“Manfred,” I whispered, at last, “what are you doing?”
Nonchalantly, he cast his eyes my way.
“What are you doing here? Don’t you have any work to complete?”
Before he was able to answer, Mrs Bell was ordering us to be quiet, at which point Manfred rolled his eyes, smiled back in my direction, and then left the room with his books. It was another half-hour before I was able to enjoy the same luxury, although I was a little more courteous in my departure, wishing Mrs Bell all the best for the holiday period.
“That was rude,” I said to Manfred, half-jokingly, on meeting him outside.
Manfred laughed. “Poor Mrs Bell. Do you realise she thinks I’m actually a part of this faculty?”
“Well,” I said, “we don’t see her again for another four weeks, which is a good thing. Are you still going down to the beach house?”
“Yes,” said Manfred, indicating his bag. “I’m heading down tonight. Did you submit your paper?”
“Yes, but I made mistakes, I’m sure - and I failed to refer to old Crilly’s pertinent points, the ones he stressed so much in his last lecture. God help me.”
Manfred smiled and we headed away. The sun was still high as he joined me in the walk to my residence, a haze of factory smoke hanging motionless over the distant, dun-coloured buildings. It grew thicker the farther we looked, all but obscuring the church spires, and painting the far docklands grey.
“I’ll be glad to be away from here for a while,” said Manfred, looking out over what he saw as a depressing tapestry.
I followed his eyes through the rows of elms and down the hill, into the low flat plain that held the major buildings of the city. My sentiments were not the same. I enjoyed my life in London. I enjoyed the sounds of industry and the movement of people, all going about the important things in their lives. I even enjoyed the city’s moodiness - the way it was right now - the hanging mist of smoke as the day was running down. I felt like a cog in the works of a great machine, and I liked that. In its way, it made me feel like I was going somewhere, as though, in my own small way, I was a part of what made the big city tick.