All my stories lately seem to begin as prompts chosen by my face-to-face creative writing group. The prompt this time was ‘self delusion’.
The girl in the box office smiled at me again last night when she sold me my ticket. It’s strange that we haven’t got together yet, we’ve been smiling at one another through the little archway-shaped hole in the glass nearly every night for more than a year now. Longer probably, ever since I moved here from Reading. Nothing for a man like me in Reading. I need the big city, the big opportunities for advancement – and of course the little independent cinemas like the Adelphi.
The trouble is that we’re both shy. Neither of us wants to make the first move. It’s really silly. Why would a girl like that have anything to be shy about? I can’t be the first one who has… well, smiled at her.
Mostly of course that’s all we can really do, smile at one another, because there are other people behind me in the queue waiting to buy tickets. But Monday nights are the quietest, and sometimes I arrive a little bit early on purpose so that I’m the only one there, and we have time to exchange a few words. I try to make an opening for her, because I do know what it’s like to be shy.
We talk about the film usually. I’ll ask her if she’s seen it herself and if it’s any good. But then the shyness cuts in again and she’ll just say something like: ‘If you want to know about it you can go to our website, or the Internet Movie Database.’ She says that kind of thing because it’s her way of avoiding anything too personal. She’s not comfortable if the talk gets even a little bit personal.
And of course that’s exactly the way I used to be. Worse in fact. There was a whole year, when I was eleven, just after I moved up to Secondary School, when I wouldn’t talk to anybody. No kidding, literally, I wouldn’t say a word from the moment I left home to go to school until the moment I arrived back in the afternoon. That’s how shy I was.
You see my folks had big hopes for me, and when I finished Primary they sent me to a fee-paying Secondary School about an hour’s bus ride away. None of the other kids in my class went there, so I was suddenly in a strange school where I didn’t know anybody, and there was a lot of bullying at that school. Anything a boy said was likely to be taken the wrong way and used as an excuse to give him a hiding in the yard or in the changing rooms. But if you said nothing people didn’t really notice you and you could sort of melt into the background. I was good at melting into the background. It became part of my personality.
Maybe I got too good at it. So good that for a long time the girl in the box office didn’t see me at all. I was invisible to her, just a timid trembly voice and a hand poking through the archway-shaped hole with some money in it.
But I overcame that. I overcame it just for her. I worked out what I wanted to say to her and wrote it down and learned it off by heart so that I wouldn’t get it wrong, or be tongue-tied, or stammer, or babble and talk rubbish. I would practice in front of the mirror to get the right intonation and delivery.
‘Did you know that James Cameron directed two of the Terminator films and also Titanic before he directed this one?’ I would say to her, and she would have to reply. ‘Yes, I knew that,’ or ‘No, I never knew that,’ or something. Anything would do, anything she said would give the two of us the opening we needed, and then we could just tiptoe towards something a little bit more personal, like ‘Titanic was a beautiful love story, wasn’t it?’ or maybe even ‘Do you believe that love goes on forever?’
Of course it wasn’t easy for her, being so shy, but I encouraged her and looked into her eyes in a kindly sort of way, and if I waited she would continue the conversation sometimes. But there’s only so long you can stand by the glass partition and chat to someone who’s really a comparative stranger, isn’t there?
It all took a very long time, and I’ve lost count of the number of ‘timeless classics and new releases’ I saw in the last year, sometimes more than once, but she did slowly start to get past her shyness. I didn’t exactly break the ice with my little rehearsed opening lines, but it started to melt a little, like those Arctic glaciers with global warming.
Recently I’ve been able to ask her one or two more personal questions, like if she lives locally, and what she does with herself when she isn’t in her little booth. Her answers are still a bit general. She says she lives ‘not far away’ and that she’s a part time student. I asked her what it is she’s studying, but she evaded the question. Funny that. Maybe it’s something embarrassing, like how to be a funeral director, or erotic massage. I wouldn’t mind her giving me an erotic massage. Maybe she would enjoy doing it too.
Anyway, I’m glad to be able to tell you that things are really getting smoothed out between us now. I realise that it’s awkward for both of us to have to talk in public all the time, with the girl who sells the sweets and popcorn only a few feet away and the young man who tears the tickets in two not much further away, and always watching the two of us as well. I think he would like to be chatting her up himself. I can see the jealous look in his eye. That’s what draws us to one another, I suppose. That awkwardness when it comes to opening up. So I’ve decided I need to talk to her on her own and I’ve worked out how to do it.
Yesterday night I parked up at the end of the side alley of the cinema and waited, because I thought she would probably come out by the side door when she finished work, and I was right. I had the hood of my anorak pulled up and pretended to be on my phone and I’m pretty sure she didn’t notice me or recognise me.
She came out with the man who tears the tickets. They were laughing, sharing some kind of little joke. Then they separated and waved good night and went off in opposite directions. I’m glad they separated, I felt a little flash of anger when I saw them together. Not that I have any right to, but I was pleased when they just separated like ordinary work colleagues.
I followed on foot, a long way back, just like they do in the films. I wasn’t sure it would work, but it did. She didn’t glance back once, and there were only two turns on her route home so it was easy to keep her in sight. I imagined she would live in a bed-sit in some little Victorian terrace house with a front door facing the road, but no, it was better than that. It was a block of flats well back from the road, with just a few dim lamps on posts to light the path to the main entrance. Lots of little dark side turnings and flat concrete sections where they kept the big rubbish skips.
I’m going to wait for her in one of those little alcoves tonight. She won’t be expecting to find me there, and it will be really nice for both of us. At last we’re going to be on our own and we can talk about our real feelings. I’ve been rehearsing what I’m going to say to her. I’m really looking forward to it. It’s going to be the beginning of something big for both of us – I’m certain of it.