Playing it Safely?

Playing it Safely? :  A short story about Anger Management with Two Alternative Endings

How They Met Themselves, Gabriel Dante Rossetti.

The First Book Shop

Solaima thought that the best place for her to start her quest that day would be the Waterstones in Pallisades.  So, it was there she went – straight up to the Garden Room – where they hosted a skylight and a set of small trees, making it look almost outdoorsy;  all nicely arranged in the middle of the shop floor along with  a coffee table and some comfy chairs.  Here she perched herself  and looked around to soak up her environment before she got down to business.

It wasn’t long till she spotted him standing there. All big smiles and a chirpy  face, “This is our film section,” said his speech bubble,  “but not many people know that.”   The shelves behind him were all quite clearly labelled ‘Film’.  She stared at him for an approximate seven to eight minutes…

“Wow!”  She exclaimed and finally, the hypnotic spell between her and the big, life sized card-board-cut-out of Michael Caine had been broken.   Now she was free to open her satchel. She took out all her books and pens.  She laid everything out on the table. She smiled at her belongings, then she looked around to see if anybody was watching.

“Is this peculiar?”  she asked herself.   “No.”  she replied  “It’s okay.  This a book shop, I am a writer.  It’s where I belong.  It’s better I collect dust here than at home all alone.”  She picked up one of her dairies, picked up one of her pens, opened the page to where her drafted poem was and began to read, ‘The Royal Wedding.’

It was precisely then that she began to squirm in her seat.  Her eyes once again met Caine’s where they became transfixed.  She tutted as she looked away and down at her diary.     She looked up again to be greeted by his hypnotic smile, huffed and tutted once more.  No, it was impossible.  It just could not be done.  “This chair… it’s really uncomfortable.” She regretted.  “If only this table was higher.”  She fussed, “This just does not feel right.”

She had to move.  She picked up all her belongings and squashed them in her bag. She would go downstairs and sit at the high desk with the big chairs.  Before leaving though, she gave Michael Caine a long, hard and dirty look for ever having imposed with such a big, wide, intrusive smile in the first instance and then away she fled, towards the stairs and down to the next floor.

As she approached the grand table on the level bellow…she slowed down…there was already a man sitting there.   Fair enough, the table had six chairs – three on either side  – but what was he doing there?  “Reading?  Reading what?  Preposterous! If I sit next to him, he may read my diary.  If I sit opposite him, he may still read my dairy.  If he sees me writing, he will want to know what I am writing and again… read my dairy.”

Well broadly speaking, Solaima was not wrong in her assumptions.  It’s not so fascinating to watch someone reading a book or a newspaper; neither is it enthralling to scrutinize anybody typing on their laptop. However, we, the general public, become ever so inquisitive when we see somebody working with authentic material, that if anyone does put pen to paper in an open space without copying from a text book, suddenly, everybody wants to know what on earth they are doing…?

It was as though he had felt her staring at him.  He looked up from his book and met her glare.  She looked away and back again suspiciously.  He became intrigued, with a newly formed expression on his face which inquired as to whether she was generally perplexed or did she just find him attractive?

“Oh bugger off, I’m not interested!  I just want the table.”  She muttered under her breath as she walked passed – then turned her head back round to take a long glance at the object of her desire.  Distressingly for Solaima though, she was mortified when she saw that he had also turned around to examine her.  “Oh God, now he thinks I turned back to look at him.”

Evidently, this was not going to work.   Because this was not an office.  This was quite clearly a book shop and they didn’t even have ANY internet access.  She couldn’t see the sky and there were no bloody trees either.  But what about another book shop?  Or the only other bookshop in Birmingham City Centre:  Waterstones, High Street?  Yes, she decided she would try it and maybe they would have free Wi-Fi.

The Second Book Shop

This time she went straight to the Classic’s section, under F.     Yes, The French Lieutenant’s Woman was there, The Collector, The Magus was there….Aristos… was there!  Mantissa…. was there… she looked up at the ceiling,

“This place has so much style.”  She whispered to heaven.

“Speak to me. Absorb me.  Take me away…” She said unto them and turned them both over.

“£16.99” and “£8.99” they told her at their surface.

The truth was she had only £3.45 to her name.  Despite all her hard work.  Endless nights of labour lost into early hours of the dawn, still she couldn’t afford either of them…Because her work had no value, but she had already convinced herself… her work was priceless.

–          But what of Fowles work?  Should I steal Mantissa?

–          No, it was Fowles’.  I can’t do that.  I shall just have to wait…

–          Should I start reading it now?

–          No!  I shall write.  That’s what I had come to do…right…?  Write!”

They were both writers.  He was (obviously) much better than she.  Though she did want him to teach her ‘how’ especially now that she had realised why…But instead she slid both books back on the shelf and took to the stairs and climbed all the way up following the signs for ‘Academic’.

