One half of the conversation is fine, the usual friendly comments, nothing very deep, what you say each time you meet. Then the second half begins and it's obvious the other person is now annoyed. A quick flashback through what you both did and said reveals nothing. What could be wrong?
A little battle goes on here. I try not to blame myself for everything these days, so I quickly look at the evidence. Line up the words, the phrases, the visible nuances which passed between us. Did something happen? Was there a chance for misunderstanding? Did I frown at the wrong time?
It comes back too easily to self-blame and I try to remember: It Is Not Always My Fault.
Keeping this mantra in mind, in the time left between us I try it again, a quick sweep-through our conversation and still I find no explanation for the shift in mood and the obviously irritated, verging on angry expression on the other face.
Oh dear, though. Oh very dear! What is a person supposed to do in this situation? I'm not with someone I know well enough to ask what is the matter. I can't 'joke' it into the conversation for the same reasons. I have no idea what might have gone wrong. All I have to go on is my own continued presence in the time it took for this normally cheerful person to turn thin-lipped and tongue-biting.
Sometimes you do come back around and take responsibility. In the absence of understanding what has gone wrong, you blame yourself. If there seems no other explanation for the offence taken and you are the one standing there, still flapping your mouth while you try to work it out, then what else can you do?
Brutal, unswerving honesty might make me say to them, 'Look here now, what's wrong? Have I put my foot in it?' And then what happens after? If you are to blame, you make the other person feel at least as awkward as yourself and risk them having to lie because most people don't like unswerving honesty.
If it was nothing to do with you, it might be far too personal to talk about and again with the awkwardness.
And if they are really annoyed at someone else, you might be lucky and they slot in a throwaway comment that explains it is nothing to do with you.
With the evidence before me and no appetite for awkwardness, I left in something of a hurry, hoping the mood would be back to normal the next time we met. I can add this extra complication onto the pile of niggles which tag along every time I have to interact with people who I don't know well.
Being on high alert already, I'll be on the lookout for any clues as to what went wrong. If nothing happens ever again, it wasn't me. If something comes out later, my brain will pick it up and lob it back to these strained moments when I was trying not to blame myself.
Either way, I will be acting as if there is another great mystery to solve, one which requires all the usual suspects to gather in the room while I accuse them one by one, finally settling on the right culprit. And, more often than not, the right culprit is one I never suspected, forgotten almost to the end and who only made sense once I could view them all together.