The Monday after was induction day and James was walking arm in arm with Amelia into the John Lennon Arts and Design building, neighbouring the Cathedral. They went into the main lecture theatre and sat down at the top. He rested his feet on the wall in front that separated the balcony from the rest of the lower seats. It was empty except for them. But then what did they expect? It was half nine and the induction started at ten, but Amelia loved to be early so he’d agreed to be dragged along. Not every time though.
‘I was in here on the open day,’ Amelia said.
‘Yeah, all those seats were packed away.’
James tried to imagine what the room would look like and realised that he too had also been in that room on an open day.
‘How many people do you think will be on the course?’ he asked.
‘If we’re in this hall quite a few I guess.’ She threw him a wicked smile. ‘So…you still haven’t told me what happened last Thursday?’
‘Nothing happened. I saw you with your marine man and I went home.’
‘Bullshit! I saw you sneak out with a guy.’ That grin was still on her face.
Fuck. ‘Nothing happened. I swear we just went outside to chat, then I went home.’
‘Of course.’ She rolled her eyes and left it at that.
Thank fuck. People shuffled in taking random seats, some in groups, some alone until the clock at the front hit ten. The room was packed with only a few empty seats. The tutor at the front stepped up to the podium. He was bald, dressed in black pants and a white shirt.
‘Hello and welcome. My name is Charlie Logan and I will be your course leader for your next three years.’ He smiled.
Logan introduced each of the staff members sat on a row of chairs behind him. When he finished the door opened and a late student walked in. James’s stomach dropped. Breath caught in his throat. Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!
Harris walked in and mumbled his apologies for his lateness. He looked up and out of all the faces he could spot, his eyes met James’s and he grinned. Seriously Fuck!
Harris walked up the staircase. He looked good. Dressed in skinny black jeans and a white shirt that like the other night was open at the collar. No he doesn’t look good. Well he does but not in that way. Fuck! Why is he coming over here?
Harris sat down in the empty seat next to James. ‘Hey, long time no see.’ He smiled. That cheeky smile. No, not again, no urges.
‘Hey.’ He focused back on Logan, ignoring the smile Amelia was giving him.
The induction went on for another half an hour before Logan read out the groups assigned to each tutor and guess what? Harris was with him, but at least Amelia was as well. What the fuck is the universe doing to him?
‘Again I extend my welcome to you and hope you love your three years here at John Moores,’ Logan said.
The room buzzed as all the students shuffled out. Their group was first to meet up in twenty minutes at the Dean Walters building. It’s next to the Anglican Cathedral. He must have walked passed it the other morning.
‘So James, are you going to introduce me?’ Harris grinned.
‘Amelia, this is Harris. Harris, this is Amelia.’ He pointed from one to the other without looking at either.
Harris smirked. ‘Is he always like this?’
‘Only when he’s tired. He shouldn’t be staying up all night.’
As if she just said that? James jogged down the stairs, with the other two laughing behind him.
‘What were you doing last night, James?’ Harris called.
He heard their giggles behind him. He shouldn’t be acting like this. Harris seemed like a decent guy, was a decent guy. He shouldn’t be acting like such a dick. He slowed down and let the other two catch up when they exited the building.
They walked up Rodney Street, Harris telling them that he’d chosen Liverpool to be as far away from his parents as possible, but also have a direct train back to London.
They reached the Dean Walter’s building with its white dome and circular café.
‘What room was it again?’ Amelia asked.
‘207,’ James said, looking for the signs. ‘This way.’
They walked up a staircase followed by a longer spiral staircase and down a corridor until they reached the room. It was a large bare room, with blue walls and windows looking out onto the square, Cathedral and gardens. There were tables set out in a U-shape surrounded by chairs. They sat down on the left side of the room. At the front was an interactive whiteboard hanging between two normal whiteboards. Again they were the first in. That wasn’t happening every time. Again they watched as other students shuffled into the room.
James opened his satchel, taking out his black and gold pen, his leather journal and a pad of paper. His journal was only for his thought and drawings. And Harris’s number.
‘How do you two know each other anyway?’ Amelia asked.
Now she was pushing it. She knew exactly how.
‘We don’t really,’ Harris said. ‘We met at the K last week.’
‘Nothing.’ Harris grinned. ‘We just talked.’
James glanced at him. Tried to silently thank him for not telling her.
‘Well, that’s boring.’ She laughed, warmly.
Nosey yes, but kind and beautiful as well. They’d only known each other a week, but he felt a closeness to her. If only he liked her like he did…NO!
