It was this time of the year, when everything was stripped down and reduced to its essence, that human beings appeared to become more hostile. Perhaps we were in the grip of one of those very unfashionable innate drives, with its source in ancient winters of such great scarcity that each mouthful of food was to be wrested from the hand of another who would then perish. It could all be seen most clearly in the behaviour of receptionists.
Receptionists appeared to take a bleak view in all weathers. It seemed a cruel fate that those who disliked others so much should have to come into contact with them so often. The woman in the Hospitality office, in a warmer season, usually masked her dislike behind a sliding smile that made it part way up her face. But now; did she snarl? It was as if behind the barrier of the front counter and from her lair in the corner, she snarled, lowering her grey shaggy curls, the whites of her eyes momentarily visible. Maybe not. She was a drinker with a grey lined pouchy face. She was also a smoker. Possibly the night before had been filled with gaiety and talk and now she had no use of either.
During the day she often stood on the side walk where the smokers had been relegated by sweeping smoke free policies to puff her cigarette thoughtfully among the fumes of passing traffic, her shoulders hunched and brooding.
She did emit a little friendly spirit from her closely husbanded reserve for those in her world who were able to cross over behind the counter and breeze by her with organisational updates or complaints. She then laughed a short harsh smoker's laugh. There was no form of human behaviour that she had not witnessed and found predictably ridiculous. But now she sidled over and snatched the paper Lotte wordlessly held out without meeting her eye.
Lotte thought of her again at bus stop while she sat in one of the two black enamelled shelters bequeathed by a benevolent couple who had had an evident desire to seat six people from among the crowd of pale commuters. A pigeon was walking about in hope of crumbs. Its plump body was bound at the base of its tail by dark grey markings crisscrossed over like a thong _ bound and caught by
nature for some unfortunate purpose.