The night before, I’m looking at a batch of ‘Me & My Dissertation’ photoshoots. They’re taken in the prettiest places on campus (i.e. those without construction work going on in the background) and everyone has at least one shot of Old Joe, the clock tower, looming tall even as its hands lie idle at twelve noon, which they have done for a whole semester.
If only we’d said, as we left to work on dissertations.
[Fun fact – this works as a haiku:
Stopped time. If only
We’d said as we left to work
It dawns on me that I’m planning on going in alone to hand everything in, that I won’t have these photographs, and I get a sinking feeling in my stomach. It’s a ridiculous thing to feel sad about but I can’t help it. A whole three years of university and I’ll end it as alone as I was when I walked in.
I mention it to Frances, someone it took me far too long to make friends with, but I’m very glad I did. We’ve been sharing the pain of overwriting, and the arduous task of cutting down words for every assignment. When I message them, they’ve still got 188 words to obliterate, but they immediately offer to come with me. I’m… well.
Mostly I’m thinking, now it looks like I was hinting at them, but the part of me that’s not soul-contortingly socially awkward is just full of gratitude and relief.
We’re sitting next to each other in a lecture and I spot something on their arm.
“Is that-?” I take an excited breath, “is that Gallifreyan?”
Frances smiles, and says yes, explaining that it’s a quote from Harry Potter written in circular Gallifreyan – time lord language. They go on to muse that this one is a little harder to explain than the other, a bright yellow sunflower beaming from their other forearm.
“Yeah – I mean – I’ve seen that one before but I’ve never – I guess I just never clocked the Gallifreyan.”
There was literally another side of them I hadn’t noticed.
When I arrive at Uni, Frances is sitting on a sofa outside the English Office with a laptop in front of them, whipping their ponytail at the keyboard in the hopes that it will cut down words. It’s not the most effective method, they inform me. We hug. They lend me a pen to fill out the triplicate form for my literature essay and I hand it in: one down, two to go. I ask them how they’re doing and the word ‘fine’ is repeated enough times that anyone who isn’t us is sending us slightly worried looks – including two tutors.
We run into a couple of our fellow students. M sits on the sofa beside us and tells us she has no idea what she’s doing next. We all agree – although, I feel I win because at least they’re both aiming for Masters courses while my current plans consist of ‘look for work, I guess?’ When it’s time for her to go she stands up.
“See you –” She stops. “Well, maybe I’ll see you…”
We all laugh nervously.
“That’s the other thing. No more poetry seminars. I don’t know if I will see you again, for sure.”
“Well it’s been a bit like that this whole year, hasn’t it?”
“Yeah… you never know when it’s going to be the last time you see someone.”
There’s a moment before she walks away, where she meets my eyes, and I think – if this is the last time I ever look at M. And then she’s gone.
About ten seconds later she’s back again, having walked in the wrong direction.
I wonder about everyone I’ve ever encountered in all the combinations of students that have made up every seminar of every course throughout these three years. I think about the boy I tried to befriend in the first boot camp of the degree, and how he disappeared without word two weeks into the course. I think about the first person who ever addressed me by name midway through the first semester, a seminar tutor whose name I, ironically, just had to look up. I think about the two people I sang a Proclaimers song with, bizarrely, in the middle of a session on medieval literature. How I didn’t know any of them very well. How I’ll probably never see them again. About how my time here is made up of such tiny interactions with soon-to-be-strangers.
Frances and I walk over to where they and their gang took photos yesterday. It’s raining. I can only bear to take my dissertation out of my bag for about a minute before I shove it back inside, for fear of damaging it. That’s a whole £5.20’s worth of binding, doncha know. My coat is on, my hood is up, and the sky is a luminescent grey block behind me, so I’m a hunched up silhouette against a miserable backdrop, the clock tower somewhere at my back, out of focus. The pictures are awful, and I love Frances so much for them that I could kiss them. Later I cannot resist adding a warmer filter over the top of the pictures. I felt warm.
My phone buzzes as we approach the Creative Writing building, where I’ll hand in my final two assignments. I take it out of my pocket, still talking to Frances about exactly how many times a person can say the word fine before people stop believing them, and if it ever cycles all the way back to convincing if you just keep at it.
We’re at the office now! So we’ll wait for you xox
I look up from the screen to see Maddie and Bee sitting in the lobby of the building, armed with raincoats and an umbrella, and my heart lifts.
It’s our first year and we’re leaving a lecture together, stepping out of the Arts building and into the chilly air. This is where they go right and I go left. It’s never enough time with them. It takes so long for me to make proper friends – always has – and I’m constantly frustrated by university timetabling. It never occurs to me to ask them to hang out afterward. They’re sisters, they have each other, why would they need me?
We pause at the railings as people move past us. Maddie half puts out her arms.
“We can hug now, right? I think we’re there?”
We’re all of us giggling awkwardly as we put our arms around each other and I inhale a good amount of both their hair before we part.
It’s been three years. We’re experts now.
We hug. I borrow Frances’ pen again, filling out two forms now. For my dissertation, I can’t actually remember what my word count is. I worked for hours to get it all down and now I don’t know the number. In the end, I guesstimate and hand everything in with a hope and prayer.
When I’ve signed the list of names to confirm I’m done, Mags-behind-the-desk smiles at me. They’ve told me what happens now. I hold my breath.
“Now, we don’t have actual bubbly,” Mags says, “but this is the next best thing.” She produces a tiny bottle of bubbles shaped like a champagne bottle and blows a stream in my direction. I beam, watching them float into the air like so many wishes. I reach out and pop one. She’s wrong. This is the best thing.
“Can you believe it’s gone so fast?” She asks as I collect my receipts.
“Fast!” I scoff before I check myself, and she looks a little perturbed. I smile. “In maybe two days, it’ll feel like it’s been fast,” I say, “right now it’s…”
“Right now it feels endless?” She nods along and laughs. “That’s fair enough.”
When we start walking away I feel so much lighter – and not just because I returned all the books I’d borrowed out from the University Library. The sky has deigned to become a little brighter, and I am walking alongside three of the best people I’ve met at University. People I love. People who came to experience this moment with me.
I say goodbye to Frances first, who messages me later that evening to let me know they’ve finally cut it all down – with some help from their mum, of course.
Then, on the street corner where Maddie and Bee go right and I go left, we hug again, repeating how proud we are of each other and promising to meet up tomorrow morning. When I walk away, I can’t take this smile off my face.
Tomorrow we’ll hug again and Bee’s hair will get caught in a sliding grip I have in my scarf and it will make it very difficult for us to separate.
I’m standing at the bus stop when my phone buzzes. I take it out and see that Maddie has sent me the video she took of me being Bub-blessed. I download it and immediately turn it into a Boomerang, so I pop the bubble and then magically summon it back into existence from the tip of my finger, over and over again.
There’s something to be said about the boomerang video, and why we like it so much. The way it goes back and forth over a single moment in an endless loop. How it never has to end. It’s a rhythm and motion like a DJ’s at a turntable: Bring it back, bring it back, bring it back.