It's Just Not Cricket!
By Adam Mann
Have you ever met someone whose appearance changes your life?
A simple romance where a tall man meets a beautiful girl in a pub in London.The complications are his job as an editor of a publisher of romance books, and her work as a contract window designer!
Stories like this have to have a happy ending so get your box of tissues ready!
Caught and Bowled!
I sat near the window on the lower floor of the bus watching the people in the street as the bus travelled along. Opposite me, a group of ladies were chatting and laughing loudly together, obviously intending to enjoy a night out together.
I used the bus, as did many people in this city, because trying to park a car was almost impossible and the surcharges expensive. The alternative, a taxi, worked great for short distances but were very expensive for longer trips. The underground, also known as the tube, was great if it wasn’t raining.
It was evening, and I was on my way home after a difficult day in my office, and decided to console myself with a quiet drink. The group of ladies, and I counted five of them for some reason, got off the bus at the stop before me, and all of them walked along the road, chatting and laughing together.
My stop was another four or five hundred yards, and I got off and headed for one of my favorite pubs, or public house, if you don’t like that abbreviation. I pushed the swing-door open and strode in. I was surprised how crowded it was—perhaps many other people had had a bad day at the office!
The barman saw me and raised a hand. I nodded, and he lifted a glass to the dispenser. The amber liquid trickled into the tumbler. He lifted it over customers’ heads towards me, and I reached to get it. He had put two small cubs of ice in the tumbler, just as I liked.
I took a large sip and immediately felt better.
I headed towards a quiet corner of the pub with a glass in one hand and the evening newspaper that I hadn’t been able to read on the bus, in the other.
I swilled the liquid and the half-melted ice cubes in my glass and took a larger drink, and the world seemed to be a better place.
The news was depressing—papers rarely publish good news—and I put the paper down to look around the pub. There were several single men I knew, some of them talking together. One man, about my age, sat at the bar. He looked up and waved at me, but did not smile and somewhat morosely went back to his drink. Knowing him, I realized he also probably had a bad day at his office, but then according to him, he usually did.
I’d better explain.
I work for a publishing company, and we specialize in romance books which over the years have sold very well. That was the traditional print paperback books, which still sell, but indie books, or electronic books, e-books, are slowly overtaking them.
The company does not mind this as we also sell some of the new books as e-books. It is the selling and marketing of these that is the problem, and the so-called marketplace is still being defined. The traditional market for readers was the local bookstore, or the newsagent, but the costs of retaining those markets is growing, stocks of paper books have to be retained, and the costs of printing increasing daily.
Unfortunately, many authors self-publish their books, which is great for all of us, but the quality of some of these books is sometimes questionable, or not good, indeed terrible, with little editing or even proofreading, and glaring mistakes left for the reader to cope with.
My work is in editing and proofreading. I have a team of hardworking editors and readers, mainly women, but also a few elderly men.
The finance department of the company has been trying to reduce costs and overheads, and they even suggested we reduce the fees we pay to our editors. Their suggestion was to reduce the amount of work we give to the established staff, and recruit younger people to do their work but for lower fees.
My original suggestion was that we should try to reduce printing costs so we could keep the costs of printed books at affordable levels.
The argument goes on and on. On the face of it everybody is right, but that takes away the human aspect; after all, reading is a pastime, a hobby, and something to be enjoyed.
A commotion erupted in the pub near the bar, causing me to look up from my drink. The group of five ladies that I had noticed on the bus earlier had made their way into the pub and were now meeting friends, but apparently a bit later than arranged.
A second drink would not hurt, I reasoned…
I caught the barman’s eye and held my glass in the air, and he gave me a brief nod. A minute later, the waitress brought a new glass to me, with several ice cubes in another small bowl. I picked some up and put them in my glass, and gave my empty tumbler to the waitress. She smiled at me but did not ask for any money, as she knew I would settle with the barman later.
A group of people lurched towards me, and I stood rapidly to avoid spilling my drink. A woman at the edge of the raucous group looked over her shoulder at me and smiled. I was shocked! What a beautiful face she had.
Her skin was perfect and slightly tanned. She wore several tints of carefully applied mascara on her gorgeous eyes which accentuated the brown-green of her irises. Her dark pink lipstick was applied perfectly—not a smudge or a smear out of place as her lips rippled in the light. Her hair was shoulder length, dark brown and casually brushed.
For a minute, I thought she was an Indian actress, who had got lost on her way from Bollywood. But what a beautiful face!
I quickly picked up my newspaper to avoid staring at her, and found I was looking at the sports page. To my surprise, she detached herself from the group and came to talk to me.
“What’s the cricket score?” she asked.
I turned the page to me, but could only see football scores and comments, so I admitted my mistake.
“Sorry, I shouldn’t have been staring at you, but you do have a beautiful face,” I stammered. She smiled and held out her hand by way of introduction. I jumped to my feet, again.
“My name’s Angela,” the apparition said to me.
“I’m William, but please don’t call me Bill,” I said as I took her hand. Her skin was soft and warm, but her grasp was quite firm.
“What are you doing here?” she asked politely.
“Just having a drink on my way home from work,” and then I realized my bad manners, and asked, “can I get you something to drink?”
“No thanks,” she smiled and it was like a sudden flash of lightning, “but you could buy me dinner somewhere?”
I instinctively put my hand on my back pocket to feel if I had any money, and then remembered my Visa card was in my jacket pocket.
“What would you like to eat?” I recovered my poise, or at least I tried to.
“Do you live around here?” she probed.
“Yes, this is my local pub.”
“I thought the barman knew you,” it was her turn to admit. “So, what food do you like?”
“Really good Indian food.” I was inspired, and she smiled with a look of contentment.
