Read All About It by Elizabeth Mckay
Chrissie could never have imagined what her love of books would lead to . . .
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.
“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.”
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