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I'm sitting here drinking my coffee with a pad of paper on the formica table in front of me, getting ready to do some magic. The coffee's in a paper cup, but it smells of latin america. The magic is real; something that would make Paul Daniels give up on the spot and the magic circle hand in their wands if they could see it.
There; it's done. I just created a person, and I think I managed it without anyone noticing. He's called Joseph Glassman and he's coming up the escalator now, looking like any other passenger.
I've given him dark curly hair, soft hazel eyes, and blue jeans, a shirt and a black coat. He's twenty, and a second year psychology student at UCL.
Plus, and this was the difficult bit, he has a complete set of memories. Not just the big ones, like kissing Fiona Lucas from his English class in the cinema, or how, in the hospital the last time he saw her, his grandmother's hand felt so frail, but also: family holidays in Wales with the sand getting in all the sandwiches, shuffling sprouts round the plate at christmas, or how he was given guinea pigs for his sixth birthday which he named Wilbur and Wilbur2, and then his mother woke him up a week later to "See what your guinea pigs have done." She had showed him a shoe box with two tiny guinea pigs inside, and his first reaction had been anger - someone had shrunk his guinea pigs! - but this was quickly replaced by confusion when he was shown the badly misnamed Wilbur and Wilbur2 safe in their hutch and full size.
I gave him those and more; the myriad other memories that go to make up a man. He probably won't recall any of those today, but he would not be complete without them. They are as vital to him as the 5 feet of intestines I gave him, or the 12,321 hairs on his head.
His family and friends don't exist, of course. If I'd created them as well, I'd have had to have made their friends in turn, and so on, and the job would have become impossible. That's not going to be easy for him when he finds out. Also, his actual knowledge of psychology is limited to what I know, which is to say not much, so I'm hoping no-one will question him too deeply there.
He's reached the top of the escalator and stepped into the main court of the station. It's a barren place. A large white expanse of tiles stretches around in front of the arrivals and departures board ringed by the soulless station chains, such as the one I'm drinking coffee in. Euston has none of the old Victorian charm of, say, Paddington Station. It is quite like an airport in design; not a place in it's own right, but merely there for reaching other places. Yet airports at least have a tangible atmosphere of far flung countries and exotic destinations. Euston promises nothing but the industrial cities of the midlands.
Nevertheless, Joseph has a contented air which cannot entirely be explained by the fact that he's never been to Hull. He smiles warmly at the ticket clerk as he buys his 3rd-class return, and seems almost on the edge of whistling.
Round the corner from the ticket office are the public telephones, and this is where he now heads. By the phones, a girl with a backpack is quietly crying to herself. I didn't make the girl up; she's real. She's about 20, with blonde hair and a small body that shakes slightly with her tears. Around her, Euston goes about it's business. I walked past her myself ten minutes ago. I thought of going up to her, but I chickenned out.
Joseph round the corner and does something I'd never have been able to do. He approaches the girl and taps her gently on the shoulder.
"What?" - she's aggressive.
Unperturbed, he smiles warmly and answers "Pidgeons, for or against?"
"What?" - confused.
"We're doing a survey." Joseph's relaxed and infectiously happy, but will it catch? He grins, beckonning her to laugh with him. Underneath that lazy grin he's on the verge of mumbling an apology and running.
>From across the station I hold my breath.
She laughs, and wipes at some of the tears. He laughs, and keeps talking, keeps smiling. Keeps her laughing.
He buys her a hot chocolate, listens to her talk. Patches her up with a bit of sympathy and a warm smile. I will not list her problem here; it was personal and none of your business. Strictly speaking, I've no right to know either. And there is of course nothing Joseph can do. He has a train to catch.
"Take care." he says.
She nods. I don't know what she's thinking. I'm not a mind reader.I guess she's feeling a bit better. Patched up, at least for now. The kindness of strangers is a moving thing. Small acts - but unexpected, like flowers in the Sahara. Small acts that remind us of the humanity in the human race. It's only been twenty minutes and they'll never meet again. Yet I'd like to think that this is one of those chance encounters - seemingly of only passing significance - that change lives. Each of us traces a chaotic line across the world, and no-one can untangle the paths we weave. The good or ill of any action is hidden behind a hundred unknown repercussions. Nevertheless in this mad dance there are key points, when a little warmth - a little help - can actually help. A mere touch to tilt the balance. The Sages of Alexandria taught that there are never more than three in any one lifetime. Such moments are precious; not to be overlooked. Lasting beyond there timespan, slowly unfolding inside you. A secret sun.
The girl smiled; wanly, but with conviction. Joseph smiled back. He watched her walk away, then turned, walked towards his platform, and disappeared.
The narrator drained the last of his coffee, screwed up the cup, and threw it at the bin. It ran round the inside rim once before dropping down. Then he in turn got up and quietly vanished.
© Daniel Winterstein 1998-2008
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