“Come on,” she said and took my hand again, “I know a good place, and not too far away.”
I followed her like a lamb to the slaughter, and as we passed the end of the bar, I gave a fiver to the barman, who waved his hand at me in thanks, but I did notice the sly grin on his face!
She told the taxi driver where to go, and had her money for the fare out of her small handbag before I had a chance to offer payment.
The manager of the restaurant probably recognized her, as he greeted her with a great deal of respect and showed us to a table away from the main road and near the garden. It was a round table, but the two chairs were not facing one another but instead placed next to each other. I held a chair for her, and then sat beside her.
I turned my head to look at her, and again was shaken by her wonderful complexion, her smooth caramel coloring.
“I’m sorry to stare, but where did you get such a beautiful face?”
She smiled and reached for my hand, and then turned her almond-shaped eyes towards me.
“I was born in India, but my father was English and my mother was Anglo-Indian,” and she continued, “there are many slang words used to describe us, but my role model is Vivian Leigh, whom I believe had a Parsi grandmother.”
The manager came to talk to her and asked politely in English about her parents. He carried two menus, but she waved them away and told him what she wanted, also in English. The manager slightly bowed and left us.
A few minutes later, a waiter came to the table. He stood to attention for some reason, and then started to set the table. There were no knives, just a spoon and a fork for each place setting.
We waited just a few minutes, when another waiter brought us two glasses and a jug of cold water.
The first waiter brought us a tray laden with several plates, an oven-baked flat bread or naan, yogurt with cucumber, some poached okra or bindi, and a huge bowl of lamb cooked in a sauce of ground almonds.
Angela supervised the meal, but I could not help noticing that she did not eat much herself. I used the naan to pick up the delicious pieces of the lamb with my fingers, which was just scrumptious, and fell off the bone.
My mind had been racing, whilst I ate.
“So you’re only half Anglo-Indian, I suppose.”
She nodded. I just could not help the next question.
“If we had children, what would they be,” I blurted, and she laughed aloud.
“What have you got in mind?” She did not stop laughing, and I held her hand which she rested near me on the table.
“Sorry.” I grinned, and I did not let go of her hand, but neither did she pull her hand away.
We finished the delicious meal, and only drank water, so that the taste of the spices and the almonds remained in my mouth.
She waved to the waiter who came with cups and saucers, and a pot of green tea. She explained, “We could drink cinnamon tea, but not after that meal.”
It was my turn to look at her again, which I enjoyed.
“What are you doing in London?” I asked.
“I live here with my parents, who are mad about tennis, so we live near Wimbledon.”
“What about you?” she asked.
“I work for a publishing company,” I explained, “but my parents live in the north of England. My father used to be a printer, which is how I got into publishing, but now he’s retired.”
“So where do you live now?”
“I have a small flat near the pub we met in today,” I stated, and then added, “if I asked you to come and see it, after what I said earlier, you will definitely think I had an ulterior motive.”
She laughed. “You’re not married?”
“No, I suppose I should be, but I played a lot of sports—but not tennis.” I gripped her hand again, and I’m sure she gripped mine.
She looked at me and made me wriggle on the chair. Her face really was beautiful and her skin seemed to glow in the half light of the restaurant. I was beginning to feel warm, but she just looked cool and superior.
“Do you mind if I ask you if you have a girlfriend?” she asked quietly, still holding my hand tightly now.
“Tons,” I said and laughed.
“Can I apply to join the end of the queue?” she continued in her quiet voice.
“Application accepted,” I said immediately, but then realized she meant it. “Perhaps you’d better come to see where I live,” I added, “but you are so beautiful, I may never let you go.”
“Promise?” She squeezed my hand.
“Let’s get the bill.”
The waiter had been hovering, and he came with the bill in a folder, which he put on the table. Without looking at it, I gave the folder back with my Visa card inside.
“Let me see,” she said, reaching for the folder, and in doing so, had to let go of my hand.
“Umph,” she said, and then “OK,” as the manager came to assist.
“Taxi?” I asked as the waiter returned with the receipt.
I gave the driver my address and sat with Angela in the back of the taxi, holding her hand. She quickly paid the taxi driver again before I could get any money out of my pocket.
My flat is on the ground floor, and very simple. The three-story building is quiet, new and was built as flats, or apartments. I have a largish sitting room, plus a combined kitchen diner to one side, and my bedroom is tucked away in one corner with a bathroom. The sitting room has a large glass window with a view of the garden, which all the flats share. There are larger flats on the other side of the building.
I had sweated blood to find the deposit two years ago and refused to ask my parents for help, but had now settled into a regular payment from my bank account each month to the bank’s loan company.
I offered the beautiful Angela a chair, but she shook her head and asked, “Can I look around?”
“Of course, let me get some tea whilst you look.” I thought that would be the best way to give her a free rein rather than guide her.
She looked everywhere, the kitchen first as I put the kettle on, then the sitting room, bathroom which took her a minute or two, and then when she thought I wasn’t looking, my bedroom. She told me later she was looking for traces of the “Tons of Girlfriends” I had admitted to earlier.
She came back smiling and sat in a large chair. I handed her tea, and then offered her milk and sugar. She took both.
I should explain perhaps; when I was furnishing this flat just after I moved in, I didn’t have enough money to buy furniture, so I bought a large three-seat sofa and used it as my bed for several months until I could afford one. When I returned to the shop to buy the two armchairs that originally went with the sofa, one had been sold, so my room, as always, seemed to be a bit lopsided.
“William?” she asked, “can I be presumptive, and assume that I might be near the top of the list?”
Wow, I almost fell over. I had expected this beautiful lady to ask me to get a taxi, but instead she wanted to stay. I looked at the clock and it was still only ten.