Chapter Seven

The following afternoon I went round to see Adam. I was really pleased Jane wanted to borrow The Templar Mosaic, because it gave me a good reason for turning up unannounced.

 

When I got to the entrance way to his flat I saw a new message left in chalk:

 

I’ve made time stand still!

 

I smiled. I had no idea what this meant, but I liked it.

 

I rang the bell to Flat 3 and it was Adam himself who opened the door.

‘Hi,’ he said with a welcoming smile. ‘Come in.’

‘I hope I’m not disturbing you at your labours…’ I began rather tentatively when we got to his room.

‘Not at all. Actually, work’s been going really well so I’m treating myself to a well-earned break. Would you like a tea? I’ve just made a pot.’

‘No, no it’s okay, Adam, thanks.’ Again I do not know why I refused the offer. ‘I just popped round to ask you about that book I borrowed.’

‘Oh yes, The Templar Mosaic. What did you make of it?’

‘Brilliant! I thought it was a real eye-opener!’

My enthusiasm made him chuckle. ‘I think so too. I loved the way the creators of the mosaic were attempting to go beyond mere syncretism and achieve a sort of post-Hegelian synthesis. Quite amazing really, especially for the time.’

‘Mmm,’ I nodded sagely. I may not have understood a word, but I was sure Adam’s remark was as perceptive as it was profound. ‘I’ve even got some of my friends interested,’ I continued. ‘One of them wants to borrow it for a few days, so I thought I’d better ask you first.’

‘No need to ask! I like it when second hand books do the rounds. It’s the true spirit of recycling.’

‘Thanks. I’ll bring it back when she’s finished. So- you say the old work is going well?’

‘Yes, it is. I’ve just finished a big literary essay. Actually I quite got into it– it’s on French symbolism, a particular interest of mine… but still, I can’t help thinking that the whole thing is a bit of a sham.’

‘How do you mean?’

‘Well, don’t get me wrong, I’m not against literary analysis per se. I’d be doing the wrong degree if I were! Granted, it can give really useful insight and help you reach a fuller appreciation of a work. And of course it hones your analytical skills, it requires you to reflect and interpret, which is one of the main reasons for coming to university in the first place. But having said all that, I still can’t help thinking the basic premise of literary criticism is missing the point.’

‘That’s a big statement!’

‘I know, and I don’t want to appear pompous, but it’s something I feel quite strongly about. Think about it– what is the purpose of literature, in fact any art?’

I was struggling for an answer but happily this turned out to be a rhetorical question.

‘Or let me put it another way’, he continued, ‘what is the nature of the relationship between the reader and a work of literature? The conventional critical approach encourages us to use the work as a sort of prism through which we view its author, you know, analysing his intentions, the stylistic techniques he employs, the impact of events from his life, the influence of the social and political climate of the time and so on and so forth. All fine up to a point, but can’t you see what’s lacking in all this?’

‘Well...’

‘The true meaning, the true power of a work of literature, or any work of art is cathartic. We relate to it first and foremost on an emotional level. Which means that our true relationship with art can only be emotional and highly personal. It goes beyond anything that requires analysis, indeed such analysis might actually be harmful.’

‘Right...’ I must have looked doubtful because Adam immediately clarified his point.

‘Let me put it like this. Imagine you have a feeling, something wonderful, profound, something that burns through your very soul. Of course you can tell someone else about it, but can you really communicate that feeling? Can you get them to feel what you’re feeling? Of course not!’

‘No, you’re right!’ I nodded enthusiastically. Adam had just articulated something I now realised I had felt my whole life without ever having been able to put it into words.

‘It’s like Huxley says, each human soul is an island universe, and it’s impossible to bridge the void that lies between one soul and another. Or is it? Because I believe that’s where art comes in. That’s what makes it unlike anything else in the world. Because the true artist can reach across that void. Not by describing what is in his own soul, but by creating something that inspires a feeling of the same depth and intensity in the soul of another. I’m convinced that is what the Greeks meant when they coined the term catharsis.’

‘Sure.’

‘And when that happens no analysis in the world is going to affect that cathartic moment. And if it doesn’t happen, no analysis, no matter how apposite or subtle, will ever create it.’

There was a moment’s silence as Adam took a sip of his tea. He then looked up and smiled rather sheepishly.

‘Look at me, talking at you again! You’ll have to forgive me. It’s just that that Rembrandt business has put me on something of a downer towards artistic criticism.’

‘What was that?’

