The first house I ever lived in was number 25 Poplar Avenue. It was nothing special, a fifties suburban semi, but I loved it. Primary school was at the top of the hill and as a shy child the walk home was always more about the destination than the journey. Our front gate had 25 written upon it in bright metal and seeing that number meant much more to me than it probably should. I would always arrive on the opposite side of the road and stand on the kerb glancing both ways but always being drawn back to the gate. As I stared the number would seem to grow larger in my mind, not numerically, but in stature and I realised that at some point I had decided that 25 had mystical properties, and so it was.
For the next ten years or so that number followed me everywhere, even after we moved house. I would see it in number plates, on buildings, in shops, I could even make it out within the swirling patterns on curtains and wallpaper, I once saw a number 25 cloud formation. Sort of. When considering a new book I would always turn to page 25 and quickly read it to see if the story was worth bothering with, I would check any paper money I might receive on birthdays for the number 25, which is less likely than it sounds, and if I found one I would keep it and only spend it on something really special. But if anyone ever asked me what my lucky number was I would say seven (2+5), because I wanted to keep the secret power of 25 all to myself. 25 was magic and my life was blessed by its presence.
Then when I was nineteen I went to live in Australia and I forgot all about it, never gave the number a thought, I didn’t see it anywhere, didn’t look out for it, it never cropped up, not even on my twenty fifth birthday, I was numerically exorcised. I didn’t even notice its absence enough to notice its absence. Fifteen very quick years in Australia passed and for no particular reason I returned to England. I was accompanied by my beautiful girlfriend and one day, whilst in the area, I thought it would be nice to drive past my old house and show her where I grew up. Apart from the plastic windows it had hardly changed at all. The number on the gate was still there, though a little less shiny, and as I looked at it I laughed as I told her how my earlier self had been pursued by the number 25. I drove away, shaking my head wistfully, putting the past behind me.
On the way home, having got a bit lost, I found myself behind a nondescript car, I was chatting and not paying much attention but suddenly I became aware of the number plate BJ25 NEX. A coincidence, I thought, nothing more. I glanced up at the car carrying the plate and as I was now paying attention I identified it almost immediately. A mini metro. ‘God, I said. ‘I haven’t seen one of those in years.’ I overtook it and was quite impressed by the the condition, its owner was clearly very fond of it. No sooner was I in front of it than another metro passed me travelling in the opposite direction, I watched it go, following it as much as my craning neck and mirrors would allow. Two mini metros? Huh, what were the chances? Home was some twenty minutes away but before we reached it I was to see another four mini metros. Six in total. I went inside a little bit perturbed, surely there couldn’t be many more than six mini metros left in the entire country. From that day on no matter where I went or how I travelled it was metros, metros everywhere, I kept the affliction to myself. It was diabolical, metros of every hue and colour, burnt orange ones, brown ones, turquoise ones, some pretending to be sporty, some with vinyl roofs, one with flames up the side, all just appearing when I least expected, there was nothing I could do to stop it. When the devil drives, he drives a metro.
Some years later my beautiful girlfriend had become my beautiful wife and she was pregnant, marriage will do that to you. We were walking into town, one of her hands in mine the other on the bump, when I felt her grip tighten. I turned to look at her.
‘I see pregnant ladies.’ She said.
‘What?’ I replied.
‘Pregnant ladies, they’re everywhere. It used to be Birkin handbags but now it’s pregnant ladies.’
‘You used to see Birkin handbags?’
‘And before that Staffordshire bull terriers but now pregnant ladies and they keep looking at me, it’s like invasion of the body snatchers.’
That made me think. Not only was she seeing pregnant ladies but they were seeing her. Were pregnant ladies somehow tuned into each other? Bump radar? Were pregnant ladies looking to form gangs? No that was ridiculous and a bit spooky, the only logical explanation was they were unknowingly scanning, looking at every woman but only noticing those who met a very certain criteria. Hold on, was this what I was doing? I quickly thought back, it wasn’t just 25 and mini metros, my whole life things kept popping up. Like when I was nine and my older brother told me his friend Johnny had a furry earlobe because he was part vole and for ages after the only thing I could remember about anyone new was their bald ears as I maintained a vigil against a possible vole people incursion. And what about when I was thirteen and Gregory Englefield told me I had a girl’s bottom and I would find myself staring at an unknown boy’s bottom, wondering if that was what a girl’s bottom on a boy looked like, luckily I realised and put a stop to it before it became a problem. Then there was the uncanny lamppost thing where I would catch myself gazing up at a lamppost, always an ornate converted gas lamp, and I would look back up the street and realise it was the only one with an intact ladder rest. It was suddenly clear to me, these things weren’t searching me out I was searching them out, unknowingly looking at every ear, every bottom, every lamppost until I found one that fitted my search parameters. 25 meant nothing, mini metros meant nothing, they weren’t sneaking up on me, I was looking out for them, my brain was constantly running a hidden programme in the background. No wonder I had such a lousy sense of direction. Right there and then I decided to stop noticing mini metros and I did. I still notice the occasional woman’s bottom on a man though.