The train was smoothly making its way towards the east and Amy still managed, somehow, to almost trip as she headed back to where we were seated. I shook my head and she just shrugged, grinning. Our carriage was mostly empty. On one side sat two teenagers, watching a screen of a tablet together while sharing a set of earphones, occasionally giggling and elbowing each other. A family of five sat a few rows behind us, the two little girls occasionally running up and down the aisle and clambering into the empty seats to look out of the windows, their father intermittently calling them back. A baby wailed each time he raised his voice.
This little trip Amy had planned was turning out like nothing I had expected. I’d thought we’d be driving up the mountains, and then spend the day looking at old colonial buildings and maybe pick some strawberries before going home. Instead, I was sitting in a train as it chugged its way through the countryside, apparently on my way towards the cable cars that headed up to the Balsands Plateau. We were then supposed to go out exploring a short hiking trail and look at the flora and fauna. (“Fauna, Amy?” “You know, squirrels and stuff.”)
I wondered whether Amy was trying to recreate something from our school years, but as she laid out her itinerary for the journey I was left mostly baffled by the whole endeavour.
If there was one thing that I was sure that I had always wanted since I was young, it was to write.
When I was younger (oh, a long time ago now, it feels like the distant past) I could write on and on and on, my handwriting a messy scrawl across pages and pages and pages. I was self-conscious about it — I almost never showed any of it to anyone. Handing in writing assignments was almost physically painful since it felt like I was giving a piece of myself away, but still I wrote.
Somewhere along the way, I grew up. I couldn’t write for myself any more, not even in hidden paper journals I’d never show anyone, or locked blogs only accessible to me, or password protected documents in password protected computers. The spark was gone, and I couldn’t find it no matter how hard I looked.
It’s ten o’clock on a Monday morning at the post office inside the mall. Most of the people queueing are either planning to go shopping after, or are waiting for someone who’s shopping. I’m only here to send a parcel off to Australia, though I’m not averse to the idea of getting some ice-cream on the way home. I glance at my number again: 2043. On the small LED display two numbers flash: 2014 and 2015. A long way to go, then.
It’s a tiny post office with four counters and one is only for collecting packages. It offers all the services the larger post offices offer, though, from renewal of driving licences to sales of commemorative stamps, which accounts for its busyness. The heavy-set man standing beside me has what looks like a vehicle registration card—probably here to renew his road tax, then. Half of the people queueing are likely there to pay their bills. I sigh to myself and wonder why they’re resistant to doing that online.
The seats are full, so I pop out of the post office and head to the stationery shop beside it. The woman at the counter greets me with a cheerful hello, but I can’t tell whether it’s because she’s noticed me from my frequent visits to the post office or it’s just because she’s a cheerful person in general. I duck into the section hosting the paperback novels and find nothing new—the same old copy of Dan Brown’s Angel and Demons that has been there since the start of last year is still there. I do the usual circuit and look at everything on display: the wrapping paper (mostly new) and glitter pens (probably not new) and head back out with a rueful nod at the woman—I can’t be the only person who comes in and doesn’t buy anything. She nods back, smiling.
My love for the series started quite accidentally. I was browsing in an old bookshop when my gaze fell upon The Game of Kings, the first book in the series, and found myself thinking that the title sounded familiar. Upon reading the blurb I realised it wasn’t what I expected at all—it was about a minor nobleman turned outlaw in 1547 Edinburgh who was trying to trace three men. I considered it for a while. On one hand, if the title stuck to mind it probably was because someone had recommended it. On the other hand, I didn’t even read much historical fiction (my primary genre of choice had always been science fiction and fantasy), and knew nothing at all about 16th century Scotland.
It was on sale. The cover had a castle and horses. Maybe it’ll have interesting sword fights, I thought, so I picked the book up, paid for it, and took it home with me.
Thus began my love affair with the Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett.