The Familiar Stranger

In this edition of Humans of IISMA, Evelyn recounted her unexpected encounter with a familiar stranger that forever changed her life.

In this edition of Humans of IISMA, Evelyn recounted her unexpected encounter with a familiar stranger that forever changed her life.

The cup of hot chocolate in my hands started to get cold. 

Honestly, I would not even consider it a chocolate drink. The colour was light brown and tasted more like mineral water. Huh, I guess that was the vending machine my friends had warned me about. 

In the email I received, they said the gate to the hall would be opened on 16:30. But, when the clock struck 16:35, there was still no sign of the concert. The rain poured harder, and the wind made the trees look drunk. I started to regret not wearing my waterproof winter jacket. I regretted my decision to wear a non-waterproof hoodie, just because the colour was soft green, and wearing soft green has always made me feel confident for some reason.

I peeked at my watch. 16:45. I had made up one thing in my mind: If the gates were still closed until 17:00, I would walk through the rain and go straight home. When I looked up from my watch, I saw a man walking hastily. He wore a white mask, a grey winter jacket, blue jeans, and a pair of black shoes. I stepped aside to give him space, but he also adjusted his direction. At that moment, I realised he was clearly heading toward me. I pretended not to notice and tried to look busy by swiping through my phone screens absentmindedly. A few seconds later, a pair of black shoes appeared in front of me.


“Oh no, sorry.” I waved my hands at him frantically. “Non parlo l’italiano.” I summoned the only Italian phrase I knew, hoping the stranger would nod and turn his heels.

“Ah, okay…” He looked left and right. I followed his gaze, and I just noticed that there were only the two of us in front of that gate. He had no other choice.

Inglese?” he asked.

“Umm … yes …”

Looking at his squinted eyes, I was sure he was smiling. 

“Waiting for the concert?”

I nodded.

His eyes widened, and then he pointed his finger back and forth between the two of us. 

“Only us???”

“So far, yes.”

Then he looked at his watch and laughed. “Typical.” He told me that he was a regular audience for this annual concert. He had attended all the university concerts since becoming a Sapienza student. However, some concerts were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and this was the first time the Christmas concert was held offline again. Hence, he was super excited.

The waiting time became bearable. What initially felt like ages did not bother me anymore. Deep inside, I questioned myself. I am not usually friendly towards strangers, but his amiability caught me off guard. In no time, we immediately connected and talked about many things, from vaccine regulation to the wonders of Italian culture — their cuisine, movies, music, and even the Italian education system. After some time, we were finally let in. We sat in the most strategic seats because he wanted to record the entire show for his beloved mother.

The show was lively. Everyone jammed along to the rhythm. It felt nice to have that kind of togetherness after a long time of isolation because of the pandemic. I had so much fun and was so sad when the show was over. After the show ended, he asked me where I was heading. I said I wanted to go to Termini, and he said he was heading there too, so we walked home together. While waiting at the bus stop, he asked me about Indonesia, IISMA, and my major. After that, I asked him back.

He talked about the pressure he experienced as a student majoring in Communication. Many of his friends chose journalism, whilst he was more interested in film. Many of his friends were very active on social media. Some even became influencers. On the other hand, he did not play social media because he did not like the spurious side of it, and as a communication student, that was often seen as odd.

In all honesty, I was quite stunned by his innocent candour — nothing came out of my mouth for a while. His reasonings reminded me so much of my own. This was the first time I heard someone who could put my thoughts into words so fluently, especially because I had just spoken to my friend about the same thing the other day.

What a funny coincidence! I thought. Just when I felt like I could talk to him more about this, the bus suddenly stopped. We finally arrived at Termini. He offered to accompany me to the nearest entrance towards the metro station. Then, before parting ways, we shook hands.

“I don’t know why. I just met you, but I feel like we’ve been friends for a long time.” He seemed confused as he said that – to which I replied that the feeling was mutual.

We didn’t exchange contacts – and to think of it, I still prefer it that way. The fact that I still remember him and our conversation to this day made me realise that an authentic connectedness between humans will forever have a significant impact, regardless of my knowledge about his background or social media account (if he has one). That day’s conversation remains one of the most surreal but special memories of my time in Rome. I will always remember an unexpected encounter with a familiar stranger whose name I will remember for the rest of my life.

Created by : Evelyn Tandias

Evelyn Tandias is a Psychology graduate currently working as a UX Researcher.

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