Today Gerald Trantor, an account executive who has lived in Camden, London for 14 years, accidentally initiated a conversation with Atif Dasu, the owner of the corner shop he has used for that entire period. It is the first time in 14 years they have exchanged any words besides "Eighty-nine pence please" or "Sorry, I've got no change."
"It was weird," he said. "You know how it is, you just go in, buy milk, and leave. That's what being in London is all about. Everyone's too busy to actually have conversations. But today, in a break from my normal routine, I bought a paper as well as some milk. The story about floods in Pakistan was on the front page and - I'd had a second coffee so I think I was high on caffeine or something - I said, 'Are you from Pakistan?' and he replied, 'Yes, and some of my family are in the Punjab. But their village is on a hill so they haven't been flooded out.'" In reply Mr Trantor reports himself as saying, "That's lucky. Still, I imagine the roads must be blocked." There followed a brief conversation on the necessity of 'making do' in difficult situations.
Mr Trantor is still somewhat in shock at his own bold conversational gambit, and is also slightly concerned about the degree to which he and the newsagent will now have to acknowledge each other when he goes to buy milk. "We can't go on talking about floods forever," he said. "Hopefully they won't subside too soon, but when they do that's it for that topic really. If it gets a bit awkward I might have to change to the corner shop down the road. It's only two minutes further on, and they have organic milk."
The two men are still unaware of each other's names.