On Wednesday I found a notepad - black cover, maybe A6 size pages - lying on the pavement, near Old Street station. I picked it up and looked around for anyone that might be searching for something they'd dropped. No sign of such a person. I continued to my bus stop at which a 55 bus miraculously appeared immediately. I got on and had a quick look through the pad. It had a scrawled letter, written in red ink and the page torn in two, shoved between its pages.
The letter, scored with crossed out lines and added comments, seemed the least likely avenue for finding the owner, so I put that to one side and opened up the notepad itself. The inside cover simply said "March" with the first page looking something like a diary entry. Skipping to the back revealed some more writing, again which looked like a diary entry. There didn't seem to be any contact details; no names, phone numbers, email...I felt really uncomfortable at this point: I don't want to read someone's private writings (or, more honestly, I kind of want to but would feel guilty about it!)
Anyway, off the bus and time to wander and wonder as I made my way down the street to a convenient pub, halfway between the bus stop and my Room With A View. Now, reasoning:
- If I don't read this diary I'll never be able to find out who it belongs to so I might as well bin it and they'd never know or care if I'd read it or not and they'll never get it back
- If I do read it, I may be able to track the owner, or at least find out if it's worth it, and there's no need to feel guilty because it was necessary and they'll get back their valued writing
So I read it. Of course, I'm not going to tell you what it said, even if I could remember it that precisely. She, and somehow I knew it was "she" before the first direct reference, is an artist. And the entries are various musings on the state of being an artist, what is important, what is irrelevant, what influences the way you perceive and think and feel. There are thoughts on her cultural background, being Bangladeshi, and her social background. On connections and relationships and paths in life. All scribbled on the pages of this little black book.
I find it strangely fascinating, like things I've read, but not quite, and not a novel: no pretence at professional writing, but all the more powerful for that. It seems to me like an odd mix between the second half of "The Collector" (John Fowles) and "My Name is Asher Lev" (Chaim Potok). And always this awareness that this wasn't written for my entertainment but as a personal journal. That my purpose is simply to find out who this belonged to, not to find it interesting. All I've found so far, identity-wise, is that the letter, rewritten in the notepad, is to "G*" and that she studies at M* College of Art. Maybe I can look up the list of lecturers and find one called G* who has a Bangladeshi student who's written him a letter. It's kind of an angry letter though and what if she hasn't actually sent it? Will it get her in trouble? Enough thinking! Do this tomorrow! The pub closes and I stagger home to bed.
I head blearily in to work. I get the notepad out and look at it again. No inspiration. I look once more at the letter. Wait, how did I miss that?! The letter is signed "S*"! So I now have a first name; this should be easy. I go to the M* college website and do a search for S*. Nothing. Even G* doesn't give me much useful information. I'm used to this though: our own website search is useless so I tend to just search it using Google. I google for "S* Bangladeshi" and the first hit is an artist's website...an artist called S* who studies at M*! That's got to be her!
Email: "Have you lost a notepad near Old St? Last entry was a letter to someone called G*"
Reply: "That's me! Thank you!"
...and we arrange to meet at Starbucks. I have lunch at Old Street during which I get a text saying she's arrived. I go to meet her. Walk in the door and I'm not sure if she's there. There's a girl by the window who looks maybe Bangladeshi but prettier than the website picture and seems younger. I'm not sure. I call her mobile. Sure enough, she picks up her phone so I hang up and wander over.
"Ah, then this belongs to you..."
...and present the notepad. Absurdly, I feel reluctant to let it go. My mini-adventure is over. I explain a little of how I found it, that I read it, how I looked up her name. And then I leave. I don't have a coffee.
Of course I did want to stay and talk and discuss things with her, but I didn't. And the reason why not? Well:
- [complete lie reason]: I had to get back to work (hah! like anyone would believe that!)
- [partial lie; partially honest reason]: I couldn't think of a way of saying, "Hey, I just read your private diary! Would you like to chat about it?!" that didn't sound extremely weird and creepy and just fundamentally wrong
- [totally honest reason]: I'm painfully shy with people I don't already know, so I couldn't talk to her. A problem I've had since I was a child. I'm hoping it will go away when I become an adult and all my insecurities and worries disappear, which, when I was younger, I presumed happened sometime in your late twenties. Clearly it must happen sometimes near forty or something as I haven't hit it yet and I'm now thirty-four.
So maybe I'll just send S* this link and let her read my side of things...Maybe.