Tess had spent the past week dodging her co-workers and finding other places to eat her lunch. There weren’t really any grassy things nearby but she’d made do with benches overlooking concrete expanses left over from the seventies. Occasionally, if she wanted to, she’d take the extra time and walk over to the Thames. Even on murky and grimy days it lifted her a little. Still full of so much potential, the Thames had meant so much to London. Now, people just walked by it. Another bit of nature to be ignored and controlled, but not by Tess.
Today she was too tired to go anywhere really, and she felt grumpy that she had to give up so much time to find some space. Why didn’t the world make space for her? She never could figure that out. Finally, she asked Kate, the crying red-haired girl, where she went for lunch. Like most other people she ate at her desk or went out for a baguette which she ate on the way back. That didn’t sound much like lunch to Tess. Who didn’t necessarily need extra time for food, or for eating, but she did need some space, some time in the day, just for her.
Kate had mentioned some sort of cafeteria, or outside area upstairs, and that was what led Tess to be standing inside a colossal atrium, dumbfounded. The open space covered the area in the middle of the building, there were tables and chairs drifting out from the pretty high end cafeteria. It was filled with trees, plants but most importantly, light. It was green, and comfortable and pretty empty. Tess felt a childish sense of excitement and, abandoning the lunch box in her bag, sprung for a Panini, and coffee, and cake. Then she sat, quietly, in the corner, eyeing the space, taking in everything around her.
It felt like one great echo chamber, sounds carried, but not too loudly or harshly. It felt more like distant whale song. If whales were a bit quieter, maybe because they were shocked at finding themselves in a central London office building. Tess couldn’t understand why there weren’t more people there. Some groups came and went, but for the most part there were just a few loners like herself. She hoped that it was like this every day. Every day she could come here, she could bring her pad maybe. She felt excited for a full moment before she realised how tired she was. How tired this job made her. She couldn’t draw at night, what made her think she’d be bothered at lunchtime. Yeah, sure, it was perfect. She’d be awake, free from work, she could draw at lunchtime. But she knew that she simply wouldn’t.
She let her self-doubt drift away from her and continued to eat her Panini, glancing around the space at the other people, buried in their books and newspapers. Even with her self-doubt and the inevitable self-loathing on account of her self-doubt, her heart still tugged at the idea of drawing that person, or that plant. Or those shrubs, and maybe improvising around them? Or the colours, the suits against the dark greens. Endless choices, and as long as she didn’t actually think about taking a pen in her hand her mind could run wild with ideas of what she could do here.
As she finished her Panini she clutched for a biro from her bag and began to scribble on the serviette leftover. It was a quick sketch, it didn’t mean anything, it was automatic. If only she’d ever tried not to think about it, just to do it, she would have done a lot by now. But it was something she’d never learned to turn off. As her pen wandered so did her eyes. They settled on a man in the corner, shuffling his newspaper. He wore a dark suit, with dark hair, and a dark expression. He seemed stiff and ornate, like he could be snapped in two.
She idly began to draw him, his stiff suited legs, his angled elbows. She turned her attention back to the serviette and became consumed by the darkness of his suit, shading with a black biro could be kind of time-consuming, but it could be done. When she looked up the man had pulled down his newspaper to rearrange it. For a moment they locked eyes, she looked down quickly, ashamed. When she looked back up he was buried back in his paper. She felt she should stop, but then she didn’t want to. She continued to draw him, and shade him, and draw the space around him, before he checked his watch, folded his paper, got up, and walked away.