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An Extract from Sara Collins's Short Story Brief Encounters

Posted on 16th February 2021 by Mark Skinner

Who's Loving You is a vibrant new collection of romantic fiction from women of colour and boasts contributions from some of the most exciting contemporary literary voices. Featuring an introduction from the anthology's editor Sareeta Domingo, we are delighted to share an extract from Sara Collins's short story Brief Encounters.

An Introduction by Sareeta Domingo

I’ve been involved in writing and editing romantic fiction for the better part of the last five years. However, like so many areas of the publishing industry in which I’ve worked, I found a frustrating lack of stories that reflected my own experiences as a Black British woman. This dearth of stories felt particularly significant in romance fiction. After all, what more universal human emotion is there than love? Who’s Loving You: Love Stories by Women of Colour was born out of that frustration. I conceived the anthology as a space to allow some of my favourite authors, both established and up-and-coming, to explore the theme of love from their unique perspectives as British women of colour. I couldn’t have been more thrilled when Sara Collins, author of the incredible The Confessions of Frannie Langton agreed to be one of the contributors to Who’s Loving You. Here, you can read an exclusive extract of her beautiful, engrossing and moving story, Brief Encounters...

An Extract from Brief Encounters 

She had decided to try to get some work done, which meant waking up early, packing her bag with laptop, notebook and pens, taking the tube to King’s Cross, then a train. Any train. Going anywhere. It didn’t matter where,so long as she could go there and back in four hours. If she didn’t follow this routine every morning, she wouldn’t know what to do with herself. She needed the chatter around her, the feeling of movement. She was terrified of stillness, of being unable to work. Yet that morning, even after she’d clicked along the platform in her distressing new boots, found herself a seat with a table, and flicked her notebook open, she couldn’t write. Outside, the light made the city seem warm and beautiful, even where it was not, and she liked watching the way world flees from a departing train. So she turned to gaze out the window, feeling herself slip into a kind of restfulness, a feeling that did not come easily to her these days, which was why when she felt the shadow of someone moving into her space, she looked up, prepared to be annoyed.

But it was him.

‘Hey! Oat milk,’ he said.

‘Oh, my god!’ She laughed. It had been so long since she had laughed, for any reason. She found herself wanting to do it again.

He smiled, though he was looking at her warily. 'Seat taken?’

The first thing she noticed was how the light was playing its tricks all over him,  too. Making him seem warm, beautiful. She could see he wanted to say something more to her, but he did not speak. He was probably thinking she was a nutter, given what had happened in the station.

She watched him settling into his seat, so tall he had to pull his legs in. The woman across the aisle looked up from her Leon takeaway breakfast, gave him an admiring glance. Buildings scrolled past them. Beneath her she felt the small vibrations of the train.

‘You must have thought I was a right bitch,’ she said.

He smiled. ‘Either that or you’re having a bitch of a morning.’

‘Even so. I stole your coffee. I’m sorry.’

‘It’s all good. Honestly.’ It sounded like ‘ah-nes-ly’. A little tinge of Jamaica that  reminded her of her dad, whom death had frozen forever as a bus driver coming off his shift and adding fried bacon and Scotch bonnet peppers to his Sunday rice-and-peas while she rested her head on the table beside him, and his chocolatey baritone shivered through her bones: My Bonnie lies over the ocean, My Bonnie lies over the sea . . . Beginning with her dad, she had learned that death is a bit like celebrity in that it fixes you at the age you are when it happens to you.

‘So. Were you?’

‘Pardon?’

‘Having a bitch of a morning?’

‘Oh. All mornings are bitchy, aren’t they? Especially Mondays,’ she said. They laughed together. If she were a different, unbroken, woman, this would be considered flirting. This pit-of-the-stomach feeling, the body connecting itself to something electric. A switch flipping, deep inside. Lust. Attraction. Call it what you want, she was surprised she could still feel it, that she still wanted to feel it. Across the table he gave her a look. He had that deep seam of cockiness that goes right down the backbone of good-looking men, swooping his locs off his forehead with long fingers. (M-m-m-assive hands, m-m-m-magnifi-cent penis! as she and Lucy used to whisper drunkenly to each other during their days rating potential one-night stands in clubs.) He reminded her of the photograph of Fanon she’d pinned on the corkboard above her desk at uni. Intense, watchful. A beautiful, dreadlocked Fanon.

‘Anyway,’ he said, gesturing towards her notebook. ‘Looks like you’re hard at work.’ He was economical in his movements, as if realising he took up too much space already. ‘I’ll leave you to it.’

She felt the feeling of flirtation drifting away, and discovered that she wanted to hold onto it. What harm could it do? To smile, to flirt. To forget, temporarily.

‘I wish,’ she said. ‘I mean – I wish I could work. I’m not getting much done, lately. I’m about to miss a deadline. Whoosh.’ She did a Douglas Adams deadline-flying-over-my-head gesture, instantly regretting how much of a nerd this would make her seem. But he only gave her that ear-to-ear grin again.

‘Ah. A writer.’

‘For two hours every morning on the train. Outside of that, absolutely no writing gets done.’

‘Good plan,’ he said, chuckling.‘I’m sure it’s more than most writers manage?’ The train wobbled and caught itself as they passed through a station where trees huddled together like smokers outside an office building.

‘Not a plan, as such. Just the result of being unable to get anything done at home.’

‘I see.’ He nodded. ‘Kids?’

‘What?’ As soon as she said it, she knew she had beentoo loud, too harsh.

He looked at her strangely. ‘You said you couldn’t work at home.’

‘Oh.’ Her heart knocked against her ribs. ‘Yes. I have a daughter. Saskia. Sassi, we call her. And sassy she is. She’s four. A right little handful.’

The train lurched. Stopped. She was already on the move, straining forward, trying to make out the name of the station, trying to slow her breaths. For a moment, she had felt the pleasure of conversation, of being out in the world,  more importantly of being herself. But she had forgotten that the trouble with going out into the world was other people. She looked over again at the stranger –Seb, had he said his name was Seb? – who was still looking at her  thoughtfully, as if he wanted to say something.

‘This is me,’ she said, pointing, panicking, this second lie scrambling out of her as she scrambled for her things. She had no idea where they were.

‘OK,’ he said, bemused, rubbing his neck. ‘Nice chatting to you.’

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