‘Oh, something in the papers last week. You might not have seen it. It turns out that a priceless Rembrandt masterpiece that’s been lauded by every expert since the year dot as a work of unparalleled genius is now believed to have been painted by one of his pupils.’

‘Really?’

‘Yes. So now all of a sudden the painting is only worth a fraction of what it was before. But how come? It’s still the same painting! Nothing’s changed! Either it’s a brilliant work of art or it isn’t!’

‘Just goes to show the power of a name.’

‘Exactly! But art should be above such considerations. The only thing that should matter is a work’s intrinsic value.’ Adam sighed. ‘But of course I’m being naive. After all these critics are exactly the same sort of people who were deriding Van Gogh’s work as worthless a hundred years ago.’

‘Yeah…’

‘And d’ you know—

Just then the door bell rang. Someone shouted, ‘I’ll get it!’ and I could hear him going down the corridor, opening the front door and someone asking for Adam. My heart sank.

He looked at me and smiled. ‘Looks like you’ve been saved by the bell once again!’

‘Not at all!’ I tried to put on a brave face and smiled back, but I was desperately disappointed.

 

Adam shouted, ‘Come in!’ almost before the newcomers had knocked at his door and in they came. They were just the sort of people I would have expected to have been friends of Adam’s. He introduced us, adding, ‘Sophie and Dan are two of the leading lights of the French Department.’

‘Look who’s talking!’ said Sophie.

‘So- can I get you a tea or anything?’

The pair gave one another a conspiratorial glance and burst out laughing.

‘You’ve forgotten, haven’t you?’ asked Dan slyly.

‘Adam tapped his forehead comically as if so say “How stupid of me!” and laughed himself. ‘Of course– the Drama workshop! Right... just give me a minute!’ He started putting his boots on. ‘What about Phoebe?’

‘She’s going straight there after music,’ answered Dan. ‘Oh, by the way– Mimi wants to know if you’re still on for Friday night.’

‘Sure! Seven-thirty, isn’t it?’

‘Yeah. She’s got a couple of friends coming over from Argentin.’

‘Great! I haven’t spoken any real French for ages.’

‘Have you started that explication yet?’ asked Sophie.

Adam shook his head and gave a mock grimace. ‘Alas, no. I think I can feel another all-nighter coming on.’

She chuckled sympathetically. ‘It’s tricky.’

‘Aren’t they always!’

Adam was now ready to leave and we all made for the door. He turned to me and said, ‘So- I’m afraid I’ll have to burden you with my tedious pontificating another time!’

‘Not at all. Thanks again for the loan of the book. I’ll return it anon.’

‘A pleasure. Keep it as long as you like.’

 

We parted as soon as we got outside and as the three of them headed off chatting and laughing, I suddenly felt very alone. I would have given anything to have been able to go along with them, to have been a part of their world. As they were rounding the corner of the building I caught a final snatch of conversation:

 

‘How did you get on with that translation for Pratique?’

‘Ma môme? Not too bad. The accuracy’s okay, but I don’t think I got near the beauty of the original...’

I went straight back to my flat. I had told Boom I would drop the book round to him to pass on to Jane once I had okayed it with Adam, but there was no point trying now: Boom’s lab work meant he was rarely home before six. I left it till about seven to be on the safe side. When I rang the bell Hugh opened the door. For the second time that day my heart sank.

 

‘What can I do you for?’ he asked with an exaggerated joviality which made the contempt in which he held me quite clear.

‘Boom in?’

‘Nope.’ More fake joviality, more real contempt. He was enjoying this.

‘Er, any idea when he might be back?’

‘Nope.’

‘Well, er, I’ve got a book for him to pass on to Jane. Can you make sure he gets it?’

‘Yep.’ Hugh took the book without looking at it. ‘That it?’

‘Yeah. Thanks.’

‘Bye-bye then,’ he sneered and closed the door in my face. The encounter had not been pleasant, but at least I knew Boom would get the book. Hugh might despise me, but he would not do anything to annoy Boom.

 

For the next couple of weeks I did not see Boom at all. I hardly saw Matt, either. He was very busy with his various interests and other commitments and on the few occasions he was at the flat I tended to be out myself. And so it came as quite a nice surprise when I got home from the library one evening to find the following note stuck to my door:

 

Off to meet Mr B at the Nursery. Coming?

                                                                 Matt.

 

As always, I did not need asking twice.

