The most terrifying piece of information that a stranger can give to you is a telephone number. Telephone numbers have proven to be the direct cause of hours - even days - worth of worry for me and I have been known to carry a person’s number around with me for weeks on end, fretting about it like a stinking corpse buried beneath my floorboards. Should I call the man that I met in the bar on Friday night? What if he is an axe-wielding psycho killer? Or worse, the absolute love of my life? Do I really have the qualifications and experience to call and apply for this job? What if I’m seriously under-qualified and the interview panel laugh at me? But the most undeniably heart-stopping moment is when you are poised by the telephone, punching the numbers into the handset and waiting for the connection to ring through. What if the cute guy from the bar doesn’t remember me? What if I babble like an incompetent idiot and the company rejects my job application?
If I am honest, I considered conveniently misplacing Leonard’s phone number at first, but after a day or two I decided that it would be rude to ignore his kind offer and besides, he appeared to be quite a persistent character so there was a good chance that he would drop by the church once in a while in the hope of bumping into me. I decided to call him around mid-afternoon on Friday 5th of December and invite him to attend a Sunday School-led carol service that was scheduled to take place that Sunday afternoon. It was billed as a community event and an informal affair, so it seemed appropriate to invite him along. I agonised all morning over when would be the best time of day to call - taking care to avoid meal times and any post-lunch naps that an elderly man might take – and he answered the phone with a distracted and distant tone to his voice which suggested that he had forgotten me at first, but he quickly became animated upon hearing my name. The conversation that followed was rather stilted, but no more than expected for a polite exchange between strangers. He was pleased that I had contacted him so soon after our initial meeting but he was disappointed to inform me that he would be leaving that very evening for a weekend in London, so we made arrangements to meet during the following week and compared our diaries to find a day that suited us both. It transpired that Leonard lived very close to the university but thankfully he was sensitive to the implications of inviting a young woman to his house and so he proposed that we met on the ‘neutral ground’ of the university campus instead. After my Greek class on Tuesday afternoon was an obvious choice as it allowed ample time for a pleasant chat but it was late enough in the day to make my excuses and leave if I felt uncomfortable for any reason.
Leonard’s attempts to put me at ease were reassuring but they did nothing to stop me worrying about our meeting for the entire duration of that weekend. I shared my reservations with my boyfriend Alex who, in his typically overprotective way, asked several probing questions about Leonard’s intentions, most of which concerned his age and vigour. Alex and I met during my first year at university and we have been living together since the start of my second year. He was in his final year of a BA in Business Management when we met and he has recently accepted a position in a high-ranking company in the centre of Birmingham (which seems to be absorbing a great deal of his time, but that is another matter). I have discovered that Alex can be painfully insensitive and oblivious to causing offence at times, but he shares my concerns when it comes to family matters, financial worries and everyday anxieties with the kind of unspoken understanding that is common between two people who have formed a close bond. Fortunately Alex agreed that Leonard seemed to be a harmless old man and he thought that my apprehensions were entirely unfounded, adding, with a sarcastic grin, that should ever harm come of it then he would instantly deny any agreement with our meeting.