British people aren’t really made for talking on public transport. Most chose to either read their books or newspapers. Of course, you have the workers, creases appearing on their foreheads as they ferociously tap on their keyboards. The university students that retained haggard appearances from late drunken nights. Those were memories Charlie was all too happy to forget. But it is fair to say that most prefer to keep to themselves. It is just an unwritten law.
The woman in front of Charlie broke this law daily. Dressed in her red coat and a bright smile on her face, she spoke animatedly to the elderly stranger sat next to her. Charlie knew it was a stranger as the woman would talk to anyone and everyone. Entering the train, she would take a seat in the second carriage and place her bag on her lap, inviting others to join her. And whoever the lucky person was, would have the joy of speaking to the woman for 25 minutes, non-stop. Charlie could hear her from his assigned seat that he booked every morning for his routine commute.
Charlie had never been lucky enough to strike a conversation with her, it seemed that she was particular where she sat. Always in the fifth row. Even if there were seats unavailable in that row but available elsewhere, she would choose to stand in between. It was strange, but the girl must have had her reasons, and it was part of how she caught his attention. Charlie liked to sit in the sixth row as it was the centre of the carriage. He had asked himself, why didn’t he just book a seat in one of her rows to be in with a chance but he just didn’t dare to do so.
Instead, he preferred to listen to her speak amicably to the strangers she chose to converse with.
Charlie had to admit, he disliked it at first. The constant noise was an earache and he envied that despite the climate, or whether she looked tired, she was full of life. The conversations varied from day to day but remained limited to her current self, never falling onto her past. On the fourth day, when he put away his paper in defeat and paid attention, he realised that this woman had a lot to say and what she said was relevant. Maybe not to the world but to him, it mattered.
Last week’s conversation partner was covered in tattoos and piercings. A green mohawk was his chosen hairstyle. Charlie was not one to judge, but she spoke to him harmoniously, despite how odd their pairing. The topic, even more surprisingly, was knitting. Deep down, Charlie knew his incredulity was fuelled by jealousy. Her confidence stirred a fit of envy within him that he had never experienced before. But as Charlie observed, the negative emotions transformed into admiration begging him to ask the question why hadn’t she noticed him? He was only sat one row behind.
There were, of course, the people that didn’t want to talk to her. The ones that would prefer she didn’t say anything, and she would respect that and turn to someone on the aisle. It was like she had this need within her to speak, and Charlie couldn’t help but now respect her for it. Those fortunate to talk to her, always left with a pleasant smile on their face. It was like her form of magic.
And Charlie wanted to grasp her sorcery with both hands. Her confidence drew his attention like a puppet on a string.
Today’s conversation was about the latest films being released in the cinema. There were three that the woman was interested in watching over the month, and so she was stopping her weekly visit to the café to save up. The elderly woman agreed that the sequel to Disney’s Frozen had also gained her piquancy as its predecessor was a delight. Naturally, this led to the discussion on whether sequels could ever match the expectations set by the original and it was pictorial for Charlie to see the two mirror smiles of agreement.
The station neared, and he picked up his bag from the floor, placing his newspaper in the front pocket. He would stop reading when the woman made her appearance, but it was out of habit; he picked one up and read the cover stories. Her exchanges would always be more attention-grabbing than the news that had become as grey as the dark clouds outside. Brexit was not the most delightful topic, and the current climate change crisis was devastating. The thought of dying polar bears due to melting ice caps was not a happy subject to read alongside breakfast.
October gloomed and brought about the tiring weather. The people were miserable, the sky had begun to leak its tears, and it was time to reintroduce the winter coats. Threading his ticket through the barrier, Charlie shifted his bag, collected his pre-ordered coffee from the Pumpkin café and headed to work. A small smile tainted his lips as he considered his own opinion about whether sequels could ever match their legacies. Charlie found his view matched the woman in the red coat; they couldn’t.
The warmth of the tall building embraced Charlie as he entered through the automatic doors and headed to the twelfth floor via the lift. He had always considered himself lucky as he enjoyed his job, which was a rarity amongst the currently employed. He had joined a publishing firm in the heart of Leicestershire, only a twenty-minute walk from the train station, four years ago and couldn’t dream of working anywhere else. As a part of the marketing team, he had the opportunity to meet hopeful authors, discuss their imaginary worlds and bring them to life. It was the only excitement he had and outside of his creative bubble, his life was crepuscular. The result was that he dedicated all his energy to his career, allowing him to attain a management role but leaving little time for anything else.
“The new author’s coming today.” Jasper swivelled on his chair so that he could face his colleague as Charlie took his seat at the desk with its back to the window. The auburn-haired man shot a winning smile, telling Charlie exactly why he was happy.
“A pretty one is she?” Charlie asked monotonously, opening up his tablet.
“Yup.” His friend responded, popping the p. “And she’s bringing a friend.” He sang, wiggling his eyebrows childishly.
Charlie rolled his eyes. “Look, mate, I’ve told you. I’m just n-not interested.” He felt Jasper’s gaze bore holes into his chest and in defeat, Charlie put his pen down, leaving the tablet abandoned on the home screen.
“Melissa left you three years ago, it’s about time you moved on.” Jasper pressed now that he had successfully gained Charlie’s attention. “You need to meet someone new. And don’t say you don’t have the time!” He added quickly when Charlie’s lips parted.
“Who is the author?” The manager changed the direction of the conversation.