 

When I got to the Nursery it was already quite late and the place was really buzzing. I was lucky enough to get served quickly, having managed to catch the eye of the lovely Alice, and I began the slow process of squeezing my way to the Diogenes Club. As expected Matt and Mr Biggar were there; I was happy to see Jane was too, but there was no sign of Boom.

 

‘Ah! So you made it at last!’ said Matt cheerily.

I greeted everyone and sat down. ‘So– what’s new in town?’

Matt sighed and shook his head. ‘Well, I’ve just been trying to explain to Jane why Mr Biggar is a danger to himself as well as to others.’

‘That could take all night!’

Jane laughed. ‘Don’t you start! I’ve enough on with these two!’

‘No Boom tonight?’

‘Oh, don’t worry, he’s in alright,’ replied Matt. ‘It’s Jerry’s birthday so he said he’d have a couple with the hockey lot.’

Just then a loud cheer emanated from the direction of the Tap Room.

‘There you are,’ confirmed Mr Biggar.

‘Oh,’ said Jane, turning to me, ‘I’ve just remembered. I’ve got that book of yours.’

‘Ah, right. What did you make of it?’

‘Fantastic! I’m only sorry it had to end without the mystery being solved.’

‘Is that that book about the Templars?’ asked Mr Biggar.

‘Yeah.’

‘Any chance of having a look at it?’

Before I could answer Matt said, ‘Now, now Mr Biggar, you know what happened last time.’

‘Ah, yes,’ the other replied thoughtfully.

‘What?’ asked Jane.

‘Well, on the last occasion we allowed Mr Biggar unsupervised access to a book it gave him terrible nightmares. For weeks on end.’

‘Oh, come off it!’ she scoffed.

‘It’s true,’ said Mr Bigger ruefully. ‘But I’ve learnt my lesson. From now on I’ll be giving Mary Poppins a very wide berth.’

Matt nodded. ‘I seem to remember one particularly gruesome incident in which Mr Biggar woke up screaming and foaming at the mouth...’

Mr Biggar’s face clouded over as he recalled the episode. ‘That’s right. Its something Ill never forget. And I don’t suppose Dr Piper’s going to forget that seminar in a hurry either...’

Jane laughed. ‘You two are both as bad as each other! Or should I say “mad” ?’And- speaking of loonies...’ she added as she saw Boom making his way over.

Boom grinned. ‘You’re always talking about me behind my back!’

‘You wish! It’s poor Mr Biggar I’m worried about.’

‘Jane seems to think we’re a little hard on him,’ explained Matt.

‘Believe me, it’s for his own good!’

‘Indeed,’ agreed Matt. ‘If we don’t keep Mr Biggar under the strictest control the University authorities have threatened to send him away altogether.’

‘Oh really? Well, it’s you two I’d like to send away. And I’ve got just the sort of place in mind. You know- locks on the doors, bars on the windows, nice padded walls... the sort of place where the “guests” are only allowed plastic cutlery and spend their days howling and drooling on the carpet...’

Matt recoiled in horror. ‘Not the Senior Common Room!’

‘Something like that.’

‘Ooof! That’s given me quite a turn!’ he admitted with a shudder, downing the rest of his pint in one. ‘Mr Biggar– I believe it’s time for your medication.’

‘Right,’ he replied, getting up. ‘Same again, everyone?’

 

Once Mr Biggar had gone to the bar, Jane straightened up in her chair and said, ‘Right boys, now Mr Biggar’s left the room we can get down to business.’

Matt and I both looked quizzical so Boom explained:

‘I’m afraid I felt obliged to tell the lovely Jane that my extra-sensory abilities weren’t quite as developed as she’d been led to believe.’

‘Oh dear,’ groaned Matt.

‘Still, there is some good news. Jane has very kindly agreed not to reveal our secret to Mr Biggar.’

‘Excellent! I always knew you were a good sport, Jane!’

‘But,’ continued Boom, ‘there’s also some bad news...’

‘Oh dear...’

‘Yes,’ said Jane. ‘In order to buy my silence, Booms agreed that the two of you are going to be my slaves for an as yet unspecified period.’

‘Oh dear.’

‘And payback time starts right now! You can begin by telling me what Mr Biggar’s first name is.’

‘Matt threw up his arms in horror. ‘Please– not that! Anything but that!’

Jane smiled. ‘Suit yourself. But when he gets back I’ll be giving him the truth, in glorious Technicolor.’

‘But you don’t understand,’ pleaded Matt, ‘we’ve taken a solemn oath never to reveal it!’

‘Rubbish!’

