Chapter no 63 – Living Versus Understanding

The Midnight Library

A few minutes later her brother came to see her. He’d heard the voicemail she’d sent him and had responded by text at seven minutes aer midnight. ‘You okay, sis?’ en, when the hospital contacted him, he’d caught the first train from London. He’d bought the latest issue of National Geographic for her while waiting at St Pancras station.

‘You used to love it,’ he told her, as he placed the magazine beside the hospital bed.

‘I still do.’

It was good to see him. His thick eyebrows and reluctant smile still intact. He walked in a little awkward, head cowed, hair longer than it had been in the last two lives in which she had seen him.

‘I’m sorry I’ve been incommunicado recently,’ he said. ‘It wasn’t about what Ravi said it was about. I don’t even think about e Labyrinths any more. I was just in a weird place. Aer Mum died I was seeing this guy and we had a very messy break-up and I just didn’t want to have to talk to you or, recently, to anyone about it. I just wanted to drink. And I was drinking too much. It was a real problem. But I’ve started getting help for it. I haven’t had a drink for weeks. I go to the gym and everything now. I’ve started a cross-training class.’

‘Oh Joe, poor you. I’m sorry about the break-up. And everything else.’ ‘You’re all I’ve got, sis,’ he said, his voice cracking a little. ‘I know I haven’t

valued you. I know I wasn’t always the best, growing up. But I had my own shit going on. Having to be a certain way because of Dad. Hiding my sexuality. I know it wasn’t easy for you but it wasn’t easy for me either. You were good at everything. School, swimming, music. I couldn’t compete . . .

Plus Dad was Dad and I had to be this fake vision of whatever he thought a man was.’ He sighed. ‘It’s weird. We both probably remember it in dierent ways. But don’t leave me, okay? Leaving the band was one thing. But don’t leave existence. I couldn’t cope with that.’

‘I won’t if you won’t,’ she said. ‘Trust me, I’m not going anywhere.’

She thought of the grief that had floored her when she had heard about Joe’s death by overdose in São Paulo, and she asked him to hug her, and he obliged, delicately, and she felt the living warmth of him.

anks for trying to jump in the river for me,’ she said. ‘What?’

‘I always thought you didn’t. But you tried. ey pulled you back. ank you.’

He suddenly knew what she was talking about. And maybe more than a little confused about how she knew this, when she had been swimming away from him. ‘Ah, sis. I love you. We were young fools.’

Joe nipped out for an hour. Picked up the keys from her landlord, collected his sister’s clothes and phone.

She saw that Izzy had texted. Sorry I didn’t get back last night/this morning. I wanted a proper discussion! esis antithesis synthesis. e whole works. How are you? I miss you. Oh, and guess what? I’m thinking of coming back to the UK in June. For good. Miss you, my friend. Also, have a TON of humpback pics coming your way. xxx

Nora made a slight noise of involuntary joy at the back of her throat.

She texted back. It was interesting, she mused to herself, how life sometimes simply gave you a whole new perspective by waiting around long enough for you to see it.

She went on the Facebook page of the International Polar Research Institute.

ere was a photograph of the woman she had shared a cabin with – Ingrid – standing with the field leader Peter, using a thin measuring drill to gauge the thickness of sea ice, and a link to an article headlined ‘IPRI research confirms last decade warmest on record for Arctic region’. She shared the link. And posted a comment: ‘Keep up the great work!’ And decided that when she earned some money, she would donate.

It was agreed that Nora could go home. Her brother ordered an Uber. As they were pulling out of the car park Nora saw Ash driving into the hospital. He must have been on a late shi. He had a dierent car in this life. He didn’t see her, despite her smile, and she hoped he was happy. She hoped he only had an easy shi of gall bladders ahead of him. Maybe she would go along and watch him in the Bedford half-marathon on Sunday. Maybe she would ask him out for a coee.


In the back of the car, her brother told her he was looking for some freelance session work.

‘I’m thinking of becoming a sound engineer,’ he said. ‘Vaguely, anyway.’

Nora was happy to hear this. ‘Well, I think you should do it. I think you’d like it. I don’t know why. I’ve just got a feeling.’


‘I mean, it might not be as glamorous as being an international rock star, but it might be . . . safer. Maybe even happier.’

at was a tough sell, and Joe wasn’t entirely buying it. But he smiled and nodded to himself. ‘Actually, there’s a studio in Hammersmith and they’re looking for sound engineers. It’s only five minutes from me. I could walk it.’

‘Hammersmith? Yes. at’s the one.’ ‘What do you mean?’

‘I mean, I just think it sounds good. Hammersmith, sound engineer. It sounds like you’d be happy.’

He laughed at her. ‘Okay, Nora. Okay. And that gym I was telling you about? It’s right next door to the place.’

‘Ah, cool. Any nice guys there?’

‘Actually, yes, there is one. He’s called Ewan. He’s a doctor. He goes to cross-training.’

‘Ewan! Yes!’


‘You should ask him out.’

Joe laughed, thinking Nora was just being playful. ‘I’m not even one hundred per cent sure he’s gay.’

‘He is! He’s gay. He is one hundred per cent gay. And one hundred per cent into you. Dr Ewan Langford. Ask him out. You have to trust me! It will be the best thing you ever do . . .’

Her brother laughed as the car pulled up at 33A Bancro Avenue. He paid, on account of Nora still having no money and no wallet.

Mr Banerjee sat at his window, reading.

Out on the street, Nora saw her brother staring in astonishment down at his phone.

‘What’s up, Joe?’

He could hardly speak. ‘Langford . . .’ ‘Sorry?’

‘Dr Ewan Langford. I didn’t even know his surname was Langford but that’s him.’

Nora shrugged. ‘Sibling intuition. Add him. Follow him. DM him. Whatever you have to do. Well, no unsolicited nude pics. But he’s the one, I’m telling you. He’s the one.’

‘But how did you know it was him?’

She took her brother by the arm, and knew there was no explanation she could possibly give. ‘Listen to me, Joe.’ She remembered the anti-philosophy of Mrs Elm in the Midnight Library. ‘You don’t have to understand life. You just have to live it.’

As her brother headed towards the door of 33A Bancro Avenue, Nora looked around at all the terraced houses and all the lampposts and trees under the sky, and she felt her lungs inflate at the wonder of being there, witnessing it all as if for the first time. Maybe in one of those houses was another slider, someone on their third or seventeenth or final version of themselves. She would look out for them.

She looked at number 31.

rough his window Mr Banerjee’s face slowly lit up as he saw Nora safe and sound. He smiled and mouthed a ‘thank you’, as if simply her act of living was something he should be grateful for. Tomorrow, she would find some money and go to the garden centre and buy him a plant for his flowerbed. Foxgloves, maybe. She was sure he liked foxgloves.

‘No,’ she called back, blowing him a friendly kiss. ‘ank you, Mr Banerjee! ank you for everything!’

And he smiled broader, and his eyes were full of kindness and concern, and Nora remembered what it was to care and be cared for. She followed her brother inside her flat to start tidying up, catching a glimpse of the clusters of irises in Mr Banerjee’s garden as she went. Flowers she hadn’t appreciated

before, but which now mesmerised her with the most exquisite purple she had ever seen. As though the flowers weren’t just colours but part of a language, notes in a glorious floral melody, as powerful as Chopin, silently communicating the breathtaking majesty of life itself.

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