Latest Winner: Sophie

By Dorothy Cox

Dorothy says: We have made our home in the far south west of Wales, overlooking the Cleddau estuary. I belong to a creative writing group that keeps me inspired and motivated to write my short stories. All done via email right now!

The first time I see her she is walking along the canal towpath. I haven’t been looking for her. She just arrives in my life. That’s how it is. No fanfares or fireworks but all the same, I know she is the one. I follow her carefully, quietly. She walks along the path then crosses the bridge. I follow her to the block of flats at the end of the road. I am glad I have my camera.

The second time I see her we bump into each other in the bookshop doorway. I am on my way back from my lunchbreak. She is just leaving after buying a book.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” we say, in unison, stooping down together to retrieve the book she has dropped. She laughs. A golden, beautiful laugh. She is so beautiful. 

“Thank you,” she says, and is gone.

I have to see her again. My job at the bookshop is only part-time; just two days a week and extra if any of the permanent staff are ill or on holiday. It isn’t ideal, but beggars can’t be choosers. They tell me I am lucky to have a job at all.

“Quite a looker, she is,” says my colleague who had witnessed our collision. “She’s ordered another book. She is going to call on Friday morning. Studying English Lit at Uni.” 

He turns the computer screen towards me. Sophie Bennett. There is a mobile number too. I memorise it. Over the next week I phone it twice just to hear her voice but I cut the call.

No doubt my acquaintances would tell you I have few virtues but I am a patient man. Friday morning finds me sitting in a café across the market square from the bookshop, an unimpeded view of the entrance, my camera in my pocket. I know she will come and, just as I finish my coffee, there she is. I watch her enter the shop. I pay for my coffee and leave in time to see her reappear. She goes immediately into the bakery next door, emerging minutes later munching a croissant. She wanders along the rows of market stalls set up in the square. She buys apples and a CD. I have no trouble keeping her in view. Her red duffel coat and multicoloured scarf stand out from the drab surroundings.

I watch her leave the square and walk up the hill towards the university.  Her figure becomes smaller as she draws away from me. Reaching the top, she disappears through the gates.

I guess that lectures will keep her there for the rest of the day. At 4 o’clock I station myself just inside the entrance gates, confident that I will see her leave. The wait is in vain. By 5 o’clock the whole campus is deserted. Of course, it is Friday. Everyone leaves early. 

I spend a frustrating and miserable weekend wandering around, hoping that I might see her somewhere, or just sitting in my room, with the photographs. I have to work all day on Monday and Tuesday. By Wednesday I am beginning to feel desperate. But wasn’t it Wednesday that she had come into the shop? I assume that she will have lectures too. I walk up the hill to the university entrance. In front of the main building is a courtyard, complete with a rather tired fountain. The water spits out intermittently, and dribbles down the moss-covered stem to the grubby pool at its base.  There are hard concrete benches all around the edge of the courtyard. I choose the bench furthest away from the main doors but with a good view of them.

My patience is rewarded. She emerges mid-afternoon with a group of students, laughing and joking. I slide the camera from my pocket. They turn to walk further up the hill. Is she going with them? I stand up and then, with relief, I see her turn and head off down the hill to the square. Lectures are obviously over for the day. I think she might stop off in the square but she hurries straight across it then over the road to the bus stop. A bus comes along. I make a note of the number 31: Crickworth. I know the Crickworth bus will not take her home and when it pulls away Sophie is still at the stop. She boards the next one and I see the flash of her red coat as she moves along the bus. Number 63: Bankwood. 

I spend hours over the next few days just waiting outside the university hoping I will see her. I must see her. I grow increasingly frustrated. I try phoning again. When she picks up I say nothing. 

Finally, this evening, as I leave the book shop I see her coming into the square, heading for the bus stop. I turn and run as fast as I can. I need to get to the stop before the one where she gets on. I need to be on the bus when she gets on it. Sweating with the effort and wet from the increasing drizzle, I cover the half mile to the bus stop just as the number 63 pulls up. I sit at the back. And yes, there she is, at the next stop.

She gets on and shows the driver her pass. He says something and she smiles at him. I want to scream at him. I grip the rail on the back of the seat in front of me so hard my knuckles are white. She sits in front of me about halfway back, just behind the middle door. I have time now to study her closely. She is so beautiful. The photos don’t do her justice. I can only see her back at the moment but, of course, I saw her face again as she got on the bus. She hasn’t noticed me. Why should she? She doesn’t seem to notice any of the passengers. She is reading a book now. Looking down, her long dark hair falls either side of her face. My last girl had dark hair too, not long but short and curly. She was a waitress in a coffee shop, not really my type at all. I know Sophie is the one I have been waiting for for so long. She is exactly right. I move forward and slide into the seat just behind her. I am close enough to breathe in the scent from her hair.

She is wearing her red duffel coat and the long, long multi-coloured scarf is wrapped around her neck. I guess at her height. 5ft5ins? 5ft6ins? A couple of inches shorter than me, anyway. She is slim too, I am sure. I imagine her without the coat and scarf, imagine her taking them off. . .

On the empty seat beside her she has a hessian bag with some green message on it that I haven’t been able to read. What is in it? Books perhaps? Does she have work to do at home?

Can she sense my stare? I feel that strong connection, that spark, that familiar sensation. I felt it as soon as I saw her that day in the bookshop, and I realised that I had seen her before that, yes, that day on the towpath. Surely she can feel it too. She must. She brushes her hair out of her eyes and over her shoulder, over the coils of the scarf. It almost brushes my face. The faint scent that wafts towards me is something flowery, her hair shines. As she tucks a strand of hair behind her ear, I see her hand. Small, no rings, and short, perfect nails. Her coat sleeve falls back a little and shows a delicate silver watch round a perfect, narrow wrist. 

I know she will get off the bus close to the park. I glance out of the grimy window. It is dark now and the grey drizzle of the afternoon has left everything damp. The bus is almost at the end of its run and we are the only two passengers left. She is so engrossed in her book I don’t think she knows I am here.  She looks up suddenly, realising the bus is almost at her stop.  She drops the book into her bag and scrambles to the door. The bus pulls in. I wait until the doors open, then I stand too, to follow. She steps off and turns to the left. She moves off quickly. I pull my coat collar up against the chill and damp. I wait a moment and then I follow, just far enough behind to keep her in sight. She turns off the lane down the unlit alley way towards the park and the canal towpath, and I follow. I know she is the one. . .