We need people like this.

Posted by September Blue Thursday, 21 February 2008

I'm sitting at the front desk of the library, by the gates. Technically this means I'm in charge of who comes in and who goes out, and so it holds as-yet untapped potential for entertainment - "Halt, brave traveller! To enter the stacks of knowledge, you must solve the following riddle..." - but mostly it's boring and uneventful, and I've been talking to one of my department's undergraduates about Masters degrees for the last ten minutes. Slowly, the clock ticks by.

Approaching from my left is an academic, although I don't see her at first. The student I'm talking to stops, mid-sentence, raises his eyebrows, and stands back, and I don't think there's any better way I could explain just how much energy this woman has radiating from her than to tell you that. Long hair, bright floaty clothes layered like plumage, ropes and ropes of beaded silver necklaces, all whirled around in her own private hurricane. "I ask at the other desk!" she says in what I think is an Italian accent. "The desk over there! They tell me to come to you for photocopying card? Is that right, is it a card?"

We do sell photocopying cards, in various denominations, but I get no further than "Yeah, w-" before she lifts three bags (one of which I swear to you is blue faux crocodile-skin) onto the desk and beams "Oh good!" at me. People are not usually this pleased about photocopying cards, to say the least.

"They're in different amounts," I say, pulling out the box of cards. "It depends how much photocopying you want to do."

She waves a few sheets of paper at me. "It is not much! It is only this! There is a student who needs to read this, you see, and I have myself only this copy, so I need to have one copy for him in my office, and I am leaving the campus now for a week and I cannot leave him my copy, so I told him I would...", and on in that vein for a while. As with every other low-wage job out there that involves dealing with the public, there's usually an unspoken good Lord, I wasn't asking for a biography, just answer the damn question floating around in such situations - but this woman is fascinating, so it's a quieter voice than it could be.

"Are you staff here?" I say. "You don't need to buy a card if you're staff."

"Oh, yes yes, they tell me this at the other desk," she says. "But they say I need account, I need to log on, it is all so much fuss! I think it will be easier just to buy the card now."

As with every other low-wage job out there, mine grants the gift of the on-your-own-head-be-it shrug. "You could get that done with a £1 card."

The wallet she's searching through is surprisingly plain: black, simple, and organised. Somewhere in my bag, my own wallet, which has grown fat on old train tickets and buy-10-get-1-free cards for the bagel place at the station, creeps under a book in shame. "One pound?" she says.

"Yeah, but, we ask for a one pound deposit for all the cards, because we recycle the old ones. So that's two pounds now, and you'll get one pound back when you're done with the card."

"Oh, oh!" She laughs and holds up her hands. "This is all too complicated."

"Well, look -" I hold up the card "- this will cost £2. If you give it back to me when you're finished with it, I'll give you £1 back."

But she's shaking her head. "No, no, this is too much fuss. I think I will not bother."

And cardless, she sweeps out of the library and away, into a world that I fully believe is so much brighter and more interesting than any we'll ever know.

1 Responses to We need people like this.

  1. Autumn Song Says:
  2. Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. Much more exciting that anything that's happened around here in a while. That must have brightened your day!