"Then it is dark; a night where kings in golden suits ride elephants over the mountains." - John Cheever

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Finding Someone

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
Result! I get to do what I want and it's the right thing to do!

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 that's the end of my tale. I've learned a bit more about myself and about other people just from finding something lying in the street. Perhaps there's a moral to this, but I suspect I've really written it because I still feel guilty about reading someone's diary.

So maybe I'll just send S* this link and let her read my side of things...Maybe.


Col said...

Ah Seumas, you don't post stuff very often, but when you do it's always a good one. Artists often carry around sketch books full of their thoughts and ideas - nice of you to make the effort to return it. I reckon you should send her the link - or otherwise get in touch to explain yourself. What have you got to lose? If she's not comfortable with you having read her musings, she probably won't respond - and you'll basically be in the position you are in now. But she might want to thank you, or find the whole situation interesting or entertaining. Maybe it will inspire an artwork...

Tom said...

Yes, well done - great post and good detective work. How did anyone ever find anyone else before the Internet?

Like Colin, I expect this S* would be interested to read your take on it all, and if she isn't then nothing lost. Who knows, maybe she'd like to join the Fitz!

Unknown said...

Heh, well, I think I will then. For a piece in which honesty is a theme, I'll now have to admit the lies in that account:

1. I give the impression that S* would actually have liked me to stay and chat. In actuality, I'm not sure that was the case, as she seemed a bit embarrassed too. Mind you, I'm crap at reading people, so what do I know?

2. Whether to send her the link or not wasn't actually that big a dilemma for me, it just fitted with the story.

3. I didn't get a 55 bus. I got a 243 and went to a karoake and sang and drank till 3am, but I thought that distracted from the main point of the story, made it too "busy", and I do often get a 55 and stop at that pub.

Truth in art? Bah! :)

John said...

Bravo Seumas! The Spirit of London lives and breathes in your vignette.

Unknown said...

I wanted to edit this to cut down the far too lengthy ending, but looking at it, I'm not sure I can without restructuring the whole thing, which I'm reluctant to do here. I'll leave this as the final version for this blog. It should have ended with "Maybe I'll send S* this link and let her read my side of things. Maybe."

Much more to the point, has a nice, quirky Aliens sub-reference, and doesn't change the feel by addressing S* directly. Oh well, we live and learn.

Unknown said...

Cut a bit more for another edit...hopefully a little tighter now.