Serial fiction. Updated at 6.00am UTC on Monday and Friday.

20: Issa

As he left the room at the end of the session, Issa didn’t see Carol coming towards him; nor did he see her raised eyebrows as he shot past her. He wouldn’t have cared even if he had, however: as it had been since he overheard Oscar talking, his mind was on getting a copy of The Crucible for himself. He knew he could read it on his phone, but he somehow knew that that wasn’t nearly the same as having the play in his hands, there in front of him, so he could feel the sharp sheets of paper the text was printed on, trace the words with his fingers as he pored over it, devoured it.

During the latter part of today’s session, he realised that the first thing he had to do was go home: he didn’t have much money on him, and usually never brought out his bank card in case he was tempted to spend money he couldn’t afford. He would have to go to his flat to either get his card, or to scrape together any coins that might be there, perhaps from his penny jar. Yes, that would be better: he wanted to make sure he had enough money in his bank account as his phone bill was due, and he’d soon need to top up his electricity meter card.

A couple of hours later, Issa found himself standing at the doors of the large branch of Waterstones in Orchard Square, with a ball of change bulging in his pocket. The urgency of his mission negated his normal tendency to hesitation: though he had always been intimidated by this place, with its rows and rows of bookshelves spread over two floors, he now knew he had to go in, and to find what he needed without worrying if he belonged there.

On entering, Issa realised that he had no idea of where to look for The Crucible, or even how to look. This was the first time he would ever buy a book with his own money; the few books he possessed had been given to him by Justin. There were so many shelves. Where would he start? After a couple of minutes wandering around he had deduced that the shelves were organised in broad sections, like ‘Fiction’ or ‘History’, but was getting impatient. He wanted to get the play, and go home and read it. This meant he had to do something he normally wouldn’t, and approach one of the people that worked in the shop for help. There seemed to be no-one free in this part of the shop so, after some minutes queuing, he found himself at the payment desk. The man behind it was looking at his till when Issa approached.

‘Sorry to keep you waiting. How can I help?’

‘Hello. I am looking for… The Crucible.’

The man looked up.

‘OK. Let’s see if we have it in stock.’

The assistant must have seen Issa’s disappointed expression. He’d never considered he might leave without a copy.

‘I’m sure we will: there are usually a few schools studying it. Worth checking, though, eh?’

Issa nodded, and waited. Soon, the assistant smiled.

‘Success! It’s in the section with all of the other plays.’

He saw Issa’s confusion.

‘Want me to show you?’

‘Yes, please’

The man turned to his colleague on the next till.

‘Betty. I’m just going to help this customer. Hold the fort? Back in a bit.’

He then tuned back to Issa.

‘Come on, follow me. We’ll get you a nice copy.’

When Issa bought it, counting out his change, he thanked the assistant and agreed that it was a nice copy.

Later, though, at home on his bed, how the book looked was the last thing Issa was thinking of. As soon as he had got home, he had started reading, and had not stopped. Having just finished, he was struggling to control the maelstrom of emotions that was swirling around inside him. He couldn’t describe what he felt, but knew that he was awestruck, that Miller’s words had struck a chord in him like nothing else he could recall; what he had read chimed a resonance deep inside him, for reasons he could not begin to approach.

He turned again to the final pages, to Proctor’s confession, and, once again, felt the tears coursing out of him, splashing onto the open pages. After a moment he closed the book, and then laid there for countless seconds, lost in another time.

Eventually, a new thought came, and he followed it like a beacon back to the present. Issa knew what he would do. He knew how he would risk himself. He would be Proctor, and ask Oscar to be Danforth, and they would perform together, there in front of everyone, and everything would change. Finally putting his book aside, Issa laid there until the dark came, his eyes wide open, turning what he had read and what he would do over and over in his mind. Eventually, somehow, he slept, but when he woke next morning, exhausted, he could not remember having lost consciousness.


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