“Rebecca Brown.” He nodded curtly, she was new to the company, and her name rang a bell which meant she would be in the diary.
“And she’s bringing a friend because...”
“The book is based on her life.” Charlie’s mind blanked; this was unexpectedly serendipitous.
“That’s...prodigious.” He had met plenty of authors who had envisioned their mini universes on the lives of others, but he had never met the inspiration. From a creator’s perspective, this was wonderful, he would be able to get an authentic feel of the person, and it made his heart miss a beat.
“When’s the meeting?” he asked, motivation powering his enthusiasm. Charlie found it challenging to ignore Jasper’s excited smile but decided not to acknowledge it; taking a sip of his coffee that had now cooled. He was not enlivened for the reasons his friend intended. Still, any form of denial would result in Jasper holding his hands against his ears and singing “la la la la”.
“It’s at 12; apparently, the friend works at the university and could only come during her lunch break.”
“That’s understandable.” The university was close by so hopefully they would still have enough time for the initial meeting. “So, erm do you have the manuscript?”
Jasper raised a single eyebrow.
“Nothing.” He shrugged, standing up and placing the thickly bound bundle of papers on his desk. “You’ve never read a manuscript before a meeting.” He pointed out.
Charlie pulled the script towards him; the title “Blossoming Without Roots” neatly inscribed in bold over the front.
“Only because I want the writer to be in full control of the cover; it’s their book. If I read it then, well, you know how I get when I g-get an idea.” He reminded Jasper. Charlie was a workaholic, and when he had his light-bulb moment, he was more than happy to spend every waking moment at the office, getting the work done. There was nothing more satisfying to him than the author agreeing that his contrivance matched theirs. Charlie just wanted the original epiphany to belong to the writer who brought it to life.
“Mm-hmm.” Jasper perched at the edge of his desk. “And what’s so different about this one?”
Charlie didn’t have an answer, and Jasper knew his friend would not be able to reply immediately. Rather than wait for some justification, he announced he wanted some tea, leaving Charlie to his thoughts as he concentrated on the book before him.
Reading had never been his strong point due to his dyslexia, his only practise being the daily newspaper where the text was enlarged. Meeting this author’s friend, however, seemed enchanting. Their life was exciting, so much so, that it was about to be a published novel, a story to be broadcasted and globalised and he wanted the full exposé. He wasn’t expecting it to be of the same calibre of the likes of Nelson Mandela or Malala Yousafzai or as flashy as celebrities. This would be just an ordinary person, but that’s what made the idea even more striking.
A glance at the clock told him he would have approximately four hours to read what was before him. Opening up a word document to write his notes, he flicked open the page and set to work.
Dia smiled, sympathetically at the student in front of her. He had entered her office crying, and she had spent the better part of an hour encouraging him to ask for a deadline extension. The death of his grandmother had meant university life had been put on hold. Still, it was a reasonable explanation for anyone human for a new date of submission to be arranged.
She had acquired the role as librarian only five months ago and so far loved it. Having never been to higher education, being submerged into its culture and life without the stress was a welcomed experience. Her colleagues were much older, and she connected much better to the students she had gotten to know but that was a compromise she was happy to make. Being one of the assigned assistant-librarians to the Health and Life Sciences department also meant that some students would approach her for additional support. In this case; it was pastoral care this student was needed.
“Okay, Harry, I’m going to send an email to Richard about an extension for you, okay?” She confirmed, and he nodded with a small sniffle.
“In the meantime...” She opened her drawer and removed a card that contained the details of the mental health team that were stationed in the building opposite. Dia had learned quickly. It was best to keep a pile for the pupils who were in similar situations like Harry. Many students were unaware of just how much support the university had to offer, and they needed to seek the right help when and if required. Harry took the card tentatively with a shaking hand.
“The university has an incredible pastoral team, and I think it will be excellent to speak to either Sam or Miranda.” The names were highlighted on the card. “As your librarian, I can only offer you so much, but during this difficult time, I think they will be helpful to gain further insight.”
“You want me to have therapy?” Dia hated this response. Despite how many times she had been asked; she still didn’t have an answer. It wasn’t that Dia was pushy, it was just her job to direct students to the pastoral teams when matters like this came to her attention. She simply wasn’t allowed to provide that care. With student suicides on the rise because of the mental stress that paired with studying a degree, Dia wasn’t going to risk saying the wrong thing.
“I just want you to know what support is available.” He didn’t respond, and Dia sank her teeth into her bottom lip, uncomfortably.
“I’ve spoken to both Sam and Miranda plenty of times, and they are lovely people. Great actually. Even if it’s just a chat over a coffee, or at the pub...although I guess that’s not, erm, appropriate.” She blushed as the student stared, his face dried with salt. She licked her lips, cursing herself for her terrible verbal diarrhoea.
“I’ll erm, email your lecturer then and if you, erm, need any help over assignments then you know where to find me.” The air was thick with awkwardness.
“Thanks, Miss.” He finally responded, picking up his bag, card in hand.
“See you, Harry.” She waited until the door closed before covering her face with her hands. Dia gave herself four minutes before she could feel the heat on her face subdue and the rouge vacillate. A glance told her, it was 11:40 am, and a notification popped up, reminding her of the meeting that Rebecca had arranged.
Gathering up her belongings and placing her red coat on her shoulders, she strode out of the office, waved to Meryl and promenaded with dread.