You’re meeting a friend you have not seen for a while, for coffee or lunch. The setting must be conducive to a leisurely, free flowing conversation. Without eavesdroppers.
You take all the necessary steps beforehand. You arrive at the restaurant or coffee shop early, and secure the table of your choice, in that rare spot far enough away from the blaring loudspeakers and out of the aim of the icy air conditioning apparatus. The place starts filling up as you wait.
Your friend arrives. You order drinks or food. With the corner of your eye, you notice a figure progressing towards you. For as long as you can, you hope that if you ignore it, it will go away. And then the figure of the Stranger hovers at your table and utters the dreaded words. “Do you mind if I sit here? Everywhere else is full”.
The apologetic tone of the Stranger does not win your sympathy. You do not suddenly remember what your parents and grandparents taught you about the value of sharing. Ants live and die for the common good. They belong to a society where individualism is suppressed. Do you have an affinity with ants? No. You relate to your unquestioningly loving dog who, however, growls when you try and remove his bone, because the bone belongs to him. The same way, you feel at that moment that the table belongs to you by right. After all, you have earnt it. You took the trouble of coming early enough to secure it. If you could, you would growl at the Stranger. Instead, you bare your teeth in a smile, say, “Of course!” and remove your jacket and bag from the spare seat with a show of inconvenience.
That’s when you have two choices.
Plan A: You continue the conversation with your friend, pretending that the Stranger is not making you feel self-conscious, and hoping that he or she is not eavesdropping.
Or, you hope the Stranger IS eavesdropping, and put in motion Plan B. For this option to succeed, you need your friend’s cooperation. Plan B is all about how to make the Stranger leave of his or her own free will, as quickly as possible.
Plan B1: Start the following conversation:
You: “So, which way do you think is better – stabbing or strangling?”
Friend: “Strangling, definitely. It’s quieter. In case she starts screaming.”
You: “You’re right. Also, then, we don’t have the problem of washing the blood stains off the carpet.”
Friend: “But it has to be quick. We don’t have much time.”
At this point, the eavesdropper will generally gulp down his or her drink, and leave. In the unlikely event you get confronted, tell the truth; that you are discussing the most realistic way of staging a death scene in The Duchess of Malfi or another Jacobean tragedy, and are worried about the stage blood capsules staining the set and costumes.
Plan B2: Lean right into the personal space area of the Stranger, give them an earnest, loving look, and say, “”Did you know? You have really sexy lips!"
Plan B3: Turn to the Stranger, and say, “You don’t remember me, do you? Have I changed that much? I can’t believe you can’t remember that night we spent together on that boat on the Nile. Yes, we did! Did your husband/wife ever find out? I still have your name tattooed on my armpit!” (Make a show of trying to take your clothes off to prove your point).
Plan B4: Ask the Stranger to lend you £50. Promise them you will post them a cheque the same day if they give you their name and address.
Plan B5: Start a conversation with your friend about the medical merits of surgery without anaesthetic. Describe the whole procedure in great detail, from the incision to the sewing up of the patient, not forgetting the middle bits.
Once the Stranger has left you in sole possession of the table, don’t feel guilty. After all, it was their decision to leave. You never asked them to.