I have a great affection for a particular set of ladies' loos in the National Theatre - the location of a lovely literary memory: a smile (just to me) from Doris Lessing.
She was coming out, I was going in. Maybe I smiled first, I don't know. All I do know is that suddenly a lady as small and round as my grandmother was giving me the kind of luminous smile that originates from an habitual generosity of spirit. The memory of such a smile can be - and I'm not being sentimental - a source of strength.
A while later, during a particularly difficult time, I was invited to the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize event. As if my need for that smile had conjured her, there was Doris Lessing again. The event was crowded: we were both heading for the same small gap to make our way somewhere (to and from the loo again, maybe?!). The polite convent school-girl still huddling at my heart stood aside to let her through. She smiled. I smiled ... and only just stopped myself throwing my arms around in a great big hug. (Part of me thinks she probably wouldn't have minded.)
Returning from a wet couple of days in Aldeburgh, at Ipswich we picked up the London-bound Norwich train. It was packed. Damp, bedraggled in an ancient cagoule and scruffy jeans, I was reduced to propping myself up right by the loos.
There'd been a big literature festival in Norwich so it wasn't really surprising that I was suddenly confronted by Margaret Drabble. Small and neat, I was an oversized, shabby scarecrow beside her. She needed the loo but seemed unsure how the automatic doors worked. My outer voice said, 'You need to press that one', while my inner voice was saying, 'Oh, how lovely to meet you. I really admire your work and all you stand for ... and, what's more, through writing, I know your daughter ... and I went to your house once for a party ...'
Surely she wouldn't have believed me: that soggy, straggled-haired being reduced to standing by the loos a writer? A fervent reader? PhD in experimental literature? ... Or, as a writer, would she look past the surface of things and ...
But I don't suppose she thought anything about the woman who said, 'You need to press that one.'
She thanked me, and gave me a lovely smile, anyway.
Heather Reyes is the author of the novels Zade and Miranda Road and two books about reading, An Everywhere: a little book about reading and Bookworms, Dog-Ears & Squashy Big Armchairs: A Book Lover's Alphabet. Her short story collection, Talking It Over With Genghis Khan, is published in October. She is also the editor of Oxygen Books' city-pick series of urban travel anthologies.