belongs to. Everyone is a stranger to me.
As is often the case with strange disorders, there’s a difficult name for my condition; it’s called “prosopagnosia”. You can look that up if you don’t believe me. It’s rare, but it’s a thing.
In kindergarten, the teacher said: “Look, there’s your mother!” and I would run to the mother of some other kid because I didn’t recognize my own mother.
In middle school, I would go into a classroom and ask the teacher: “Is this Math?” The teacher would then say something like: “I’ve been teaching you English last year, Thomas. No, this isn’t Math.”
I focus on what people are wearing to recognize them, but that only works if they don’t change clothes all the time.
Sports are easier, that is: when every shirt has a different number. Otherwise it’s very confusing when the basketball coach yells: “Pass the ball to Mike, Thomas.”
These are some of the practical problems that are inherent to my disorder. Otherwise, I’m perfectly normal. I used to be bullied when I was younger, but I made some great friends once I was in 9th Grade. Whenever we’re together they wear a tag that allows me to know who’s who.
When I was in my junior year, something amazing happened: I saw a girl in the shopping mall! You might wonder what’s so special about that. That was also the first thing I asked myself: why am I so excited about seeing this girl?
I don’t know how to explain, but somehow, she didn’t look like every other girl I had seen before. I stared at her for a couple of minutes, but she didn’t notice. She was too busy talking to her friends, a bunch of girls with no face. When they said goodbye to each other, I heard one of her friends say: “Bye Clara, see you tomorrow!”
The girl waved back and left the mall. I was too baffled by the whole experience to follow her.
“Her name is Clara,” I wrote in my diary that evening. “It’s the first girl I would immediately recognize if I ever saw her again. I think I’m in love.”
The rest of the week, I returned to the mall every day, hoping I would meet Clara, but she didn’t return. At least, I don’t think she returned. All the girls I saw had identical faces.
In the meantime, I had seen the profile pictures of every Clara I could find on social media, but the Clara I was looking for was nowhere to be found online.
I had almost given up hope when I saw her walking in the street while I was on the school bus. I couldn’t keep my eyes from her. She didn’t look up. Just like in the mall, she didn’t know I was watching her. I wanted to knock on the window and shout her name to get her attention, but I realized in time that I would greatly ridicule myself in doing so.
The days that followed, I explored the neighborhood where I had seen her from the bus. After school, I did the tour of that block multiple times. I also walked through the park nearby twice a day. I didn’t have any luck. Another week passed without seeing her.
In the weekend I returned to the park near where she probably lived. The sun was shining and there wasn’t a cloud in the air.
And indeed, there she was! I was so happy to see —and recognize— her that I dropped my bike and ran straight to her.
“You’re Clara,” I said without thinking.
“Yes, I am,” she answered. “Have we met before?”
“Yes,” I said, and then: “No, well, in a way we did. It’s complicated.”
“Wait a minute,” she said. “I think I recognize you. I’ve seen you in my street almost every day last week. You were riding ridiculously slow, and you were just driving back and forth, seemingly without any purpose.”
“Yes,” I said enthusiastically. “That was me! I’m so happy you noticed; I was looking for you. My name is Thomas!”
“Thomas, eh?” she replied. “Did you just admit that you’ve been stalking me all week?”
“No, no,” I said. “No, That wasn’t my intention!”
“But in a way you did,” she said.
“I g-g-guess you’re right,” I confessed. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to. It’s just that…”
I couldn’t finish my sentence because a bunch of girls called Clara’s name.
“Is that boy harassing you?” one of them asked.
“I don’t think so,” Clara answered. “In any case, we’re done talking. I’ll join you guys right away.”
She got up, took the blanket she was sitting on, and said: “Goodbye Thomas. It was nice meeting you, but please stop stalking me.”
I tried not to stalk her. I limited my bike rides in her neighborhood, wondering from behind which window she could be watching me.
I tried to stay away from the park, because it would have been too obvious that I only went there in the hope that I would see her. I didn’t succeed. On Memorial Day, I couldn’t resist, but what started as a beautiful day, ended in disappointment.
I immediately spotted Clara, but she wasn’t alone. There was another boy with her. They were holding hands. I hid behind a tree so that she wouldn’t see me, and then I saw them kiss. It broke my heart. How could she, who was so special, fall for some faceless nobody? I was the one she was supposed to love. We were meant for each other…
I suffered from love sickness throughout the summer. On the last day before my senior year would start, I went to the shopping mall because I needed a new pair of sneakers.
A girl came up to me, and said: “Hi Thomas!”
I didn’t recognize her, so I said: “Hi, are we in the same class?”
“No, we aren’t,” she answered. “I’m Clara, don’t you remember me? You used to stalk me.”
“O Clara, hi,” I mumbled. “I didn’t recognize you.”
“Well, I just wanted to say ‘Hi’,” she said. “Bye!”
“OK, bye!” I replied, and she was gone.
I think she was surprised at my reaction. I was surprised myself: how could I not recognize a girl I had been stalking for weeks?
She looked just like any other girl now. That comforted me. Not only did it mean that I was finally over her, it also meant that I had an advantage over every other boy. I would never have to doubt if I loved a girl or not, I would immediately recognize my love when I saw her face.
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