Traveling alone was one of the best things I ever did – I met lots of people, made decisions independently, and learned how to stand on my own two feet. It also meant that I commonly wandered the streets of European cities by myself, soaking it all in.
This is what I was doing one chilly afternoon in Notting Hill, my new London neighborhood. I had just moved into a shared studio apartment with a girl from Oregon. We had met and signed the lease on the same afternoon, both desperate for accommodation. Paige was at work, so I was exploring the area.
I was walking aimlessly down the sidewalk when a man approached from the other direction. Usually I avoid interactions by speeding up my walk and fixing my gaze at some distant point on the horizon. This white-haired man looked pretty safe. He reminded me of Anthony Hopkins, in a non-cannabalistic kind of way. Before we were close enough to be in the ‘smile zone,’ he gave me a serene smile.
I figured he was just extra-friendly and smiled back.
When we got within 5 feet of each other, he stopped.
“Do you remember?” he asked.
Not Do you remember me, but Do you remember?
His voice was calm, almost melodic.
I must have looked like a deer in the headlights, so he said it again.
“Do you remember?”
I started to shake my head, to protest. He gestured at himself, as if to say that he was Shelly. Maybe it was his last name?
In a state of total confusion, I said, “No, I’m not Shelly.”
He kept smiling. “Are you sure?” he said. “Are you sure you’re not Shelly?”
He said it in a way that made me second guess even myself. For a fleeting moment, the thought crossed my mind – Wait a minute – am I Shelly?
“Maybe Shelly is my long-lost European twin,” I said.
“Where are you from?” he asked. It was the least weird thing he’d said so far.
“What are you doing in London?”
“Working and traveling,” I said. But it was as if he already knew. Like he was from the future.
He nodded and touched the brim of his hat. Of course he was wearing a hat. “Have a good day.”
He strolled off, leaving me stunned in his wake. There was no explanation. No, “Sorry, you look just like someone I know.” It was as if he knew this secret, that I was Shelly, but he was going to leave it up to me to figure it out.
I continued my walk, extremely weirded out.
After 8 more years of travel experience, I think this guy was named Shelly. He was just so amused by my confusion that it was more fun not to tell me what was going on. And I walked right into it.
Have you had any strange encounters while traveling?