Home > The Bookshop on the Corner(6)

The Bookshop on the Corner(6)
Jenny Colgan

Outside, two men were having a loud discussion about how someone had cheated them about a car; a clutch of adolescents was screaming with laughter on their way down the road; there were four buses honking at the crossroads for some reason; and there was the endless roar of traffic from the nearby overpass. But Nina didn’t hear any of it.

She could see it perfectly. She could. She could imagine the entire thing. Some gas, her stock—so many of the books she’d picked up were absolutely brand new, in perfect condition. And with all the libraries closing . . . was it possible she could bring something good out of something so awful?

She glanced at the address again. Kirrinfief. She looked up ways of getting there. The fast ones weren’t cheap, and the cheap ones . . .

She had weeks of vacation days that she’d never taken. If she didn’t get a new job, she was going to lose it all anyway, right? She might as well take advantage of some of the last free days she’d ever get paid for.

Before she knew it, she’d finished Griffin’s grandiose application form—and booked herself a bus ticket.

Chapter Four

Nina let her book fall into her lap, conscious that she was getting drowsy.

It was late in the evening and she’d been on the bus all day, with only the shortest of stops to stretch her legs and wander about at superhighway service stations—not normally great places to relax. The day was nearly over but the sun was still high in the sky—it stayed light here far later than it did down in Birmingham—and it was glowing strongly through the left-hand window she was leaning against as they crossed the Forth Road Bridge. The glow off the quiet Firth was shining pink, making it feel for an instant as though the bus was flying through the white wires of the great structure.

Nina had never been to Scotland before. In fact, as she’d booked her ticket, for less than the price of an evening in the pub, she’d realized that at the age of twenty-nine, there were lots of places she’d never been. Of course she had been to Narnia and the Little House on the Prairie, and Wonderland, but to actually smell the deep, rich, yeasty smell of the old gray streets as they’d approached Edinburgh, the ancient cobbles almost making her dismount then and there as the iron sky was reflected in the windows of the tall houses, the oldest skyscrapers on earth—that had made her sit up, entranced by the higgledy-piggledy little streets that wandered here and there, tangling over the great wide ones, and the austere castle on a cliff that appeared to have been parachuted into the middle of the bustling city.

And still they went on: north, ever north, the sky growing even larger as they crossed the great bridge, the iron railway bridge to the right of her, the traffic thinning out as they drove through rolling farmland and harsh, craggy landscapes and long moors under the wide, clouded sky.

There were fewer people on the bus, too. There had been plenty of comings and goings at Newcastle and Berwick and Edinburgh, but now it was only her and a few elderly people and what looked like oil workers, sitting patiently, tough-looking men on their own, grunting at one another, their faces set to whatever lay ahead of them.

One moment she would look up from her book to see a great brown plain, the golden light playing through the heather; the next, she was in time to see an osprey dive across the road toward a loch, which made her start; then, as they crested the next mountain, a ray of sunshine came out and she put her book down altogether.

Perhaps if it had been rainy that spring weekend, everything would have been very different.

Nina would have sat reading, huddled up in her duffle coat; she would have exchanged a few words with the sellers of the van, thanked them politely, gone home to think about it again.

Had the wind been coming off the sea, had the bridge been closed to high-sided traffic because of strong winds. Had a million different tiny things happened.

Because life is like that, isn’t it? If you thought of all the tiny things that divert your path one way or another, some good, some bad, you’d never do anything ever again.

And some people don’t. Some people go through life not really deciding to do much, not wanting to, always too fearful of the consequences to try something new. Of course, that in itself is also a decision. You’ll get somewhere whether you put any effort into it or not. But doing something new is so hard. And a few things can help.

That evening, as Nina arrived in Scotland for the very first time, it was not stormy and wet and overcast, with clouds so low they seemed to clip the trees. Instead it was as if the entire country was showing off for her. The evening was golden, the northern light strange and beautiful. Everywhere she looked, it seemed, were gray stone castles and long bright vistas, lambs gamboling in the fields and deer scattering away in distant woods as the bus rolled past. Two old men who’d gotten on in Edinburgh started speaking gently to each other in Gaelic, and she tuned her ear in, feeling as she did so that it was not so much talking as singing, and thrilled and astonished that while she was technically still in the UK, where she’d spent her entire life, it could still be so strange, so foreign.

The road coasted higher, but never seemed to end in the untouched landscape, instead floating above the heathery fields, and Nina found herself urging the bus on and on, to where there were no cars, and even fewer towns and people.

She had a guilty moment when she felt as if she was betraying her beloved Birmingham, with its highways and tower blocks and police sirens and jostling pubs and noisy parties and dense traffic. Normally she loved that. Well, she liked it. Well, she tolerated it.

But up here, it wasn’t hard at all to understand why the Scots thought of themselves as different and apart. She’d traveled in the UK—to London, of course, to Manchester, on vacation in tended, manicured Dorset and Devon. But this: this was a completely different proposition, a far wilder land unfolding in front of her, so much larger than she’d ever thought of it, had she thought of it at all. Towns and villages appeared at a leisurely rate, with the strangest of names—Auchterdub, Balwearie, Donibristle—all of it unfolding in a strange tongue. It was startling.

Just after 9 P.M., but with the sky still light, even though it was only April, the bus finally arrived in Kirrinfief.

Nina was the only one getting off here, feeling odd and crushed and so very far from home. She looked around. There were two narrow streets winding down from the side of the hills that surrounded the town: a little pub, a gray-painted restaurant with scrubbed wooden tables, a small grocer’s shop, a bakery, a tiny post office, and a shop selling fishing rods. There wasn’t a single soul to be seen anywhere, nobody on the road.

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