For a moment she felt a swaying vertigo, and she closed her eyes. But then she opened them again and looked down into the stalls, a good fifty feet below. Beneath her, standing near to where the young man had landed, a man in a blue windcheater looked upwards and into her eyes. They were both surprised, and Isabel leant backwards, as if warned off by his stare.
Isabel left the edge and made her way back up the aisle between the seats. She had no idea what she had expected to find-if anything-and she felt embarrassed to have been seen by that man below. What must he have thought of her? A vulgar onlooker trying to imagine what that poor boy must have seen during his last seconds on this earth, no doubt. But that was not what she had been doing; not at all.
She reached the stairs and began to walk down, holding the rail as she did so. The steps were stone, and spiral, and one might so easily slip. As he must have done, she thought. He must have looked over, perhaps to see if he could spot somebody down below, a friend maybe, and then he had lost his footing and toppled over. It could easily happen-the parapet was low enough.
She stopped halfway down the stairs. She was alone, but she had heard something. Or had she imagined it? She strained her ears to catch a sound, but there was nothing. She took a breath. He must have been the very last person up there, all alone, when everybody else had gone and the girl at the bar on the landing was closing up. That boy had been there himself and had looked down, and then he had fallen, silently, perhaps seeing herself and Jennifer on the way down, who would then have been his last human contact.
Excerpted from The Sunday Philosophy Club by Alexander McCall Smith, pages 3-11. Copyright© 2004 by Alexander McCall Smith. Excerpted by permission of Pantheon Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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