The Book

You would have known they were art students from the kit they were carrying, the two young women meeting at the bus stop. They hugged – not kissy-kissy, but a long embrace.

Their latest gossip - the exploits of a bad boy and a crazy girl - diverted the bus queue until the pair could find nothing further with which to astound each other. Only then did they notice the shocked faces around them. They giggled.

‘I bought a book,’ said the tall one, serious now.

‘What, an art book?’ said her friend, the one carrying a portfolio.

‘No, a book book – I meant to tell you before. I thought I might read it on the weekend.’

‘What, like Saturday?’

‘Yeah, like Saturday.’

‘But you do things Saturday.’

‘So I might read my book instead.’

‘But you’d like have to not watch the telly and stuff.’

‘Uhuh. Perhaps I’ll get up a bit earlier than usual.’

‘What, lunch time like?’

‘No, saucy cow.’ She flicked the other’s ponytail. ‘About 10. Have a bit of breakfast for a change. I’ve bought some frozen croissants, and I’ve got jam and cereal and everything. I liked it when my dad used to make it, eating proper breakfast in my jimjams. I haven’t got jimjams like them anymore, so I’m wondering what to wear to read the book. What d’you think about that new top my gran sent me which I haven’t worn yet?'

‘Why?’

‘Why not? She’d like it, ‘cos she reads all the time and I’ll tell her if I do. And you know those jeans I got from H&M, well they’re really stretchy which is good if you’re sitting down, and they fit properly so they’re not forever, you know, cutting you up the crack? Course, don’t need shoes, but did you know that lots of people wiggle their toes when they read? It means something if you do, but I don’t know what.’

‘That’s good to know then.’

‘Cheeky. You know that chair, the one with curved arms, behind the door?’

‘What, that one with the yucky black and yellow stripes?’

‘It’s fifties, come on, retro. I got a cushion for it down Oxfam. It’s dead comfy now, and I thought I’d move it over by the window, ‘cos the light’s good there. I tried it this morning, ‘cos someone said that when you’re reading you should have the light coming over your left shoulder. Like when we try to get a good table in the studio, except that pillock Fergus always grabs the best one. It’s brilliant by the window when the sun comes out, and OK even when it’s cloudy. And I’ve decided I’m going to turn my phone off, not just put it on silent, ‘cos I don’t want that sad Sandra phoning me every second minute from the shop ‘cos she’s bored, talking about nothing. I know we all go on about nothing most of the time, but she really, really talks total nothing. Then I’m going to make a big flask of coffee, and I’ve got these biscuits with icing on …’

‘Reading makes you fat.’

‘Where d’you get that from?’

‘Er, read it somewhere.’ She blushed.

‘Bless. I’ll keep you some biscuits. This book, though, I’ve read the back cover – that’s how I chose it – and it’s got an introduction, so I’ll read that first. It’s not by the author, but by some other woman, so I think perhaps the author’s dead and couldn’t write it herself. Or perhaps she’s famous and this other person – the one that wrote the introduction – wants to suck up to her and say lots of nice things about her.’

 

‘Or the book’s a bit hard, and they need to explain it to you.’

‘No, it said on the cover that the story is told with startling clarity, so I don’t think it’s that. No, I’m sure it won’t be that. Anyway, apparently you get hungry when you’re reading. They say the brain’s a big user, so I’ll need something to eat …’

‘There’s, duh, those biscuits?’

‘They’re for the coffee. I thought for later that instead of eating cold pizza or whatever I’d make a pasta salad. I’ve got real parmesan, not that plastic stuff they put in those little tubs ...’

‘You’re going to read, like, all morning?’

‘I might read all day. Even then I won’t finish it, it’s quite a big book. I’ve already told my mum she can’t phone. She couldn’t believe it, but you know what she’s like once she starts, she has to tell me everything that’s being going on with her and her friend Maureen that I’ve never even met, but who I’m supposed to be dead fascinated by.’

‘But me and you always go up town Saturday afternoon, and then go back to my place and chill, and get ready for going to Bananas or Sphinx or whatever.’

‘Well, I thought I’d like to do this for a change.’

‘And in the evening? What about Bananas?’

‘Well, I thought I’d get us a balti from Ahmed’s, which you like. And there’s this brilliant new music channel - it’d make a nice change …’

‘What, with you sitting there reading, and me with no-one to talk to ‘cos you’re like saying all the time, shush, I’ve just got to a good bit or whatever?’

‘Well, we can talk in between chapters.’

‘And if the chapters go on for a long time I’ll get to speak to you, what, once an hour? Should I make an appointment? Got a gap in your diary?’

‘It’ll be different.’ She shrugged.

‘But I don’t want it to be different. I want it to be like always.’

‘I know, but don’t spoil it, my book. Please.’ As a number 13 arrived she put her arm around the other, who stiffened.