When she got to the top she found an empty couch all to herself.  She slumped down and took all her books out of her bag again.  Then opened last year’s dairy to the very same page.  “The Royal Wedding.”  She read it again.  This was tricky.  It was good.  But it wasn’t great.  To get it great meant working really hard.  She looked up at the shelves directly before her.

“Books on legal practice?  Wow.  Just what the doctor ordered.  This is a sign.  I was meant to sit here and study… ‘Employment Law.’”  and that is exactly what Solaima Abbasi did for the next thirty minutes.  It was a lame excuse.  She knew that.  It was a whole heap of rubbish.  It was precisely this stuff that had got her into the whole corporate mess and nightmare in the first place.

“I hate this bullshit.”  She screamed inside her head as she flung the legal book away from her, closing her eyes, with her head in hands in true drama queen form.  “Get a hold of yourself”  She picked up her head and her dairy once again.   “The Royal Family” She read.

This was tricky.  It was good.  But it wasn’t great.  To get it great meant a lot of hard work.  She began to rework it in her new dairy.  She copied it and scribbled and copied then scribbled.  She copied and scribbled – scribbled and copied!  Copied and scribbled – scribbled and copied!  Until a strange thought crept up in her mind exclaiming,  “Oh my God!  What if they sue me…The Royal Family.  What if the Royal Family sue me for this poem?!  Am I insane?”

She turned back the pages of her dairy to the meticulously recorded proceedings of the past events. Stories.  Short stories.  Juicy stories.  Back to the times when she had begun to write in explicit detail – the same stories that always excited her so much.

–          Oh God, how can I rewrite these?

–          How can I release these?

–          They’re just too much.

–          This is trouble.

–          Writing poems is one thing, it’s a puzzle.

–          Even I don’t understand my own poems straight away.

–          But stories?

–          With dialogue?

–          Openly unleashing what goes on your brain?

–          Stephen King never feared it.

–          Neither did Tarantino.

–          Why is it they would not rather die of shame before letting the world know exactly how strange and twisted they really are?

–          But what if I released it anonymously…?

–          But then how would anyone know how great I am?

–          But what if it’s all stupid?

This is stupidThis is no place to make an office.  Silly notions! You-Silly-little-girl.”

No, it was no good – this city for her was like hell on Earth, designed like a Utopia; yet still uncultured, uncivilised, uneducated and created for fuelling desire.  It had been calculatedly fabricated to feed consumers with useless commodities, creating an insatiable hedonistic culture for the mass market, we call our economy.  Whether we be made of wealth or poverty – this requisite for self-indulgence has been carefully constructed to stick with anybody who so chooses to live, ‘in-the-city-life’.  After all it’s the only way we can survive.  Wanting, wishing, craving, but never really yearning… longing… needing!

“Oh…Forget this!”   This time, she was headed for the Birmingham Central Library.

The Museum:

It was a detour – because, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery has one of the largest collections of pre-Raphaelite paintings in England.  She had gone to look upon art, but could not absorb any of it.  It washed over her, as she asked the same question again and again. What if the Royal Family sue me?

“No news is good news!” she told Arthur Hughes, pondering over The Long Engagement,

“Good news is no news!” she said to Ford Madox Brown, stopping at The Last of England.

“There is no such thing as bad publicity.” concluded Solaima at Simeon Solomon’s, Perseus with the Head of Madusa.

“Let them sue me!”  She cried as she scurried out of the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

The Library

Surprising as it may sound, this location used to be one of Solaima’s favourite places in Birmingham – until of course they had started to build the ‘New Library’ scheduled to be completed by 2013.  The last time she had been there, in September 2011, she had asked for a list of books that she had desperately needed, but was told they had already been moved.

“So, I’m not going to get to see any of them until 2013?”  She had demanded.

“That’s right.” the grey haired man behind the inquiries desk had flatly told her, “Sorry.”

“Well that’s just…Great!” She had gritted back.

Since that time, it had upset her too much to go back there.  Things had to get worse before they could get better, but this place that had offered her and so many other souls a place for refuge.  The location that she had always bragged as holding the title of being ‘the third most used library in the whole of Great Britain’ had now deteriorated into  – well, quite frankly ‘a-disorganised- shit-hole!’ But today she frantically rushed in and straight to the only computer monitor on the central lending library floor.  She entered the online library catalogue, clicked Author, typed in Fowles, J and hit enter.  A list of biographies came up.  The French Lieutenants woman.      The Magus. The Collector… and there it was:  Mantissa.  She clicked on it and waited.  Nothing.  Clicked again.  Nothing.  Lo and behold the computer had frozen.  She clicked and clicked and clicked again.  Nothing.  It had crashed.  Maybe it was the intensity of her emotions that caused this adverse reaction (?)

“What’s wrong with this place?”  She demanded the computer screen.

She got up and went to the Adult fictions section.  Went straight to the classics, scoured the shelf for F.  Ran through the names alphabetically and there he was.  Fowles, J:  Four copies of The French Lieutenant’s Woman??  Two of the Collector…??

