That was six or seven years ago and it’s neither the first nor the last time I’ve been singled out because I look like someone I’m not. I’m not sure if it’s related to the way I look, or my manner, or something else. Either way, it’s an odd effect, and one I’ve experienced intermittently throughout my whole adult life, starting when I was about 20.
Most often, this effect manifests itself in someone coming up to me, or greeting me, only to realize that I’m not who they thought I was, but there have been more dramatic examples. One of my favorite instances of this was sitting in a pub near my old flat, waiting for a friend. After about five minutes, a woman I’d never seen before sat down opposite me and said “Well?” to which I replied “Well, what?”
“What do you have to say for yourself?” she said, angrily.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I don’t know who you are.”
“Ha!” she said, shaking her head. “This is new!”
I then pointed out that I was definitely not who she thought I was, and I saw her finally realize that this was true. We both laughed about it and she walked away, but she looked at me with a mixture of bafflement and wonder, which was eerie.
Far and away the strangest manifestation of this effect was bumping into a friend of mine I used to see all the time, as she lived in the same building as I did. She greeted me normally, then asked, “Did you manage to get to your meeting on Monday?” I explained that I’d had no meeting on Monday. She said I had, and that’s where I’d been headed for when she saw me on Oxford Street. I wasn’t in town that Monday, I explained. I was at home. I hadn’t been into town for weeks. “It was definitely you,” she insisted, and was certain it had definitely been me that Monday lunchtime. She was absolutely adamant about both of these things. What’s more, my friend and—whoever it was—had spoken for a full five minutes, although she did say I’d seemed nervous and wanted to get away.
So, in summary, someone who knew me very well had a conversation with someone who looked so much like me that they were able to pass themselves off as me for the duration of a five-minute conversation. The most rational explanation for this, of course, was that my friend was simply mistaken, although that doesn’t seem very likely. There are other explanations, of course, but I try not to think too hard about them.
Without a doubt, the most dramatic incident involving my doppelgänger status happened when I was working in a bookshop on a university campus. One guy used to come in and simply stare at me, to the extent that my coworkers commented on it. They joked that he had a crush on me and was going to ask me out, but to tell the truth I did find it quite unnerving when he stared at me. He’d also contrive excuses to come into the shop and buy things he didn’t need when I was on the counter. He never spoke to me.
The bookshop kept late hours, and one night, I was working with a colleague who was cashing up the day’s takings, out of view of the shop floor, so it looked to any customers who might walk in that I was on my own. I say “might walk in” as it was always very quiet, and we hadn’t had a customer for an hour or so. And then, of course, in came the guy who liked to look at me. He dawdled for a while, looking at the shelves, then sheepishly approached the counter.
“Hey,” he said.
“I come in this shop a lot, yeah? You know why?”
I shook my head.
“To look at you.”
My blood ran cold. Where was this going? The customer, meanwhile, seemed to be in the grip of powerful emotions, shaking his head, not meeting my eye.
“No, no, it’s not like that, man. It’s nothing…I’m from Iraq. I grew up in Iraq.”
“Really?” I still wasn’t sure where this was going.
“Yeah. I grew up there with my older brother.” He smiled, but it seemed very painful for him. “He was a dentist. He was a great dentist. The Robin Hood of dentists! He’d treat the poor for free, and charge the rich!”
We both laughed. Then he looked terribly sad again.
“He did that for years. He was a great dentist. Then one day they came and took him. He – I never saw my brother again.”
Then he looked straight at me. “You really look like my brother.”
I can’t remember what I did and said next. I think I awkwardly shook his hand and told him I was sorry. The man smiled, but his eyes were full of tears. He left, and my colleague, who’d heard everything, just stood with me, openmouthed, as we watched him go.
He never came back to the shop.