The lecturer finished his speech and set the audience of four-hundred-plus students off to their classes for the day. Being a student at university was much different to what Isaac had anticipated. Four times a week he would start his day in a lecture theatre and by 10.30am the mass of students would disperse and head in various directions around the university sites.
What a site it is, Isaac thought as he left the building.
He paused outside unnerved by all the rushing bodies around him. He looked around, still astounded at how towering the buildings were. Five of them. Two on opposite sides of the grounds with plenty of greenery in between. Then a massive building toward the back of the campus. Each structure at least three stories tall and each designed as if they were historic landmarks. How wonderful life seemed to Isaac right now. He knew he had thirty minutes before class and luckily for him, his next point of learning was only in the building next door. Some students had to take a bus to continue their education on another campus. Probably wouldn’t even make it to get a good seat in class in that time, he thought.
Isaac’s chosen degree course was Marketing and Creative Arts. But those two specifics were cogs in a much bigger wheel, hence he had to sit through a lecture almost every morning related to the business aspect of Marketing. He didn’t mind what the lecturer had to say, but it did mean that he had to soak up knowledge of such a broader subject, whereas his main core focus was on developing his creative ideas and making them evolve into exciting, life-sized adventures. Even while this was only his third week at uni’, Isaac often had to motivate himself.
Learning is a privilege and it’s what I have to do. Certain lessons may not matter now, but tomorrow they will fuel me. He also told himself not to be arrogant. I can’t choose what to learn by all the nitty gritty specifics. I have to take in everything, absolutely everything that I can.
Purse. Lipbalm. Gum. Keys. Oyster card. House keys. Keys for dad’s shop. Shit. Did I take dad’s keys or are these the spares?
Alicia was in a rush as she stepped off the train. Travelling around London at any time meant that you had to keep your belongings close to you, and not have anything loose that could be caught on something or that could be snatched. She swiped her Oyster card over the yellow sensor and the barrier opened. She followed the crowd toward the escalator and when she had a moment to stand still she reached into her handbag. She grasped her phone and a packet of chewing gum. She opened her call list and clicked Abba, looking up the escalator hoping she had a minute or two. She flicked open the wrapper to her gum and slipped one in her mouth.
‘Abba?’ she chewed.
‘As’salaam-alaikum.’ Stern and solid was her father’s voice, as always.
In her native tongue she asked him whether he had his keys for the shop.
He replied in the same manner, Bengali for ‘Yes I have them, the ones you have are your mother’s. Look after them.’
Alicia was glad that she’d gotten the information she wanted. But her dad asked her about whether she’d gotten Adam to school that morning. Whether her sister had breakfast. Not whether she had eaten breakfast.
She answered respectfully but declared, ‘Abba I have to go. I’m just about to get to class OK? Khoda-hafez.’
She put her phone into her bag after her father had hung up, marching off the escalator continuing to follow the crowd. Quite a few of the people in front of her were carrying backpacks, holdalls or sports bags like the ones teenagers carry at school.
I’m so unprepared.
She continued walking, at a faster pace than she had done previously. She knew she had missed the morning lecture, but her next point of call was the classroom. She made her way through the university gates and went to the third building along, stopping by the security guard. A number of other students passed her and she heard the beep of their I.D. cards swiping as they went by. Shit. I knew I’d forgotten something.
‘Go to the admissions office and get a day pass. And don’t forget your pass next time. If I see you again without one, you’ll be asked to leave the premises entirely.’
Allah. So strict. Alicia wasn’t fazed by the security guard’s tone, but she was concerned that she was now going to be late for class, as well as having already missed the morning lecture.
They were separated into groups of four, a class of just twenty-odd students. The purpose was so they could discuss where ideas were originated and how they develop from a person’s mind and onto a sheet of paper, a computer or an architectural design. Isaac was with two others. A white stocky guy, unshaven, and a girl; a pretty Asian, but too damn tall, Isaac thought.
Alicia walked into the classroom and made her way to the desk. This was familiar territory for her as she’d been late to many a class back at school and college. She followed the teacher as he walked around his desk and toward the three that were sat quietly.
‘Guys, this is Alicia. New to this class. If you could integrate her in your group and catch her up on what we’re doing today.’
The teacher walked off and Alicia was left standing, clutching her handbag. The tall Asian girl didn’t even look at her. The white chubby young man barely cracked a smile. Isaac reached over toward the desk beside him and pulled over a chair.
Alicia sat down and smiled, whispering ‘thanks’ but it was so quiet she ended up just mouthing the word.
As class went on, Isaac was vocal, the most motivated in the group. He told Alicia of what they were supposed to be discussing and she immediately took an interest. Problem was that their fellow group members had only the odd sentence to contribute. Isaac tried to lead the discussion and Alicia joined in, giving her point of view.
