The guy in the library

Evy Tam Liu grew up in several countries and she reads books in various languages. Ideas for her short stories come from conversations she has with people she meets through chance encounters. She studied a MSc in Medical Genetics in the University of Glasgow and is currently working in clinical trials. e:

It was as unexpected and brief as the appearance of the sun that day; that sun that shone in through the windows and skylights of the library café as we spoke. A day that had started out dark and cold, the wind and rain falling, hurrying me along from my flat to begin a long day of study.

The course was nearly over, only a last exam to do and one job offer already received. It was a good moment in my life, though also a sadness that my time as a student would soon be gone. But it wasn’t an afternoon for worrying about the future. All that would come later. The quietness of the library this afternoon, most people having finished their assessments by now, it was something to be enjoyed before life took me away.

And I wanted a cup of coffee before settling down to study.


As soon as the lift doors opened, I saw the café was closed – at the same time realizing I didn’t have any coins for the vending machine.

For some reason, I carried on walking through that area anyway, it was usually so much busier than this, and you didn’t get as much daylight anywhere else in the building. I slung my backpack on one of the tables and took a seat. I would listen to some music, close my eyes, a little relaxation first, then I’d push myself to begin.


I didn’t notice him till he was already next to me, feeling myself jump inside at the movement, someone approaching out of the corner of my eye.


I took my earphones out and looked up. Hello, I said.

I just put a two-pound coin in the coffee machine, and it won’t give out my change. He held his cup up for me to see. I have one, so you can press for the other, if you like.

I smiled. Ok.


From where I stood in front of the machine, I could see him moving round onto the sofa by the stairs, taking a sip of his drink. I wasn’t even sure I wanted one now. If I could have given him the money, it would have been fine. I turned and looked at him properly, knowing his head was safely tilted over his book.


I knew that in the future, I would come to forget many things – I would forget the little crop of orange flowers my flatmates had planted right outside the doors of the student halls because the dull space of brown mud and grass had depressed us every morning, and I would forget the way the ripple of laughter would travel slowly round the huge lecture-halls whenever one of our classmates would make a joke. These, and other things like them, were the stuff of my student days; but they were not important and they would soon disappear from my mind. Yet I understood that I would always remember the way he sat back on that couch, resting the small paper cup on the arm of it, his face lowered to face the page, the sun showing the sandy lightness of his hair. It was a moment where I was not just someone else moving around in the background – it was mine.


I pressed the button for a cappuccino, then glanced back again. He definitely seemed a bit older. The machine rattled and that whirring, spilling sound came from inside it. He was so attractive. I had to let myself think it.

I lifted the cup out slowly, drank the foam off the top so it was at a level where I could carry without dripping, and started to walk.

What’s your name?

He seemed surprised. Danny, he said. He had crossed his legs on the little table in front and looked quite comfortable.

Thanks for the coffee. Was really nice of you. He grinned. No worries.

Neither of us spoke for a few seconds. I could tell he wasn’t sure whether to keep looking up at me or go back to his book.

What are you reading?

It was funny, how awkwardly he put his feet down on the floor again and sat up straight, as if he was addressing one of his tutors. There was a woman at a computer not far off and she was talking quietly on the phone, but other than that the café was silent.


He said he was a writer. Taking some time off from his dayjob to write a novel. I nodded. He explained he worked as an optometrist to make a good living, but that he thought of his life in words and the only thing he enjoyed was writing. And reading. I just listened. I don’t think anybody asked him about this much, as he kept on talking. I wanted to read about the characters he created, but he didn’t offer.


We spoke a little longer, then I went back to my table. I looked at him once more, seeing only the left side of him, his face in profile. He was tasting his coffee again. I watched. Our chance meeting was at an end, it was time for me to lose myself in words too .


Staring down at the books on the table-top, my mind wandered again to thoughts of my career. I would accept the offer I had, and then I too would have a dayjob. It was that, or go back to my own country. I had to stay. There was still something for me in Scotland, I was sure of it.


I was writing on my notepad when I noticed he was there again, next to me, standing by my chair. I hadn’t seen or heard him.

Do you have a spare pen? he said.

I moved to lift my bag when I felt him take the pencil from my fingers. He knelt down and wrote something on a piece of paper. I could see it was his phone number.

Let me know if you fancy another coffee sometime. He smiled, and left.

I didn’t turn to watch him go. I held the cup with both hands and slowly took another sip of the cappuccino, feeling its warmth through my fingers. As the soft sunlight passed in the window onto me, onto the table and the page in front of me, I kept writing. ●

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