I saw Ashley today, working in the British Heart Foundation charity shop. She looked thin and pale – so pale it was almost a green – and sort of folding in on herself as she attended to a rack of clothing.
I can’t tell you much about Ashley, but we both went on a history department trip to Prague in 2004. I remember her vividly, perhaps because I have a fantastic photo of her – an actual photograph, before the transgression to digital. She is sitting with my three good friends at a table in a pub, the three of them smiling (as is the custom), and Ashley on the end with a look of inexplicable surprise upon her face – eyes wide, mouth open.
She’d led a sheltered life. She didn’t drink or go out, had never owned a mobile phone (her parents didn’t believe in them), and had the socially inept manner of what we assumed could only be an indication of genius.
The mobile phone thing turned out to be a hindrance when she went AWOL the afternoon we were flying back to Scotland. Our bus departed for the airport, leaving behind a lone lecturer to look for her. We all worried. “She’s no savvy”, one of the guys commented. Somehow, she was found in time.
Having supposed all this time that she had been some sort of genius savant, I was taken aback today to find her in her charity shop guise, seemingly crumbling, though strangely and sadly congruous…