My partner and I went to Ikea today: we had to fetch a couple more bookcases, since our library is currently at the point of overflowing. We’ve got a couple of extra boxes, and more than a few bags of books that had no shelf-space, since they were already packed full.

Anyhow, long story short… we bought two bookshelves, and a four-poster bed for one of my sisters… along with a few other bits and pieces – you know, coffee mugs, coffee plungers, coffee cups with coffee saucers… oh, and a potato masher. That is a lot of stuff to fit in one little car! So much, in fact, that it would only fit if I didn’t try to get in with it. I would have just been able to squeeze in along with all that, but I would not have wanted to be in my position had a crash occurred. Better safe than sorry, really.

Thus, I decided to stick around at Ikea whilst my loving James hurried home with the furniture, and drove on back to hopefully fetch me. My phone was flat – so no wandering around hoping that he could find me in that giganticly huge shrine to cheapish put-it-together-yourself furniture for everyone from the ‘duel income no kids’ crowd to the ‘oh don’t worry, little Maggie didn’t mean it when she said that, QUIET PETER, don’t touch that, Jamie, no, I mean it this time, I’ll put you over my knee… sorry miss’ type lot… I swear, they have a kids centre there for a reason.

I decided instead to set up shop in the cafeteria. Since I hadn’t bought my sketchbook with me, I improvised by grabbing a few tape measures and figured I might decorate them a little. Tried one of their specials of the day (chicken breast with potatoes that were mysteriously round for potatoes if you ask me, and green peas) along with a bowl of salad to pick at as I drew.

People-watching is a facinating pasttime for me. I ate the ‘actual’ meal, then started sketching people as they entered the cafeteria – from little kiddley-winks, to the doting grandparents, nit-picky wives with their downtrodden husbands to cackling women as they have a seemingly riotous time at the idea of getting to pick out co-ordinating homewares… just a little bit of everything and everyone.

You can’t help but wonder more about these people – some just ooze personality, begging you to go ‘Excuse me Sir, but what is your story?’ because you know quite for sure that they will have one to tell… and probably several, for that matter, each even more facinating than the last, even if it is about the most boring of things, simply because it is they who tell it. But I suppose that in some ways, it might be a let-down… can anyone ever actually live up to the images that pass inside your head, of the life this random person might have led?

I could imagine with one of the men who passed, going towards the elevator… he wore slightly rounded glasses perched upon his nose, his face surrounded by scraggly and unkempt hair, including a most distinguished beard that came down to a point. He beamed as he talked, his eyes lit up bright, as if what he discussed was the most incredible thing he had ever heard. Casually dressed, but understated – it spoke not of a wish to ‘fit in’ but of comfort and quality… and I am thinking not a little touch of sentimentality here and there. To me, he was a professor – the kind that struggles against the constraints of academia and boldly flouts convention, especially when he has absolute conviction in what he is fighting for… and there is nothing that he fights for that doesn’t have conviction.

He was trained in marine biology – he had a fish growing up, and it was the best friend he ever had. It sat upon his bedside-table, and would talk to it each night of the troubles of the day and the successes of the day. Perhaps that is where he gained his love of sea creatures, even if William was only a goldfish. He always had a bit of a scientific streak and that came to the fore during highschool when he realized that he fit in just right in the science department. He might not have been good at other things, like sports, or languages, but critical thinking was his forte. It seems he fused these loves and aptitudes together… and on he went.

When he hit university, it was like stepping right into perfection for the youth. It didn’t last very long though. He was eager to learn, asked lots of questions where jaded and tired professors just wanted to teach the syllabus and get the day done with so that they could go home to their nagging wives and their gin and tonics. He, however, was not happy with this – he yearned for more and didn’t understand quite how these staid old fools had gotten to this point of giving up on what must have once been their passion.

He vowed to himself that he would not become like those professors, with no passion, no motivation, no drive. He graduated on time, and immediately dove into work, chartering on for several expeditions to study the aquatic. He, however, needed more. He worked in the field for some time before he came to the realization that he was not finished with his study, so he returned to the institution that filled his head with conventional ideas in order to challenge them with a few ideas of his own.

His passion once again aflame, he worked furiously hard at obtaining his doctrate, publishing paper after paper, leading his own expeditions and finally coming to be a recognised leading figure in his field. This didn’t come without scandel, of course. No man publishing such works as he isn’t going to come under fire from those who believe they know better, especially in more controversial areas that defied current reasoning. Despite some irregular claims, here and there, he was willing to fight for his beliefs, and certainly thought that he had the research to back them up. It took some work, but he eventually became the well-respected though slightly ‘crack-pot’ (at least according to some’s perceptions) head of the marine biology department at a leading university. He has comfortably taught and encouraged his students always to question and think about things in a different fashion ever since. He will accept no less from those that work under him.

Although he would never reveal it to any around him, he does have one big secret. He may have talked of it jokingly, or weaved a story for the niece or nephew… people think he’s just making it up, or being funny, but the fact of the matter is that it is true as true can be. He was once doing a solo sub dive researching some sea creatures for a project off the coast of Costa Rica when he encountered a mermaid. Not for long, just an instant or two as she flittered by his viewing window, but long enough that it registered and stuck and will never be forgotten by this now grey and middle-aged professor. Perhaps it is that thought, that he has seen himself what others have only thought of as fable, that he believes so ferverantly is real and incredible, that keeps that ever-present twinkle in his eyes. He knows something we don’t, that such creatures can and do exist – and if she does, what else is there in this most magnificent world is there that could also be floating just under our noses but ever so teasingly just out of sight?

Every day, we are discovering new things – new creatures in the deepest and darkest depths of the sea, new insects in the most secluded and hardly-explored centres of the jungle… some people think that just because we don’t see something, or know of its existance in the here and now, that it doesn’t and cannot exist. The professor: he knows otherwise. He still has faith and a reverence for the fact that there are so many beautiful, fantastical and indescribable things that exist in this world and that we have yet to discover them all. We may never do so, but the professor… he will be happy even if he never gets to see another glimpse of his sea-maiden fair… because he knows, beyond a reason of a doubt that she is true. That said, it will never stop him from looking.

I must admit… I was kinda a little disappointed when James showed up quite so quickly… I didn’t even get the chance to fill one full tape-measure. Ah well… maybe next time we buy more than what fits in the car in one go, I can sit in the cafeteria there again and draw for another hour whilst picking at salad and imagining the potentially incredible lives of those who passed by my table.