Late 1970s, when I was at secondary school, I had a BestFriend. It took a while for him to become BestFriend, after BoyWhoWasPreviouslyBestFriend shuffled off and became best friends with someone else, but eventually we moved from classmates to mates. We got on well, if not outstandingly, hanging around in the playground watching everyone else playing football or sitting at the front of a geography lesson swapping notes. I mocked him for the furry trapper hat he wore in winter and he mocked me for the haircut my Mum's friend gave me once a month. We lived on opposite sides of town so very rarely met up outside school, but during the day we were often inseparable. Alas it didn't last. Being friends with me didn't enhance his social standing, so he slowly edged away and we drifted apart. In the sixth form we were sorted into separate classes so I found AlternativeGoodFriend, and so did he, and our paths rarely crossed. On our very last day we paused for a farewell chat, and I thought we'd never speak again. I was wrong.
Late 1980s, when we'd both swapped school for work, I met BestFriend again. It turned out he'd rolled up in the same office where my Dad worked, and eventually somebody engineered that we met up again. BestFriend drove round one evening, resplendent in expensive leather jacket and late 80s hairstyle - a completely different man to the boy I'd known before. We sat in the front room and swapped stories, mostly looking back at what we'd done at school rather than exploring further what we were both doing now. It was fascinating but a little uncomfortable, because we'd never done "evenings" while we were at school and it seemed a bit late to suddenly start being sociable now. Perhaps we should have gone down the pub, although I'm not convinced that would have worked any better. When the anecdotes dried up he wished me well and drove off, and I could tell that wasn't an evening we'd ever repeat. Indeed I was fairly convinced we'd never speak again. I was wrong.
Mid 1990s, in the centre of a London park, I met BestFriend again. One minute I was walking aimlessly past the litter bins, the next I was thinking "hang on, don't I know that face?" A little taller than before, perhaps now thinning on top, but absolutely definitely the same BestFriend I'd shared cross country runs with fifteen years before. I said hello, he looked almost as surprised as me, and we stumbled into a slightly gauche unplanned conversation. We established why we were here, what jobs we were both doing now, what living in Hemel Hempstead was like, and how all of this somehow made some sort of sense. There were lots of things I wanted to say, most of which I only thought of afterwards, but instead I ended up awkwardly tongue-tied. We spoke for no more than two minutes - it seemed longer - before he wandered off to look on a map as the perfect excuse to escape. No swapped numbers, no plans to reacquaint, so I reckoned we'd never speak again. I was wrong.
Early 2000s, on a random London pavement, I met BestFriend again. He'd have walked straight past if I hadn't flagged him down, probably because he hadn't recognised me (but just possibly because he had). It turned out we'd both recently moved to the capital, me north of the river, him to the south, so it was always likely we'd accidentally meet. He didn't say what his job was, only where, and I let slip even less about mine. Again the conversation swiftly stalled, but I did remember to wish him a happy birthday for a week ago, because I'm the sort of person who remembers details like that. I noted that he was carrying the same newspaper that I normally read, which reassured me that we still had plenty in common, but clearly not enough. This time his excuse for leaving was that he was heading to dinner so had to be going now, but it was lovely to see me, bye. I stopped sending him Christmas cards after that particular meeting, because I knew we'd never speak again. And I might just have been right.
Late August 2011, outside a central London station, I met BestFriend one last time. I say "met", whereas what I really mean is "passed at high speed in torrential rain". My subconscious only pulled all the clues together - familiar face, right height, balding blond - immediately after he'd passed by. Older now, obviously... indeed nearer to retirement than A-Levels and starting to look that way. But I was absolutely convinced I'd recognised him, thanks to that brilliant way brains have of identifying one person in eight million from a split-second view. I didn't stop because I had a train to catch, and because monsoon conditions aren't conducive to friendly conversation. But I was inspired to type BestFriend's name into Google when I got home, and suddenly decades of lost history poured out. Decent job, lover of live music, owner of a much-pampered dog, happily hitched. I even found his blog, kicking off with wide-eyed hope in 2005 and abandoned immediately after his honeymoon in 2008. Who'd have thought, thirty years ago, sat in double biology? I still reckon we'll never speak again, but somehow BestFriend always seems to prove me wrong.