She had been sitting all alone in the window seat of this Lake District hostelry for what felt like an hour, though a quick glance at the screen of ‘her’ mobile phone showed it to be ten minutes. Alone, apart from the silent TV crew and their cameras. It was they who had brought her here in the second-to-last of a convoy of shiny people-carriers.
They wouldn’t even let her keep her handbag. It was in one of the people-carriers. She had never lost touch with her handbag before and felt naked and afraid without it. She had this prop, this mobile phone with her only because it was ‘salient’. Salient! She wanted her bag. What if it got stolen?
She had been ushered in here, on film of course, by the Host, Anchor, Chief Lady Bullshitter or however they might be describing her today. She was to be filmed waiting, preferably in extreme anxiety, for the Person she had been waiting for all her life, and who was about to walk through the door.
Person seemed to be taking their time, although they did like to build the suspense. The crew were getting restless. She could have taken a bite out of their boredom, it was so thick. Boredom with her plain, middle-aged self; with the faux cosiness of this inn – glass shelving, flock wallpaper, horse-brasses – and with the whole concept of engineering a collision between long-lost relatives and seeing what happened.
The worst part was that she was supposed to cry. Howl the place down, they told her, don’t hold back. The viewers will be living it with you, every step of the way. She just didn’t think she was going to be able to cry to order, for the entertainment of the world and his wife. She was accustomed to crying alone, and mostly in silence.
It was like standing on the edge of a cliff, waiting to be shoved off. It was necessary to occupy the time somehow so she began listing words and phrases to describe the Lady Bullshitter: unctuous, expensively-coiffed, super-fit, patronising, vivacious, bubbly, smarmy. Hateful.
No doubt they were filming her hands, twisting and twisting this electronic gadget. If only she’d thought to bring her pink cardigan. That was in a people-carrier too. Possibly not the same one as her handbag. She had been scattered to the winds, she felt. Forcibly redistributed. They’d placed her in this draughty window-seat so that she would be framed – and improved – by the wonderful Lake District scenery. Her upper arms had goose-flesh.
The phone was salient because it contained something the TV people referred to as a gallery or ‘pix’, which meant a collection of electronic photographs. She hated the sound of pix. It was not the sort of word she would have said. When your Person arrives, they said, you will be able to show them pix of your extended family that they have never seen. Tearful, shared reminiscences. Lovely!
She’d never been interested in taking photos, even when it was proper cameras not telephones. If a picture isn’t vivid enough to stick in your head of its own accord, she thought, what’s the point of sticking it in an album? There had been nothing much to take photos of anyway. She’d lived a dull life and stayed single. No husband, children, dog, cat, budgie – rarely a friend, even.
Their researcher had been aghast when she told him this. But you must have some pix, darling. They’re part of our script.
There’s a script?
Well, story-boarding. Can’t have just any old thing happening, now can we? And we haven’t done a reminiscing-over-pix segment this series so it has to be you and your Person. Lighten up a little, darling. You’re the star of the show.
They had emailed-blitzed all her distant relatives asking for family snaps and ‘bio’. Once the pix arrived they had transferred them to the mobile phone which was, for the purposes of filming, her mobile phone. She had never once met any of them. The TV people had rehearsed and rehearsed her until she knew the bio behind those pix off by heart: who this grainy, black-and-white man was to her; whose pudgy, pink-faced baby this was; who this infant with the plastic trike and the chocolate-smudged face belonged to. She loathed them all on sight, the bastards.
The crew hadn’t met Person in the actual flesh. The plan was to whisk them from the airport up the motorway, in one final people-carrier, last minute. The travel budget for this series was blown, apparently, so it all had to be done via Skype, whatever that was. Where exactly were they flying in from? She got the impression it was a long way away – New Zealand, maybe, or Canada? How did Person get there? And why hadn’t they stuck around to do what they were supposed to do instead of skedaddling off abroad?
The crew lifted their cameras from her restless hands, retraining them on the door. It had glass panels and they could evidently see someone lurking behind it. Person! The door creaked as they pushed their way through. The phone dropped to the table with a clatter, creating a minor problem for the sound recordist. So this was it. Ah well, it would soon be over. Then she’d retrieve her handbag and go home. They could both go home.
A thin little man walked into the room, and stopped. Turning his head from side to side, he still couldn’t seem to locate her. Then she saw the white cane. So much for story-boarding. Hah!
The man gasped and reached out in the direction of her voice. She hurried towards him and straight into his arms. Holding on tight and burying her face in his shoulder, she denied the whole world the entertainment of her tears.