A Chance Encounter by Jennifer Rae
Dolly Morrison was never a close friend. But on that day, little did she suspect that she would change my future forever. She was the fulcrum round which my whole life would pivot, and for only the price of a coffee.
I hadn’t come across her for a couple of years, when we met face to face on Bridge Street in Aberdeen. It was one of those North East days when the wind lashed stinging sleet horizontally from the North Sea, reddening our skins and filling our eyes with tears. We stood chatting for longer than we intended outside the Wimpy Bar.
“Why don’t we have a coffee? We’re getting soaked,” she said nodding towards the inviting interior of the café.
“Good idea. My treat.”
On finding a table near the window, we took off our wet coats and hung them on chairs backed against a convenient radiator. She had been something of a lost soul who had dabbled in this and that, but had never found her niche in life at that point. I had been teaching Art and Design in a large comprehensive, hating every minute. I asked Dolly if she had found a job. As our coffee arrived she started to tell me her plans.
“Not yet. I’ve got a couple of things I’m thinking about though.” She took a sip of coffee and then produced a couple of envelopes from her bag and laid them on the table. “I’ve got these application forms. They both came this morning as it happens. I’ve read them and one appeals more than the other.” She opened each envelope and spread the contents on the table between our cups. The white form was from a medical research institute, recruiting human guinea pigs willing to be injected with the common cold virus. The heading on the second, pink one said Service Children’s Education Authority – Application for Teaching Post Overseas.
“The teaching one looks interesting,” I remarked, pouring milk into my coffee.
“The other one interests me more. I’ve more or less made up my mind to go for that one. I can’t bear the thought of being closeted with germ- infested kids for the next forty years, having to prepare and mark work ad nauseam. I’d rather get paid for catching a cold in aid of medical science, while being looked after.” Dolly wrinkled her nose and closed her eyes as if she were about to sneeze. She took a handful of tissues from her bag and turned away. After clearing her sinuses, she stuffed them into her coat pocket and took another gulp of coffee.
“Looks like you have a head start.”
“Oh, very funny, blasted Aberdeen weather!.”
“What will your parents think after three years at teacher training college?”
“I never wanted to teach anyway. That was my dad’s idea. I just agreed to go to college to shake off the identity of minister’s daughter. Everybody knows who you are when your dad’s a pillar of a highland community.” Dolly pushed the pink form towards me. I had told her how much I wanted to escape my present job. She rummaged in her bag and produced two biros.
“Here, fill it in,” she said handing me one pen and keeping the other.
There we sat together as the sleet turned to hail that battered the window with deafening force. Dolly completed her application and I filled in mine. With one eye on the atrocious spring weather, I chose my overseas locations, 1) Malta 2) Cyprus 3) Hong Kong. Was living on an island in the sun a mere pipedream? Anyway, I’d been in one place too long. My feet were itching to walk on foreign soil again. Was it possible?
When the hailstorm abated slightly, Dolly and I made our way to the post office in Crown Street, bought a couple of stamped envelopes and posted our applications. We said goodbye in the vestibule, wished each other luck and went our separate ways. That was the last time I ever saw Dolly. I often wonder what happened to her. Catching colds is not exactly a long term career choice after all.
A week or so later, an official looking letter with a London postmark arrived at my flat. By that time, I had almost forgotten about the SCEA application, never thinking for a minute that it might bear fruit. I opened it expecting to find a circular persuading me to part with money. My heart went into overdrive when I realised that it was an invitation to attend an interview for a teaching post at a school in Malta.
The interview was short and sweet. It turned out that that particular school in Malta had been looking for a teacher with my specialist qualifications for two years until I arrived on the scene, thanks to Dolly Morrison. The post was mine if I wanted it, pending the usual formalities and security clearance.
On the train back to Scotland, I had time to think about the previous few weeks. The series of events and coincidences that led me to this point in my life were quite astounding. Was it just a case of recognising an opportunity when one arose and grabbing it? Or were unseen forces at work? One thing had led so neatly to the next. If I had not met Dolly that day, and at that moment in such inclement weather: if we had not gone for a coffee and a chat: if she had not decided against filling in the SCEA form and given it to me instead: if I had not put Malta as my first choice, an escape route from a job I loathed may never have presented itself. Living and working on my island in the sun was not such a pipedream after all. It happened and I loved every minute. Thank you Dolly Morrison. I’ll buy you another coffee anytime you like, wherever you are.