I Can See You
by Gregory Lawrence
There is that man again. At the pub last night, he had mostly been throwing furtive glances at me when he thought I wasn’t looking. Now he’s at the end of my tram carriage. Craning his neck, as though he does not care about how conspicuous he is being in front of all the other morning commuters.
I recognize him immediately despite my face-blindness. It isn’t his face I remember, nor specific features of it. I recognize the undisguised disgust in his eyes, I recognize the look he is giving me.
Something about me must be bothering him. I’m used to that. Something about me is always bothering someone. And then they give me that look. It is hard to look away, harder even to deny it is the man from last night. Tearing my gaze from him, I focus on the rumbling of gears, making the carriage vibrate and buzz. Then I shift my concentration further even, to the bustle of people outside, on the pavements, and the statues on the red clay facade of the building we’re passing by. The tram should come to a stop just after the bend here. On an impulse, I get up and saunter to the doors. The man also gets up. Of course. I try to breathe slowly, deliberately. But the more the train slows down, the more my breath quickens. He is striding towards the other set of doors. As the train stops, I hold my breath, waiting for the doors. They’re screeching open. The man is not getting out just yet. His steps are getting ever smaller as he’s approaching the doors. I step out with one foot, hold still for a moment. He quickly turns his head, ruffled for the first time. Then he gets out. I quickly step back into the carriage. There’s a throng of tourists getting on. They conceal my opponent, but also conceal me from him. Fair enough.
Still holding my breath, I rush back into the carriage to an empty seat, shaking my head and muttering to myself so that everyone in earshot understands I’ve just mixed up my stops or not found an expected acquaintance waiting at the stop or suffered some other normal mishap that happens all the time to normal people. If they even care; no-one is looking at me now. Or are they purposely looking away, seeing through my charade of playing at being normal? Is there maybe someone avoiding me among them? I cannot tell as I don’t recognize anyone. Not that I could tell either way. I sit down with a thump loud enough to equal my relief, and hard enough to hurt my backside. Now I’m sitting in the wrong direction. That’s always made me queasy. I’m getting a headache too. Last night’s beers are roaring through my bowels. My mouth tastes sour. I should change seats, at least so that, if push comes to shove, I won’t spew against the direction of travel. I get up as the tram is slowing again for the next stop. The space where the man sat is still empty. Of course, how he could have got back in? It actually is the only unoccupied seat within reach. I plunk down more softly this time.
Taking a leisurely look out the window, I once again recognize him immediately. He’s at the center of a mass of passengers waiting to board. I still can’t see his eyes, but I swear I can make out his hateful, now-impatient stare. When the doors open, he pushes through the other passengers with unapologetic single-mindedness. He is walking towards me. Fast, but uncoordinated. Is he jittering with rage?
“You,” he says. His voice sounds odd. I can’t place it, but I know it.
“What,” I say. Not a question, just a what.
“Looked in a mirror recently?”
“No,” I reply, baffled at the audacity. I know I’m not a looker. Not ugly, but disappointing, displeasing, to look at for most people. Perhaps worse now that I’ve not looked in a mirror in a good while. But what business is that of anyone else? They don’t have to look at me.
“Oh damn,” he says. He doesn’t even sound angry anymore, but still strange. It’s the wrong word. Strangely familiar. There’s something about this voice. “You don’t see it yet, but fuck, you’re me.”
“What?” I say. A question this time.
“You’re me. You look like me. Exactly. Come on. What is this?” As he talks faster, more nervously, I recognize his voice. It’s my own voice, but not quite. It’s the recorded version. I have so far only heard it in recorded form. It’s my own voice, but not inside my head, not distorted by my own perception. “What is this?”
I really hear him this time, hear that it’s my own voice.
“You’re me,” I say. “Fuck.”
“I’d always been told there was no one like me,” he says. “There is no-one as unpleasant, complicated, difficult as you. That’s what they told me. Everyone.”
“Yeah, same,” I say.
He is me. And he does look a lot like me, I guess. Similar stature, figure, slightly different hair, exactly the same long, thin fingers… and more importantly, they’re doing the same thing now as mine. Drumming on his knee, one by one. He’s standing, but still can’t stop himself from doing that, bending over slightly.
“No one is really like that,” he says. An echo from the past. “What then… does this mean?” he asks, pointing first to himself, then to me.
“It still means nothing,” I say. Then I echo what I’d been told so many times. “It’s not your looks that are the problem, but the way you look at people… as though they are going to hurt you. Making them hurt you.” I’m drumming my fingers faster and faster. As is he.
“No,” he says. The tram has stopped again without my noticing, but the horde of students that have come on cannot escape my notice, with their shouting and pushing, washing over us like a wave of energy and Lynx Africa. “The problem is the way others look at us. They never see us.” I nod. Then I say:
“I can see you.”
Gregory Lawrence is a translator and writer who only found out he was autistic upon entering his thirties. Before that, he was only known as proudly weird, and that sense of weirdness has also seeped into his writing. Originally from Germany, he now resides near Edinburgh as well as on Twitter at https://twitter.com/brblues1.