Matt turned to Boom in desperation. ‘Can’t you do anything to melt this frozen heart?’

He shook his head. ‘Believe me, I’ve tried! But she just won’t budge!’

‘Can you at least let us get his permission first?’ begged Matt.

‘Okay, but no monkey business. Otherwise he gets the truth. Both barrels!’

 

A couple of minutes later Mr Biggar came back with a tray full of drinks. Matt wasted no time in broaching the subject.

‘Mr Biggar…’ he began, rather tentatively, ‘you know how you hate anyone to know your first name...’

‘Do I?’

‘And that even members of your own family have never been known to use it?’

‘Erm, if you say so...’

‘Well I’m afraid Jane here is twisting our arm to get us to tell her. Of course we said we’d only reveal it with your express permission.’

‘I see.’

‘I tried telling her you find it something of an embarrassment.’

‘Okay...’

‘But she won’t budge.’

‘You’d better tell her then.’

‘Are you sure?’

‘Stop stalling!’ warned Jane.

‘I, I just can’t bring myself to say it!’ stammered Matt.

‘I’m warning you, Matthew.’

‘Yes, but—’

‘Spit it out!’

‘Okay,’ he sighed. ‘Mavis.’

Jane burst out laughing. ‘What?’

‘Mavis Biggar. In honour of his paternal grandfather.’

Mr Biggar nodded. ‘You can call me “Mave” if you like,’ he suggested.

Jane ignored this and her expression became quite stern. ‘Matthew! Remember what I said about “both barrels”!’

‘Yes, but...’

‘Okay, okay,’ said Boom, jumping in to try and limit the damage. ‘You win! I’ll whisper Mr Biggar’s name in your ear, but for pity’s sake don’t repeat it out loud! Promise?’

‘Okay.’

Boom leant over and cupped his hand over Jane’s ear. I was sitting next to her and could just make out the word “Andrew”.

‘That’d better be true,’ warned Jane. ‘Remember, I’ve got you two over a barrel!’

‘Don’t we know it!’ groaned Matt.

‘Am I missing something?’ asked Mr Biggar.

‘Don’t even go there!’ said Boom with exasperation.

‘Actually,’ added Matt, in a clear attempt to throw Mr Biggar off the scent, ‘Boom reneged on his promise to thrill Jane with one of his infamous ghost stories and now we’re having to pay the price.’

Jane was clearly delighted. ‘Oooh, thanks Matt! You know, I’d forgotten all about that! Come on Boom, chop chop!’

‘Yes, thank you Matthew!’ said Boom in mock irritation. We all knew he always welcomed any opportunity to spin one of his yarns. ‘Okay then, this is something my parents told me about...’

‘Hope it’s not the one about that headless window cleaner again!’ scoffed Mr Biggar.

‘Mr Biggar!’ growled Matt.

‘Actually, this one’s not even a ghost story. I think it’s best if we let Jane in gently.’

‘How kind!’ Even Janes use of irony was enchanting.

‘Okay,’ he began. ‘It started twenty-odd years ago when my parents first moved into the house where we live now. They started going to the local pub—The Wentworth, it’s still going strong to this day—anyway, after a few months they noticed that whenever they went in on a Wednesday evening, and only on a Wednesday, they always used to see this same old dear come in. Always bang on nine. She was always dolled up, always sat at the same table, all on her own, and bang on ten o’clock she’d always leave.’

‘That’s not that weird,’ remarked Mr Biggar.

‘No, except that she’d not missed a single Wednesday since November 12, 1945.’

Jane gasped. ‘You’re joking!’

‘Nope. You see one of the locals told my parents the whole story. Apparently during the war, old Mabel, who was obviously a lot younger in those days, had met a dashing young American airman in that very pub. They fell madly in love and wanted to get married. Trouble is Mabel’s parents didn’t approve and in those days that sort of thing mattered. Really mattered. So, the couple planned to run away and get married in secret. But I’m afraid the cruel fortunes of war put an end to those plans.

‘He wasn’t killed?’ asked Jane tensely.

‘No. Hostilities very inconsiderately came to an end and our airman was shipped off back to the States. Anyway, before he went he promised to come back for her as soon as he’d been demobbed and saved up enough money for the journey. He reckoned on a couple of months. Because of the parents thing they decided it wasn’t safe for him to write—and like most people back then they didn’t have a phone—which meant it’d be difficult for him to let her know exactly when he’d be coming.’

‘What about e-mail?’ asked Mr Biggar.

