Home > The Bookshop on the Corner(7)

The Bookshop on the Corner(7)
Jenny Colgan

Nina felt nervous. In novels, this usually meant that the next person you met was going to try and kill you and the rest of the community was going to cover it up, or everyone would turn into a werewolf. She told herself not to be ridiculous. Griffin and Surinder knew where she was. She was going to look at a van, an insurance policy if everything kept going so horribly at work. That was all. This was just business. Normal people did it all the time. She took out her phone regardless and checked it. No signal. She bit her lip, then told herself to get on with it.

The pub was called the Rob Roy and was covered in pretty hanging baskets. There was no one sitting outside; the evening had taken on a chill, even though a weak sun was still making its slow way down over the horizon. Nina took a deep breath and pushed open the door.

Inside, the old wooden tables were highly polished, and there was a great stone fireplace surrounded by horse brasses and filled with dried flowers. The room was almost empty, but at the bar, two old men turned around and regarded her carefully above the pints they were clearly nursing. Nina had to grab her courage with both hands to smile nicely and walk forward. After all, the bus had gone, and there wasn’t another until tomorrow, so it wasn’t like she had a lot of choice in the matter.

“Uh, hello,” she said, conscious suddenly of how English she sounded. “Is, er . . . Is the landlord in?”

“Hesjustawainnit.”

Nina couldn’t remember feeling more embarrassed in her entire life. A hot flush rose up around her neck; she genuinely hadn’t understood a word the man had said. She put her hand to her throat.

“Uh, sorry?” she said. It felt like the more she tried to make herself comprehensible, the more she sounded like the Queen. Suddenly she wished herself very, very far away from here, almost anywhere, in fact.

Both men sniggered, then, thank heavens, the door burst open and a ruddy-faced man came in carrying a barrel of beer as if it weighed nothing.

“The lass!” he said cheerfully. “Hello there! I was wondering if the bus had been through.”

“It has.” She nodded, relieved beyond words. If she concentrated, she could follow him.

“I’m Alasdair. So what brings you here this time of year? The snow’s barely melted off the peak land.”

Nina smiled. “I know. It’s beautiful.”

His face softened at that. “Aye, it is. Can I get you a drink?”

Nina didn’t recognize any of the beers on tap. She asked for a mineral water, then saw the men shake their heads sadly and changed her order to half a pint of the local beer, which tasted like fizzy molasses.

“Get some of that down you, lass,” Alasdair said.

“Are you still serving food?” asked Nina. They all laughed.

“Naw, not at this time of night,” said Alasdair. He looked up, his eyes very blue under his sandy hair. “I can probably make you a sandwich if you like.”

Nina was starving; the food in the service stations hadn’t looked particularly nice and cost a fortune, and she was conscious that she might well be out of work very soon. She’d hoped for a casserole or a potpie or something warm and filling—in fact if she was totally honest, she’d fantasized about a friendly farmer’s wife and home-baked apple pie and cream, then realized that she was thinking about an Enid Blyton novel, not a real place she was actually visiting.

“Um, yes please,” she said, and the man disappeared through the back into what looked like a tiny kitchen space while Nina stared hard at her phone as if that might make it work, and wondered if she could just take her book out again.

One of the men asked her a question, which she didn’t quite understand but guessed to be, “What are you doing up here?” and she mentioned that she’d come to look at a van.

At this they both burst out laughing and ushered her outside. In the little town square, the fading light picking out the names on the war memorial—MacAindra, MacGhie, MacIngliss—they led her across the cobbles to a side street completely blocked by the van from the ad.

Nina stared at it. It was pretty grubby, but she could see that underneath the dirt, and some rust on the front grille, was the lovely curved roof and friendly nose that had so attracted her in the ad. The main thing that struck her, though, was that it was far, far larger than she’d expected, worryingly large, in fact. Could she really handle it?

Seeing the van in the flesh, as it were, rather than in a fantasy or just as an idea, made her suddenly anxious. Her idea of a future doing something where she wasn’t protected by a salary and sick days and vacation days and someone else doing all the planning and organization . . . if it was to start anywhere, it would start in this little gray stone square, with the last weak rays of evening sunshine coming over the hills, the smell of sharp pine and sweet gorse in her nostrils, a chill wind blowing down the valley and the air so clear she could see for miles.

“Finally getting rid of that eyesore!” said one of the men, laughing, as the other one sized her up. Nina’s ear was beginning to getting attuned to their way of speaking.

“You’re no’ really going to buy Findhorn’s van?” said the other in disbelief. “That thing’s been rusting out there since the year zero.”

“Are you sure you can handle it, a wee thing like you?” said the first man, unfortunately echoing exactly what Nina had been thinking herself. The van had looked pretty normal in the photograph, but here it seemed absolutely gigantic, old-fashioned and terrifying.

“What are you going to do with it?” said the older man wonderingly.

“Um . . . not sure,” said Nina, unwilling to give herself away in case she got committed. Now that she’d actually made her way here, everything felt so terribly real. The men exchanged glances.

“Well, Wullie’ll be in soon enough.”

They headed back to the pub, Nina shooting anxious glances behind her. It was truly, terribly big. Doubt gripped her. After all, this was completely out of character. She’d seen it now. It wasn’t appropriate. She’d go back and write a resumé like Griffin’s and promise Cathy Neeson that she’d do anything, sacrifice anything, perform motivational handstands if she could just hold on to her job. Yes, that was what she’d do. And she could go back to working all day and reading all evening and occasionally going for drinks with Surinder, because her life wasn’t bad, was it? It was absolutely fine. It was okay. Whereas doing something like this—nobody would believe it. It would be a crazy huge mistake and she’d just quietly go home and never mention it again and nobody would even notice.

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