Read All About It by El­iz­a­beth Mckay

Chrissie could never have imag­ined what her love of books would lead to . . .

The People's Friend - - Contents -

CHRISSIE sat down on the bench with a sigh. If she’d been at home, she would have kicked off her shoes and curled her feet up un­der her.

But it was only lunchtime, and she still had a few hours to go be­fore she could fi­nally for­get about work.

What a week it had been. This was the first time that Chrissie had been able to leave her desk and take a proper lunch break.

It was a beau­ti­ful day; the sun was shin­ing, and the square was teem­ing with peo­ple. Of­fice work­ers, shop as­sis­tants and stu­dents were all en­joy­ing a few min­utes of rest and re­lax­ation in the sun.

Chrissie un­wrapped her sand­wiches and took her book from her bag. It was one of the best “who­dunits” she’d read in a while, and she only had a cou­ple of chap­ters still to go.

With a bit of luck, she’d find out who the mur­derer was be­fore she went back to work.

She was aware of some­one sit­ting down on the bench op­po­site her.

She looked up and smiled. The woman was hold­ing a card­board cup with the logo of the Flo­ral Cof­fee Pot on it, lift­ing it care­fully to her lips and sip­ping the con­tents slowly, as if savour­ing ev­ery mouth­ful.

Chrissie guessed the woman might be from one of the town’s home­less hos­tels; one of the many who had ben­e­fited from the café’s loose change jar.

Chrissie her­self was a reg­u­lar cus­tomer at the café, and had be­come good friends with the owner, Beth.

She’d en­cour­aged Beth’s idea of col­lect­ing cus­tomers’ loose change by the till and us­ing it to pay for drinks for the town’s home­less.

Their en­thu­si­asm for the project wasn’t matched by ev­ery­one, how­ever, with plenty keen to sug­gest that it would be abused.

“Of course it will,” Beth had said. “There are peo­ple in ev­ery walk of life who will take ad­van­tage.

“But most of the peo­ple from the hos­tels are grate­ful. They don’t par­tic­u­larly en­joy de­pend­ing on char­ity or hand­outs – I’ve had some of them of­fer­ing to clear ta­bles in ex­change for their cof­fee.”

Chrissie was on the last few pages of her book when her phone rang.

“I’m so sorry to bother you while you’re at lunch, Chrissie,” the of­fice temp said. “But Mr Har­ri­son wants the monthly data in­put straight away, and I can’t find it any­where.”

“I’ll be there in five min­utes,” Chrissie told her.

It was only when she was wait­ing to cross the road that she re­alised she’d left her book on the bench.

She turned back, and came to a sud­den halt a few feet from where she’d been sit­ting.

The young woman from the hos­tel had picked up her book, and was read­ing avidly. Her face was glow­ing as she locked her­self in­side a world of mys­tery and ad­ven­ture.

Chrissie recog­nised that look. She knew that feel­ing. And she didn’t have the heart to ask for her book back.

In­stead, she de­cided she’d nip into the book­shop on the high street at the week­end and steal a look at the last few pages to dis­cover “who­dunit”.

****

Chrissie’s week­end was un­re­mark­able. Apart from her visit to the book­shop, she spent most of it catch­ing up on the chores she’d ne­glected dur­ing the hec­tic week.

She dropped into the Flo­ral Cof­fee Pot on her way to the of­fice on Mon­day morn­ing. Catch­ing up with Beth over a latte, their con­ver­sa­tion in­evitably turned to books.

Chrissie told Beth about the young woman on the bench.

“That would be Lorna,” Beth said thought­fully. “She’s lovely. She was an English lit­er­a­ture stu­dent be­fore things started go­ing bad for her.

“She’s got a lit­tle girl now, and they live at the hos­tel across from the bus sta­tion.

“She’s des­per­ate to put her life back to­gether again, and get a place for them both.”

Chrissie thought about Lorna all that day. She couldn’t for­get the look of sheer plea­sure on the young woman’s face as she was read­ing.

Chrissie called into the café again on Tues­day. She lifted a car­rier bag over the counter and gave it to Beth.

“It’s just a few books I was go­ing to hand in to the char­ity shop, but I thought Lorna might like them in­stead. I

don’t know her taste, but there might be some­thing . . .”

“I’m way ahead of you,” Beth said, nod­ding at a unit in the left-hand cor­ner of the café.

Chrissie noted that the shelves, usu­ally home to a se­lec­tion of nov­elty teapots and mugs, were now bare.

“They were only dust col­lec­tors. I’m go­ing to fill the shelves with books for the peo­ple from the hos­tels to bor­row.”

“Where will you get the books?” Chrissie asked.

“Any­where and ev­ery­where,” Beth said. “The staff are all be­hind it, and they’ve agreed to bring some in.

“My Satur­day girl’s do­ing art at col­lege, and she’s work­ing on posters. And some of the cus­tomer have al­ready promised to help.”

“I’ll blitz my book­shelves when I go home,” Chrissie promised. “And I’ll put an e-mail around the of­fice as soon as I get in.”

****

It took less than a fort­night for the shelves to be filled with books. Chrissie called into the café one lunchtime to find Beth sort­ing through an­other pile of paperbacks.

“It’s a lot of ex­tra work for you, Beth,” she said.

“Not any more.” Beth smiled. “Lorna vol­un­teered to run it dur­ing the hours her lit­tle girl’s at school.

“You should see her, Chrissie. She’s in her el­e­ment. And who knows how it might help when she starts ap­ply­ing for jobs?”