The door opened and a thin man walked in. He looked like he’d lost a lot of weight in a very short space of time and his skin had been able to relax from not having to carry so much. ‘Welcome all. My name is Christopher Collins and today we aren’t going to do any writing so you can put all that away.’
The room bristled as everyone filled their bags again.
‘Now, next seminar, I’ll give you all the paper work you need, but for now, we’re just going to talk. I have a simple question I want you all to answer as fully and truthfully as possible.’ He beamed around the room at everyone. ‘Tell me, why do you want to study English?’
No one spoke. The room was silent for a long moment.
Then a short balding guy with an unkempt ginger beard spoke, ‘Literature. Writing is the freest art form. A musical instrument has a set tonal range; even a piano, with eight octaves and the pianist having ten digits, there’s a physical limitation in place.’ He spoke in a soft Liverpool accent, not the kind that sounds as if his mouth is constantly full of spit. ‘With writing, it’s just language and English is the broadest language there is, with the deepest word pool, by far, and what you can do with it. It’s not just a matter of telling stories…look at the breadth of Ulysses. Look at how deep into a character’s psyche Proust went, Woolf went, Joyce again with Bloom in particular… I look at music or film, and I see those limitations. You have to work with people, which means there’s always going to be a certain level of compromising but with literature I just see an expanse of freedom to do what ever I like, to write about anything, however, I like. Even the fervent anti-novels of Robbe-Grillet, which are written against, fighting with what we perceive fiction has to be, are still great, interesting reading.’
James was so impressed by how the guy could express his pure love for literature so clearly, when he had no real clue about himself.
‘Thanks…’ Collins paused.
‘Thank you, Shaun. Have you read Ulysses all the way through?’
Another student mumbled a comment in the corner. James couldn’t hear it, but Collin’s eyes flared with irritation.
‘Lord help us all. Pretentious drivel! Better off with a good walk rather than reading dusty books. What possible hope is there for a country, which with such self-righteous philistinism scorns its own treasures? Ulysses is the greatest novel of the twentieth century. It is wise, warm, witty, affirmative and beautiful. It is less pretentious than a baked bean. Read it. Read it out loud to yourself. It won’t bite. It wasn’t written either to shock or to impress. Only pretentious barbarians believe artists set out shock and how these philistines delight in revealing how un-shocked they are. Those who attack it are afraid of it and rather than look foolish they prefer to heckle what they don’t understand. Ignore all this childish, fear-filled criticism, Ulysses will be read when everything you see and touch around you has crumbled into dust.’
The room was silent…shocked by Collins’s outburst. If Shaun had impressed James, he was more impressed by the passion in his tutor’s voice as he gave that speech. The student who had muttered was sat with his head down, not daring to look Collins in the eye.
‘So next.’ He glanced around. ‘Let’s start here and we’ll make our way around.’ Collins pointed at the girl sat across from Amelia at the other end of the U.
Everyone apparently was either in awe of Shaun’s answer, scared by Collins’s impassioned outburst, or just nervous as hell because they all gave generic answers about how they loved reading and studying that gave them more chance to understand the books they loved. Collins nodded through everyone and thanked each person. It remained like this until Collins’s eyes fell on Harris.
Harris smiled. ‘I’m studying English because I love humanity.’
A one-line answer. No one was expecting that. Not even Collins apparently because he seemed to almost flinch when Harris finished.
‘Would you like to elaborate, Mr?’
‘Harris Stark.’ He was still smiling. ‘I love literature because it shows every single side, pattern, and truth about humanity. It shows the greatest sides and the darkest sides. Books are filled with the vilest characters and yet we feel for those one despite the cruelty they pour onto others. Literature defines every single emotion in thousands of different ways. There is no one side to love, there are hundreds and literature captures them all. From Shakespeare to Wuthering Heights to Harry Potter. And I agree with Shaun. It is the freest form, but also the most informative and emotional form.’
‘Well thank you, Harris.’ Collins grinned, clearly impressed. He looked at James.
Great how was he meant to follow that? Fuck. ‘My name is James and I own four paperback books.’
The same four Harris had rolled his finger across the other night.
‘And those four books have helped me develop into who I am today. That’s what literature does. It helped people to grow and to learn who they are and what they can accomplish. Those four books are what define my life. I have many more books on my iPad, but only those four books truly matter to me.’ He finished and learnt back in his chair. His cheek burned. Blood pumped around his temples. Where had that come from?
‘Thank you, James.’ Success. Collins had the same smile he’d given Harris and Shaun. ‘Would you mind telling us what those four books are?’
‘The Motorcycle Diaries, The Book Thief, Three Musketeers and The Sonnets.’