‘Ideas are so often recycled that it’s almost impossible to know what is original in this day and age. As soon as anything hits the internet there’s plagiary I think.’
Isaac jotted down notes, intrigued by Alicia’s view that nothing is original.
He responds with a question. ‘Does this mean that no one should ever get credit for a new idea? Instead people should research where the idea came from and scrap the thing they have at hand?’
‘No, I don’t think it should be taken that seriously, but if we’re talking from a business point of view then the idea has to be researched before it can be implemented anyway. Otherwise the “new thing” that’s at hand isn’t legitimate and it results in becoming a waste of time. And if it becomes a big deal as a stolen idea, then that company will have a major problem with legal fees because the original innovators of the idea would sue.’
This was good. Not often at school or college would Isaac have a conversation like this. But if Isaac or Alicia weren’t talking, the odd pauses irritated him.
‘We need everyone to be a part of this,’ he stated, openly, trying to nudge James and Kareena into contributing more. Kareena joined in a little, but before long it was midday and class was over.
Alicia put her notepad back into her handbag and took her phone out to check it. Isaac wasn’t in any rush and he saw that the rest of the class was leaving in a hurry, as students usually do. He stood up and stepped closer to Alicia.
‘You haven’t been to this class before.’
Alicia picks up her bag and stands up. ‘Erm, no. I was doing another module, but changed it while I could. Was able to get into this class rather than do stock related stuff.’
She put her phone back in her bag. No one bothering her today. The two of them walked out of the classroom, still talking.
Isaac tries to continue the conversation. ‘Oh so you were doing a Business module? This is Events Management, but it feels like Psychology sometimes.’
Alicia smiles. ‘You mean the contrast of the people within the group and how the teacher sits there writing on his pad as if he’s taking notes on us is like some kind of experiment. Yeah, I can see that we’re the guinea pigs.’
Isaac notices Alicia’s long black and grey coat. As she puts on her gloves, he likes that the only part of her skin that he can see is her face.
The air is cold, he thought. The universe undecided on whether it’s supposed to be the end of summer, or the middle of autumn. Alicia’s smile is brighter than a sunrise though. Appealing.
Alicia likes the fact that this stranger walks so slowly. As if he’s floating rather than pacing to get somewhere like the rest of civilization. Isaac tries to get a better look at her hair. A ponytail, but how long is it? He can’t look around the back of her because they walk side by side. Even if he could, her eyes would catch his attention anyway. So he looked forward, trying not stumble upon his words as he spoke. And not once did he make eye contact with her that day.
As they exit the building, they converse deeper about their chosen courses. The two of them joked about their common experience in the class they just had. The topic being about how the findings of this morning’s guinea pig experiment would lead the teacher-come-scientist to marvel in the fact that strangers in a room won’t talk to each other even if there is a common theme to discuss.
As if a human experiment was needed to work that one out, they both simultaneously thought.
Isaac was next heading back to his Halls. He had a whole two hours before his next class. Nap time as soon as I get in.
Alicia told him she had another class, but it was a bus ride away and she confirmed that she wouldn’t be back on this site for the rest of the day.
‘Did you not have a lecture this morning?’ Isaac asks.
‘I was supposed to, but I had to drop my brother to school. My mum and dad both run a shop and they had a massive delivery. Adam’s young, so.’
Isaac learned that Alicia was supposed to be in the very same lecture he had that morning.
But I’ve not seen you in any of my lectures. How have I not seen you?
He walked her to the bus stop and passes her his phone.
‘Here. Put your number in and we can arrange a meeting if you want? I’ve got a ton of notes on this class already, and the lectures. You haven’t missed much, but if you’re ever about and you wanted to sit and go through them, you’re welcome to mine. Friendly face.’
She takes the phone and types her number into the dialling screen. It makes her phone buzz within her handbag and she hands Isaac’s phone back to him.
‘OK, I have your number now too. Are you in that building over there?’ she asks, pointing down past the university site and toward student accommodation.
‘Yeah, that’s the place.’
Alicia notices that her bus is approaching. ‘OK, I’ll come and get those notes, copy them another day, if that’s OK?’
Isaac nods as he steps back realizing Alicia’s bus is pulling up. She lets the other students step on before her, taking her phone out, clicking Save on the screen. She smiles, unsure of the boy’s name.
‘It’s Isaac,’ he says, smiling.
He nods as she steps onto the bus. ‘I know. See ya Alicia.’
She reaches into her handbag, swapping her phone for her Oyster card. Smiling back at Isaac. ‘Take care.’
The doors close and Alicia swipes her card before going to take an aisle seat, peering past the old lady beside her.
Is he still there?