Word about the lit­tle li­brary quickly spread. The lo­cal news­pa­per ran a fea­ture on it, and two café own­ers in other towns con­tacted Beth to ask how they might set up some­thing sim­i­lar.

“Some of the stu­dents from the col­lege have of­fered to help with lit­er­acy and nu­mer­acy classes at the hos­tels,” Beth told Chrissie one day, de­lighted.

With ev­ery­thing go­ing so well, Chrissie was con­cerned to find Beth in tears one evening when she dropped by with some books.

It was af­ter six and the door was locked, but Beth got up from the ta­ble to let her in.

“I’m not up­set,” she said. “I’m an­gry. An­gry with my­self for not say­ing more than I did.”

She went on to ex­plain how two cus­tomers had been very vo­cal in ex­press­ing their views on al­low­ing “those sorts of peo­ple” into the café while “de­cent folk” were hav­ing their lunch.

“They ac­tu­ally said that?” Chrissie asked.

Beth nod­ded.

“One of them did. The other one just stood be­hind her and stared at the floor.” “What did you say?” “Noth­ing. That’s the worst part. They were caus­ing such a scene, and all the other cus­tomers were star­ing. I just wanted them gone. So I gave them their money back and said I was sorry . . .”

They were in­ter­rupted by some­one tap­ping on the win­dow.

“Oh, no!” Beth buried her head in her hands. “It’s mega-mouth’s friend. She’s prob­a­bly come back to put in her own tup­pence­worth.”

“I’ll go.”

Open­ing the door, Chrissie was about to tell the woman the café was closed, but she brushed straight past and headed for the ta­ble where Beth was sit­ting.

“I’m Miss Tem­ple­ton,” the woman said be­fore ei­ther Beth or Chrissie could speak. “I’ve come to say how sorry I am about what hap­pened to­day. I should have spo­ken up at the time, but Jane’s a very . . . forth­right in­di­vid­ual.”

Miss Tem­ple­ton pulled out a chair and sat down, and then emp­tied the con­tents of the can­vas bag she was car­ry­ing on to the ta­ble.

“I won­dered if these might be of use to you,” she said.

At least 20 pic­ture books had spilled out into a colour­ful heap.

Beth and Chrissie gazed at the books, and then back at the older lady’s face.

“I be­lieve young women these days tend to favour shoes and hand­bags,” Miss Tem­ple­ton con­tin­ued with a twin­kle in her eye. “But for me, it’s al­ways been books.

“As far as I’m con­cerned, you’re never too old for pic­ture books.”

“I don’t un­der­stand . . .” Beth stam­mered.

“I used to be an in­fant teacher,” Miss Tem­ple­ton said. “I never mar­ried or had chil­dren of my own, so I loved ev­ery minute I spent with the lit­tle ones.

“My favourite part of the week was Fri­day af­ter­noon, when we’d un­roll a big red car­pet and I’d read sto­ries to the chil­dren as a re­ward for all their hard work dur­ing the week.”

“And now, you want to do­nate your books to our li­brary?”

“I thought that some of your cus­tomers might have chil­dren who would en­joy read­ing them.”

“That’s very kind of you, Miss Tem­ple­ton,” Beth said. “But I’m not sure that would be a very good idea.”

The smile slid from Miss Tem­ple­ton’s face.

“Your books are in pris­tine con­di­tion,” Beth ex­plained. “Most of them look brand new. There’s no say­ing what state they’d be in once the chil­dren got their hands on them.”

Miss Tem­ple­ton’s smile re­turned.

“They’re pic­ture books, dear,” she said. “They should be read, and read, and read again.

“And if that means they get grubby and dog-eared, so much the bet­ter. It means they’ve been loved.”

“Are you think­ing what I’m think­ing?” Chrissie asked with a smile.

“It would be a great way of help­ing them out a lit­tle more,” Beth replied. “I’m think­ing about where we can find a red car­pet.”

****

The fol­low­ing Fri­day, Chrissie left work early and dropped into the café at four o’clock.

At first glance, ev­ery­thing seemed like it al­ways did. The ta­bles on the right­hand side were filled with shop­pers and stu­dents wind­ing down for the week­end.

Beth and her staff were busy chat­ting to the cus­tomers, de­liv­er­ing mugs of tea and cof­fee and pass­ing around plates of home-made cakes.

But in a cor­ner on the left-hand side, some­thing mag­i­cal was go­ing on. A group of eight or ten en­thralled chil­dren were sit­ting around an el­derly lady while she read them a story from a book.

“How’s it go­ing?” Chrissie asked Beth in a whis­per.

“Bril­liant,” Beth said. “The kids love her. She’s great with them.

“They were so noisy and over-ex­cited when they

“As far as I’m con­cerned, you’re never too old for pic­ture books”

first ar­rived, I was be­gin­ning to think it was a big mis­take. But as soon as she started read­ing they all went quiet.”

“It looks like she’s en­joy­ing it just as much as they are,” Chrissie said.

“Once a teacher, al­ways a teacher, ” Beth said. “Can I get you a tea or cof­fee?”

“Later,” Chrissie said, mak­ing her way over to the red car­pet. “It looks like she’s about to start ‘The Cat In The Hat’. That was one of my favourites when I was lit­tle. I don’t want to miss it.”

“Have fun!” Beth laughed. “As a wise lady said only re­cently, you’re never too old for pic­ture books.” ■

In a cor­ner of the café some­thing mag­i­cal was go­ing on

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