‘Exactly. So this is what they decided. Once he got back to Blighty, if he couldn’t get word to her by any other means, he’d come and find her at the Wentworth, between nine and ten, on the first Wednesday after his arrival.’

‘I still think e-mail would have been simpler.’

‘Mr Biggar!’

‘So– off he went. Of course Mabel didn’t hear anything after that, but then she didn’t expect to, as that’s what they’d agreed. So she gave it a couple of months, then one Wednesday she dolled herself up, went down to the Wentworth, ordered a bottle of milk stout and sat down at the table in the corner, their table, and waited. He didn’t come in that night, but never mind. After that she kept on going every Wednesday, hoping that’d be the night he walked through the door. But he never did. And even though the years rolled by, she never gave up hope.’

Jane sighed. That’s really sad.’

‘Now I know you, being female, and therefore of a thoroughly heartless and cynical disposition, think that our airman must have had a change of heart some time ago, but I for one, and I think I can speak for Matthew...’

‘You can.’

‘...believe he’ll be turning up any day now.’

‘Is that really a true story?’ she asked.

‘It is.’

‘So what became of poor old Mabel in the end?’

‘Well, the last I heard, she was going steady with Mr Biggar.’

‘Don’t be absurd!’ objected Matt. ‘Nobody’s that desperate!’

Jane wagged a menacing finger. ‘Leave Mr Biggar alone, I’m warning you two!’

‘Your wish is our command,’ responded Boom meekly, then, quickly changing the subject, said to me: ‘I managed to get a peek at that book of yours. Thought it was pretty tasty.’

‘Well,’ I answered, warming to the subject, ‘since I last saw you lot I’ve done a bit of digging and found out a couple of bits and pieces that throw some more light on the matter.’

‘Really?’ said Jane. ‘Tell me more!’

‘Well, I found out that although the Templars were pretty much wiped out after 1307, a surprising amount of their records survived, in the archives of the Knights Hospitaller and elsewhere. And then when I learned that the Hospitallers had important bases on Cyprus, Rhodes and Malta, I could see why Metzner had gone there: he was trawling through Templar archives looking for Ebrulf’s encrypted texts and probably the chronicle itself!’

‘Yeah!’ she agreed with enthusiasm.

‘I think it’s high time I had a look at this book,’ announced Mr Biggar.

‘Now, now,’ said Matt, ‘Remember what we talked about earlier.’

‘And remember what we talked about earlier, Matthew,’ warned Jane. ‘I think Mr Biggar should have a look at the book if he wants to!’

‘But you don’t understand...’

‘Matthew!’ she insisted, clearly enjoying seeing Matt and Boom squirm.

‘Oh dear,’ conceded Matt.

‘Are you sure I’m not missing something?’ asked Mr Biggar again.

 

The boys might have had some difficulty allaying his suspicions this time, had Annie not suddenly appeared in the doorway. She was hunting for empties, but I suspect she had also come in to see what Boom was up to. As soon as he saw her Boom stood up and spread his arms theatrically in a gesture of entreaty.

‘Annie!’ he called out, loud enough for the whole room to hear. ‘I don’t care if the whole world knows! I can’t hide my feelings any longer! Annie! Make me the happiest man alive– say you’ll marry me!’

Jane and I glanced at each other, and it took a superhuman effort for the both of us not to explode with laughter. Mr Biggar nearly choked on his pint. In the meantime, Annie seemed singularly unimpressed by this declaration.

‘Make you the happiest man alive?’ she sneered. ‘You’d ’ave to become a man first!’

Matt stood up, but before he could jump in with a quip, Annie cut him short:

‘And you needn’t bother, love! You’re norra man either– you’re a shirt lap!’

Not surprisingly everyone in the Diogenes Club cheered and roared with laughter. Matt and Boom sat down, pretending to be crushed, but of course were delighted with the merriment they had caused.

 

A fair few beers were consumed and a fair few tales told before we finally made our way home. I was particularly buoyed by the interest the others were showing in The Templar Mosaic and could not wait to go and see Adam again.

 

I resolved to return the book that Friday afternoon, considering it a time when he was less likely to be called away for anything. I had done a little more research and was looking forward to sharing what I had uncovered. And this time I was definitely going to accept when Adam offered me a cup of tea.

 

When the time finally came to see Adam I was nervous and excited in equal measure. On my way over I looked for omens, which was becoming something of a tradition, and was pleased to see that spring was in the air. I also wondered if there would be a new message on the wall by Adam’s entranceway and when I got there I was not disappointed:

 

Everyone knows eyes don’t tell lies.

