Written by: Oran Bailey (Philosophy, 2016)
On the rear side of the Trent Building, at the bottom of a grassy slope, on the other side of a rock wall, there sits the lake. All of the UoN students know of it. Anyone who frequents Trent Café will know it especially well: most will try to steal a seat near to the windows on a bright day so they can get a look at it, hemmed in by tall trees tickled by the wind. But it’s not the pretty sights that draw the students to observe; no, it’s the legend of the girl.
She comes most days and sits on the steps, gazing at the lake for some time—not long, maybe twenty minutes or so—and does nothing else. She doesn’t approach or play on her phone or read, and she certainly does not go with friends. She just sits there, then leaves. Some people who sit on the outside benches near to the steps have thought about engaging her but stop when they see headphones. Besides, there was a kind of poetic beauty to it all, to just Let Her Be. In the whirling angst of making your supposed Best Years Count, a sense of regularity, an urban legend of sorts, was a comfort; it was a semblance of something fixed and comfortable that wasn’t possible with things as stressful as lectures or seminars.
It took Erin until near the end of her second year to realise this mysterious girl was her. She was ghostlike in a way, noticed but never interacted with. And that made her a little sad because she was connecting people together who would trade stories and bond over her, but she was still separate from them all, a spectacle to be observed, consumed. Despite that she was still intrigued at what people thought.
Her friends didn’t know—she hadn’t told them.
In fact, she found herself in Trent Café with them, listening to them discuss whether or not The Girl would show.
They’d picked seats closest to the window and stole glances between bites of their paninis and heated conversation. It was strange to her that they didn’t know it was her: hadn’t they ever seen her there? The more she thought, the less likely it was. She was with them most of the time, and she’d only go when they weren’t together, which meant they weren’t anywhere near the Trent Building.
One thing that always came up with the discussions she heard over time was what The Girl was thinking about when she gazed at the waves. Again, it saddened her that someone didn’t just go up to her and ask. They’d rather invent and speculate.
The truth was that she didn’t go to the lake to think, but to not think.
The stresses of her life got to their boiling point in her first year so she either had to explode—and risk collapse—or find a way to unload and stay intact. She had made a list of things that would make her explode and the things that would make her unload. She had many in the “explode” column, but only three in the “unload” column: alcohol, sex, and a Pensieve. The first could get expensive and risky, so it might actually fit the “explode” column after all. The second: fat chance; and the third was even less likely (unless, of course, there was a lesser-known witchcraft and wizardry university with a letter in the post for her). She thought of music and wrote it down into the “unload” column, but then shifted it to “explode”. That still didn’t please her, so she set it between the two. Then she put down walking in the “unload” column. One and a half things. It was good enough. University Park was kind of tranquil at night anyway.
She put R.E.M.’s “Radio Free Europe” on and then put her phone on shuffle. It should’ve been scary: branches shuffling in the breeze, unlit streetlamps, the shadows gathering at the top of Portland Hill.
Even Hallward looked a little ominous at night, and that was well-lit. It might be the brutalism, the long and thin windows on the upper floors, the fear of strangers gazing at her.
But she passed them by, trailed past the New Theatre and drifted towards the Trent Building, music and shadows her companions. In a weird way her feet took her to her destination long before she had consciously realised what was happening. At that time, she was chasing the clock tower absently, but rather than going right to the courtyard and look at it from there, she went left and down the steps, following the path around to the right.
Then she laid her eyes upon it.
It was perfect. She wandered over to the steps and sat. There was something so enticing about it, so tranquil. The gates on the opposite side leading to the boulevard behind it, the cars rumbling along, the clock tower just overhead, and the water … Her memories seemed to be sapped away by the undulating waves and reflected at her. She could be free of her pain for a short while, could physically feel it escape her. When she felt suitably drained of it, she would leave and return to what she wanted to do, her steps with way more bounce to them.
Reflecting on it on that day with her friends was when she realised why she hadn’t told them: it was something private, a shared thing between her and the lake. To tell people about it would betray that bond, and their relationship would be severed—she wouldn’t be able to unload and she’d be at a loss to find a new way to do that. So no, she couldn’t tell anyone. In a way people knew that too, which is why they didn’t approach. To share it would be to break the allure, the mystery.
It was too precious for such a thing to be lost.