“What?  Is that it?”  She thought…

“No!” Solaima protested out loud.  The young man stood above her looked down and startled for a second, but then obviously thought it best to continue along with his own business.  “NO!”  She said again liberally.  She stood up from her squat; scoured and searched the entire F section for a further ten minutes in vain hoping that someone had placed the book in the wrong place.  It was no good.  She went back down stairs to the enquiries desk.  The monitor next to it had changed its screen.  “Maybe it was working again.”  She sat back down to search once more.  Again it froze upon the same word, ‘Mantissa’.

It was no good she had to ask for assistance.  There was a very long queue of people waiting to be served, despite the self check in, check out machines that stood uselessly on the opposite side of the enquiries desk.  There were only two librarians serving.  But the queue mounted only on one side of the desk and at the other a couple were stood slumped over the librarian’s computer monitor who was assisting them with their search.  Solaima joined them standing behind, slightly agitated.

“If the computer hadn’t crashed I would have been quite self sufficient at searching myself.”  She waited for about five minutes.  The couple seemed like they were having no luck either as their constant tuts and sighs indicated, accompanied by the Librarians sympathetic oh’s and ahhh’s.  “Come on, come on…” she thought, tapping her feet and rolling her eyes.  The librarian looked across at her.  She smiled back politely.

“Do you want to join the queue?”  She uttered bluntly and pointed towards the long line on the other side of the desk.  Solaima followed the end of her pointed finger with her head and saw all the people in the queue oogling at her, as if she had committed a crime which was unheard of in England.

Well, of course she didn’t want to join the bloody queue.  She had only wanted to search for a book…but their blasted computer had broken down…did the queue want to relieve itself by using the self check in/check out desk…she wondered.

She walked to the back of the queue.  Fuming.  How dared she to speak to her in such a manner?  There were politer ways of persuasion.  She hadn’t realised there was only one queue.  She couldn’t bare this level of ignorance.  She walked back to the computer monitor next to the obtuse librarian who had unlawfully put her in my place.  She tapped the keyboards space bar with her index finger repeatedly.  The damn thing was still frozen.  The same librarian looked up at her with raised eye-brows.  Solaima went to say something, but her words got stuck for all the profanity running through her brain.  The inquiring woman’s eyebrows had frozen in their expression.  The couple at the desk turned around to stare – all waiting to hear what she had to say…  But no words came out.  Only tears welled in her eyes.  She looked back at the queue of people who were all gawping at her in their anticipation to see what she was planning on doing next.  Had it come to this? She had never thought she would ever see the day that even one of the most amiable and helpful types of people (i.e…’The Librarians’) would come to be so very hostile….But unfortunately for Solaima no words would come out.  And all that pent up frustration and anger only manifested itself through the tears that were now beginning to stream down her face…

Living Dangerously.

Solaima picked up the keyboard belonging to the useless computer that had frozen on her and ripping it off its attached base.  She hurled it across the lending library floor with ferocious might and gusto, screaming at the top of her lungs as she did, “You Stupid Bitch!”

Sadly that day, it ended in tears when she was escorted out of that great place of learning; hands cuffed behind her back, by police officers who took her into custody at the Birmingham Metropolitan Police station. There she was questioned for two hours on suspicion of terrorism (presumably because her name was Solaima Abbasi and her parents were from Palestine). Luckily however, they released her on bail when they realised that she was nothing but ‘a-silly-little-girl with anger management issues’ as she told them she had been “Bored silly.”

Unfortunately for her, when faced with trial at the City Magistrates Court, she was charged with “Breach of The Peace”.  As well as having to pay a hefty fine, she was banned from the Birmingham Central Library for a month thereafter and had to serve community service for a fortnight.  As well as this she was ordered by the judge to maintain regular, weekly appointments with a Psycho-dynamic psychotherapist, where she could talk about…her feelings…about herself…and other people…(…especially her family…and those who were close to her).  But every week she went and talked she was sure that the psychologist had fallen asleep when she told him:

  • what was happening in her life
  • how she thought it had a part to play in things going right or wrong for her
  • what had happened in the past
  • how the past had affected how she was feeling, thinking and behaving right now (?)

What’s more, the court had issued her to write a letter of apology to the fat-four-eyed-librarian at the inquiries desk telling her that, in fact – she wasn’t ‘a stupid bitch’ for pointing out which way the queue started, when Solaima Abbassi had tried to jump it.

” Fucking Great.” Solaima had concluded, “Next time I’m working from home!”


Playing it safe.

But unfortunately for Solaima no words would come out.  And all that pent up frustration and anger only manifested itself through the tears that were now beginning to stream down her face…

…The librarian, the couple, the people in the queue began to look very embarrassed for her.  She gave up, turned around, ran past the queue down the escalator, out into the square and kept on running till she found a quite spot in Birmingham City Centre, to just sit down and have good old fashioned cry, ” Fucking Great.” Solaima had concluded, ”Next time I’m working from home!” and she solemnly swore never to step foot into Birmingham Central Library again until 2013.


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