 

As I went up the stairs I tried hard to work out what it meant. I smiled to myself. If I could only find a common link connecting them all- now that would impress Adam!

 

The front door was answered by one of his flatmates. He was stripped to the waist and had a face covered in shaving foam.

‘Hi, er, sorry!’ I said with an apologetic laugh. Is Adam in?’

He looked thoughtful for a moment. ‘Not sure actually. Do you want to give his room a try?’

‘Thanks.’

He left me to it and padded off back down the corridor.

 

I was in luck. When I got to Adam’s door there were faint strains of music coming from within. As I knocked I could just imagine the scene inside: the magical clutter, the wonderful view, the books, the plants, the posters, the freshly made pot of tea… But when the door opened I was met not by Adam but by what a Romantic poet would no doubt have described as a ‘wondrous vision’. It was a girl I had never seen before, I knew that, because this was not someone you would ever forget. I will not try to describe her in detail; any attempt to recreate that vision would be futile, so the reader will have to be content with a few vague but heartfelt impressions.

 

She was of medium height, and had a slim, slinky figure that gave her an elven-like quality. Her short-cropped, stylish and carefully tousled blonde hair, pale pink lipstick and dark eye make-up reminded me of those black and white photographs of swinging sixties models you see sometimes, though not one of those models was ever as beautiful as she was. Or as mysterious. She wore a chunky pewter coloured pullover that exposed one beautifully carved shoulder, and a pair of faded and torn drainpipe jeans that ended just above her ankles. She went barefoot, and her toes were painted with pearly white nail varnish. Her style, her charm, her way of being spoke of something carefree yet elusive, something that can be neither learnt nor imitated. I was overwhelmed by everything about her, but most of all by her eyes. They were a strange creamy-grey colour, and glowed with an intensity that made me feel very uneasy indeed.

 

‘Hi.’ The vision spoke softly and gave me a friendly smile, but the subtle intensity of those eyes did not diminish for an instant. I felt as if I was going to melt. Just then I noticed the song playing in the background was French. I did not recognise it, but it was as cool and mysterious as she was.

‘Er, hi...’

‘I suppose you’re looking for Adam...’

    …un gars loyal, honnête et droit...

‘Erm, yes... I take it he’s not here...’ I mumbled. She did not seem to notice my discomfort, which was so obvious it might as well have been shouting from the rooftops. Only later did it occur to me that she must have noticed—what could escape the attention of those eyes?—but had been far too gracious to let on.

‘I’m afraid he’s away for the weekend.’

‘Oh...’

    Qui m’a définitivement abîmé...

He’s gone up to Manchester to see a band.’ She gave a little laugh. ‘Someone I’ve never heard of– typical Adam!’

‘It’s a long way to go to see a band,’ I remarked, noting with some bitterness that my ability to state the obvious was reaching a whole new level.

‘He’d go a lot further than that! And he knows people up at Manchester Uni too.’

‘Ah, right.’

‘And, whenever he’s away he lets me use his room to work in. It’s a relaxing space and a lot quieter than my own house.’

    Maintenant, chaque fois qu’on essaie d’se ranger,

    De s’installer tranquilles dans un meublé...

‘Right. So, do you do French too?’

‘No.’ She smiled again. Single honours Italian.’

‘Ah.’ I was struggling for something interesting to say. In fact I was struggling to say anything at all.

‘So– would you like me to pass on a message or anything? I’m Anja by the way.’

I realised I should have introduced myself earlier and this made me feel even more awkward. Still, I was straining every sinew trying not to blush, stammer or stare, so I suppose there was no point being too hard on myself. All the while those eyes held me with their calm, unnerving gaze.

    Quelle importance qu’ils me fassent la peau...

‘Er, if you could just let him know I’ve brought his book back and say thanks for the loan.’

Anja blessed me with another of her wondrous smiles and took the book with all the feline grace I knew she would have. Her hands were slender and every bit as exquisite as the rest of her.

‘Right, thanks,’ I said, turning to go. ‘I’ll, er, leave you to it.’ I decided to make my getaway while I could still kid myself I still had some vestiges of dignity intact.

    La seule solution c’était mourir...

Just before I closed the door behind me I turned back and managed a relatively calm, ‘Bye.’

‘Bye...’

 

I left Adam’s in a thoughtful mood. I had always thought that the idea of eyes that could look into your very soul was one of the most overworked, facile literary clichés every devised. Now I knew it to be true.

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