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The Prayer Seeker

Saturday morning, just over one week later, Michael stepped out of the Tube station
and walked towards Trafalgar Square. The sunshine felt unexpectedly hot on his face,
and groups of young people, mostly chattering away in French or Italian, filled the
streets. Here and there, scattered amongst them, was the odd middle-aged figure, like
Michael himself, though he imagined he must surely be somewhere beyond middle age
by now, but not quite old. He smiled briefly at one of them, but gained no response for
his kindness and continued on his journey.
In the growing heat of the day, Trafalgar Square seemed to sparkle, this vast and
surprising space in the heart of the city. Even with the traffic growling around the streets,
the fountains attained the kind of elegance one should by rights only expect in the
country, and Nelson’s Column itself rose above the demands and difficulties of the
ordinary world and pointed upwards to the vast expanse of sky.
His heart was beating fast by the time he walked up the great steps of the National
Gallery and into the foyer’s relative coolness. The urge to wander through the numerous
rooms to see what art he could find this time swept over him; it was almost a lifetime,
surely, since he had last been here and he had forgotten the strange pull of it. However he
ignored the call, it being already near the meeting time, and made his way to the
restaurant where he discovered that Alan had not yet arrived and so was shown to a table
by himself.
Odd how this was what he had wanted to happen but now he was here, everything
felt slightly unreal. Still, that was in itself the nature of London; since his early forties,
almost ten years ago, the city had become more and more unreal. He had lived his life
elsewhere for so long.
When he refused coffee, the waiter brought him iced water while he waited, and he
poured himself a glass at once and drank it down. After that he felt calmer, and then he
wondered whether Alan would turn up. That would be fitting, bearing in mind how
Michael had treated him, and would somehow bring them both full circle, but after their
telephone conversation Michael did not believe he’d do that. He also didn’t believe it was
in the nature of the man he’d once known, in spite of his initial anger.
After five minutes, he was proved right. At the corner of his eye, he sensed
movement and when he glanced up, an older version of Alan from when he’d last known
him was walking between the regimented tables towards him, flanked by a waiter. For a
moment it was as if thirty years had been as nothing, and then he was half- standing,
shaking Alan’s hand and going through the customary English greeting process before it
was permissible to sit down again.
Close to, Michael could see the changes: lines around the eyes; a distinctive and
distinguished grey around the temples; and a slight gain in weight. None of that mattered
however, as Alan was still beautiful. Strange how that realisation did not give him desire,
but a simple, strong happiness. He hoped their meeting today would prove a good one.
After the remarks about the weather and the respective train journeys were complete,
the waiter took their order for coffee and a plate of pastries and left them alone. Michael
knew Alan was in London today researching an archaeology trip for some of his students,
and had brought along his partner, David, for a day out. While David shopped, Alan had
agreed to meet Michael in the morning, then they would go their separate ways for lunch.
It seemed like a good arrangement, as it seemed to be enough, and he was grateful for it.
“Thank you,” he said. “For coming to meet me, that is. It means a great deal to me.”