Eleanor Rigby works at the Inland Revenue. She is that quiet kind of girl who lurks around in the corners; who slunks quickly down the corridors; who only speaks when she's spoken to (and never before); easy to forget. In another life, she could be an excellent spy. She doesn't have many friends (it sounds like a terrible cliché, but people believe that people working at the Inland Revenue don't have quite as many friends). But then, she doesn't even have many friends at the office.
One of the few people she calls 'friend', is Father Mckenzie. They meet every Saturday, the same every time. She sits by the window of his small office, always looking at the rows of tombstones in the churchyard. He sits on his desk, writing his sermon for tomorrow. Trying to write a sermon. Always been a bad writer, he tells her and she offers him some raisins.
She eats brunch with him, a simple egg sandwich and weak tea prepared by a nun. She eats her packed lunch alone, under a big tree in the churchyard. Sometimes there'll be a wedding service. When that happens, she'll watch the pretty people dance under a rain of white rice gleaming under the sun. Other times, when the church is quiet, she'll just sit in the shades and watch light twinkle between the leaves overhead.
Afterwards, she'll go home to the little house she shares with her mother, stopping at the grocers to buy vegetables for a week. She goes next door to get some fresh flowers, too.
The first thing she does as she enters the house is to key in the alarm code. It is the birth date of the imaginary friend she had when she was small. The friend went away when puberty arrived. She can't remember the day her friend went away, but she remembers the date of when it first arrived. Then she looks at the entryway clock. Her mother should already be halfway through her bingo.
She rearranges the fridge to make space for her vegetables. It's an old thing that hums noisily in the corner of a magnolia kitchen. Then she'll collect all the vases in the house, arranges them on the small space by the sink. She puts fresh flowers in them and puts the wilted ones in the compost bin.
Most of her chores will be done by four or five o'clock. It takes her fifteen minutes to prepare tea and biscuits. She then allows herself half an hour to enjoy the approaching sunset in front of the telly with the volume turned almost all the way down.
It's now time for her mother to arrive back home. She puts away the vacuum cleaner, straightens her back. She opens the door, hugs her mother. She listens to her mother talk about her day out with 'the girls': bingo and some progging. After dinner, she climbs up the steep flight of stairs to her room.
She sleeps through her weekend. She'll not remember if she ever wakes up in between her slumber to visit the toilet or to have a drink or even something to eat. She never remembers such things.
Monday morning. Her mother will shake her awake; tells her she has a few minutes to get ready or else she'll miss her bus and train. Her eyes will be so heavy with sleep, it's always a struggle to stay awake. She stares at the ceiling where little peeling stars adhere stubbornly for years and years already. She twists and turns in bed, stretches her arms out towards the ceiling. One day, maybe, she'll have hands long enough to peel childhood memories off the ceiling. She blinks, looks out of the window, licks her lips, yawns.
Then, she'll be up in no time at all. Then, she'll be washed, dressed, fed, ready to go.
The day's ready to go, too. In fact, it's already gone. Each day just goes so fast, she thinks, as she nearly misses her bus (as she always does).
Some days she'll stop one stop before the one she's supposed to stop at (the one in front of the train station), because she'll want to see the Hare Khrisnas. Some of those days she'll see them. Other days, she won't see them. She'll then hunch her shoulders and tuck her chin to her chest, counting the faded bricks leading up to the train station.
Once, her colleague caught her staring out of one of the office's many windows at a passing group of Hare Khrisnas. He told her it was rude of her to stare. They talked for a while afterwards (it was the first time she ever talked to him; the first of quite a few exchanges). Towards the end of the conversation, he told her that it was even ruder of her to objectify them that way.
She couldn't understand him, then. She doesn't understand him even now, as she looks around, listening out for the familiar harinama sankirtan. Then she hears them, sees them. They are so happy, she thinks. She never says that out loud; keeps her thoughts to herself. They look so happy. And they make her happy, too.
She'll have a smile on her face all day long. People will stare at her; they'll think she's a little crazy. But they're wrong. She's only happy.
She arrives at the office with time to spare (as always, unless either the bus people or the train people, or both, are on strike). She goes straight to her desk, as she always does. Her desk is always tidy (she clears the clutter every evening before she leaves for home). Usually there's nothing there until she puts up her laptop and takes out her stationery. This time, there's a flower-print vellum envelope waiting patiently on her desk, somewhat off-centre.
It's a wedding invitation. She knows the bride and groom; they all work in the same section. She runs into them at Cafe Nero while waiting in line for her coffee and pastry. She congratulates them, wishes them well.
They smile at her. They tell her their plan in a nutshell. Then they look at each other, still smiling, but now their smiles are for each other. She watches as he runs his hand through her hair, helping to keep hair out of the quiche. She watches them leave. She doesn't really realise she's staring. Someone speaks to her, but she doesn't know he's there.