Home > The Bookshop on the Corner(3)

The Bookshop on the Corner(3)
Jenny Colgan

Surinder made a snorting noise. “Those lovely old ladies?”

Nina nodded.

“But they can’t set people up with the right novels! They don’t know what a nine-year-old needs to read after Harry Potter.”

“The Knife of Never Letting Go,” said Nina automatically.

“That’s exactly what I mean! That expertise! Can they work the ordering system? The filing? The back office?”

Nina shook her head. “Not really.”

“So where are you meant to go?”

Nina shrugged. “There might be facilitation roles in the new media hub, but I’d have to take a team-building course and reapply.”

“A team-building course?”

“Yes.”

“You?” Surinder laughed. “Did you sign up?”

Nina shook her head. “Griffin did.”

“Well, you have to.”

Nina heaved a sigh. “I suppose so.”

“You’re losing your job, Nina! You’re losing it! Mooning around reading Georgette Heyer all afternoon isn’t going to change that, is it?”

Nina shook her head.

“Get it together!”

“If I do, can I bring the books into the house?”

“No!”

Chapter Two

Nina turned up at the team-building course nervously. She wasn’t sure what to expect at all. Also, she still had a car full of books. Griffin was there, his leg casually placed on his opposite knee, as if he was trying to give the impression of being the most laid-back person of all time. It didn’t work terribly well. His ponytail hung lankly down the back of his slightly gray T-shirt, and his glasses were smeared.

“Trainee tossers,” he whispered to Nina, to make her feel better. She didn’t; she felt worse, and fussed with her floral shirt. Outside, spring was tossing itself about like a small boat, one moment drenched, the next bathed in sunlight.

Surinder had been right: it absolutely was time to buck herself up.

But sometimes she felt the world wasn’t built for people like her. Confident, big-personality people like Surinder simply didn’t understand. If you weren’t an extrovert, if you weren’t shoving yourself out into the open all the time, posting selfies everywhere, demanding attention, talking constantly, people just gazed right past you. You got overlooked. And normally she didn’t mind.

But now Nina could see she was in danger of overlooking herself. However many books she tried to save, whatever she tried to do, the branch library was closing. Her job was going, and it wasn’t just a case of finding another one. Librarians were unemployed everywhere. Thirty would apply for every job going. It was like being a typewriter repair man, or someone who made fax machines. She felt, at twenty-nine, oddly surplus to life’s requirements.

A young man bounded up onto the little dais at the front of the back room of the library where they’d all gathered along with the groups from the other two libraries also closing in the region. There was a lot of muttering and complaining when they met, about the bloody government and how crap everything was, and didn’t they know—didn’t they know—what libraries did for their communities?

Nina thought they did know: they simply didn’t care.

“Hey!” said the young man, who was dressed in jeans and a pink open-necked shirt.

“I wonder what he’s paid for doing this,” whispered Griffin. “More than us, I bet.”

Nina blinked. She’d never been in it for the money.

“Hey, everyone!” said the young man, who had one of those voices that went up at the end and made everything sound like a question. “Now, I know this isn’t an ideal situation?”

“You reckon?” snorted Griffin.

“But I’m sure we’re going to all get on great by the end of the day . . . do a bit of bonding, a bit of confidence building, yeah?”

Griffin snorted again. But Nina leaned forward a little. Confidence building? Couldn’t hurt.

It came an hour into the morning. They were playing “trust games” to restore faith in something or other, despite the fact that they were all going to have to compete against one another for the few remaining jobs. Nina had walked blindfolded across the room, guided only by the others’ voices. And now here she was standing on a table, again with her eyes shut, waiting to fall backward. She felt nervous and irritated all at once. This wasn’t for her, the shouting, the showing off.

Mungo, the young man, had been encouraging, however. “Don’t think there isn’t anything you can’t do!” he’d shouted. “Yeah?”

Griffin had sighed. Nina, though, had looked at him. Could there be something in it after all?

“There’s nothing you can’t do if you try.”

“Oh good, I think I’ll join the Olympic diving squad,” Griffin had commented.

Mungo’s smile hadn’t dropped for a moment. Then he’d lifted his pant leg and the room had gasped. Underneath, his leg was smooth plastic.

“I’d still give it a try,” he said. “Come on. What do you really want to do?”

“Run a Mediatech department,” said Griffin quickly. He was convinced, Nina knew, that Mungo was a corporate spy.

Mungo merely nodded. “Let’s go around the room,” he said. “Be honest. There are no spies here.”

Nina shrank back in her seat. She couldn’t bear speaking in public.

A gruff man she didn’t know spoke up from the back of the room.

“I always wanted to work with animals,” he said. “Out in the wild. Spotting them, tracking their numbers, you know what I mean?”

“That sounds amazing,” said Mungo, and he sounded like he meant it. “Great! Come up to the front!”

Nina shriveled inside as they all had to gather around the table, and the man stood up on it and fell back, letting the crowd catch him.

“I always wanted to do makeup for movies,” said a young receptionist from central services. “Make up the big stars and that.”

Mungo nodded, and she came forward and fell, too. Nina couldn’t believe how casually everyone got into it.

“I just want to work with books,” said Rita. “That’s all I ever wanted to do.”

More ideas came in from around the room, with lots of nodding from everyone and the occasional round of applause. They didn’t make Rita do the fall backward, though, not with her hips. Even Griffin modified his original answer, muttering that actually he’d really wanted to be a comic-book artist. Nina didn’t speak. She was thinking furiously. Finally she saw that Mungo was staring at her.

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