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Reading Aloud 2

Yan

I saw him at the concert and asked for help with the English part of a manuscript written by a foreign friend of mine. He willingly obliged, but … He was looking round. Where was she ? Do you have to ask your upper headquarters first? I asked him. No, he said determined, took out his diary and found a free day. His wife now turned up and he applied to her. Did she know of anything that might prevent him from keeping his appointment with me ? She shrugged her shoulders and said she didn’t and in any case it was up to him.

On the morning of the appointed day the telephone rang. I wasn’t half surprized. In all probability Yan had struck a problem. It was a matter of knowing which. A business call, he said. He had told them to ring before 10am which meant that he would be a bit later than planned. I was sorry to be a nuisance and in the way of his business, but he protested, on the contrary, it would be a ‘lovely escape’ for him. I managed to nearly finish the minutes of Sunday night’s meeting before he came.

Not having seen me for a few weeks, he told me what had kept him so busy. Then he asked me for my comment on that last evening at Aldous’. I told him, my report about it was nearly ready and he immediately requested to read it. However, I didn’t want to overcharge his digestive system and declined, until it was typed, anyway. I had liked the seating arrangement on that evening, I told him. How nice to be seated between two people I liked. Yes, he said, he was only getting to know Paul, but he certainly thought Paul was a … I forget how exactly he qualified him, but it was appreciative. Paul had contributed a lot of useful ideas to the discussion, Yan thought, apart from you, he added, and seemed very liberal in his views, as opposed to his wife who had appeared to be a ‘strict’ Christian. What was that article about the Church? he then asked, Aldous’ wife had alluded to it several times, it must have upset her. I explained about the depressing evening we had had with them, and he remarked that upsetting people would put them off. We agreed that it was best not to have them on their own, but rather in a ‘diluted’ state, that is, in the company of others. It had worked nicely at the last meeting in Aldous’ house and Yan had found it a pleasant change to have something like an intelligent discussion.

Where’s the work then, he asked next. I pointed to the manuscript laid out on the table. Things I owe to my foreign friend! Without his help I wouldn’t have seen half as much of Yan as I have done. I might never have got to know him the way I have. We sat down at the table side by side. He put his arm round me and wondered how he was going to concentrate. I told him I had no problem. He withdrew his arm, kissed me and then we started work, I reading aloud and he quietly. He said that hearing it at the same time enabled him to take it in more quickly.

He found one or two foreign-sounding phrases which he would have to ponder about at leisure and was very interested by the subject matter altogether. He was learning a lot, he said, and quite forgot his initial suggestion to do it on his own at home, thus leaving us free to do something else, too, like listening to music. He became quite engrossed and turned the pages quickly. After half an hour he thought, my throat must be dry and what about a cup of tea? The idea had never occurred to me. He gave me another big kiss and I made the foolish remark ‘isn’t it lovely’. He answered ‘once in a while’! I got up to make the tea, musing about his last statement. I had to give him, it was honest. I would hate to bore him …

We put the manuscript away, he was going to take it home, along with my own manuscript which I wanted to leave with him while we were away on holiday, and I poured the tea. How about reading something from my own works, he suggested. I was reluctant. He had told me my writings might upset people. I had two little essays about him precisely which after a little hesitation I decided he would have to digest. He buried his head in his hands when he heard what in my experience the word ‘soon’ as used by him meant and following this logically, the expression ‘very soon’. He interrupted me once, saying he hadn’t said that, had he? I told him that in this respect he resembled my husband about whom I write occasionally and who also denies having said things I quote. Unfortunately I don’t have tapes to back me up. Yan thought that half of what I’d written was made up and I was forced to tell him, I didn’t know that I had a good imagination, but certainly a good memory.

I had to interrupt the reading in the end, because I had to go and meet my daughter. Yan packed everything up, saying it would make a ‘lovely novel’, wouldn’t it. I was too much in a hurry to appreciate the compliment at the time, but I did later on. I asked him to take me to school, because it was late. Before we left the house he wondered, should he kiss me bye-bye, would I write about this kiss afterwards ? I said, whether or not he kissed me was his business and whether or not I wrote about it was mine. He laughed and kissed me. You would have fooled me forty years ago, he said.

We picked up my daughter and Yan took us to where we had to be. We arrived in good time. As for him, he would be late home for lunch. I expressed my concern about him being in trouble as a result. He gave me a deep look and a firm ‘no’.