WHERE THE HEART IS WHERE THE HEART IS AMY STIMSON 13 She didn’t mean to be ‘spying’. No one here ever looked at strangers. She was reading an Austen, sitting alone in the sunshine in Hyde Park, just like the other winter-white persons trying to catch a tan. It was summer. If some people came at the same time every day, that was perfectly normal too. And today he came, sitting as usual on the bench just opposite. His simple humility appealed to her. From the first, she had liked the neat way he sat on his bench with his book, his little packed lunch and his glasses. Today, so as not to appear openly engrossed, she focused her attention on her book and read a little, but not a lot. She allowed herself another look at him. He was peering at his little book, quaintly flustered when the breeze snatched at the pages. He wore, as the day before, a clean, faded shirt, worn but caredfor trousers, and there was a meticulous shine on his black shoes. She noted the flatness of his nose, and the tautness of his dark skin where the arms of his specs dug at his temples. His mobile rang. He answered. She considered how she was used to seeing big lips on her country’s politicians, used in ravings which did not interest her. But this man’s mouth shaped, with measured words which he spoke in a deep resonant tone, the language of her home – those fat-tongued vowels and those kicking, tripping consonants. And it was the first thing, suddenly, after many weeks in this strange city, to strike her with such crippling homesickness for Africa. She looked on him now with undisguised admiration. He was, he became, in that minute, an ideal to her: that language, that stately composure, that humble dignity native to her people. Not the chin-high pride. No, not that. That wasn’t nearly as appealing as this. This was quieter and gentler. He laughed suddenly, and it made her think that what she missed most of all was the unrepressed emotion and joy of the culture they shared: the sort that would wail liberally at funerals, and sing of new birth in echoing ululations and dancing in the streets. He caught her eye. She realised she had already been beaming, watching him chuckle. He smiled back. He even gave a little wave. Embarrassed at last, she turned her head and gazed studiously at her book. True, she thought, he was no Mr Darcy, nor could he ever aspire to that English attraction of brilliant literary minds, deliciously clipped speech and stately handsomeness. But he was as homey as any spouse could be. She would be glad – the thought made her blush as it came – she would be glad to wake up to his smile in the mornings.