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    Kirsty Fitzmauice
      She was an admin person at our work. Actually, now I think about it, she was the Dean's PA. What a hard-nosed woman. What an ogre. She acted like a receptionist in a doctors' surgery, a gatekeeper. She protected the Dean. What do you want? How long will you be? When do you want the appointment? He was an ordinary bloke, the Dean. Accessible, friendly, open, plain. She was his blue healer. No-one got to see the Dean without first passing by Kirsty.

Once we found an empty office and grabbed it while it still had the PhD student's name on the door, and used it when the faculty didn't know. We were happy with this little secret too. One day we plugged a laptop into the socket there and did some work. It took only about 4 minutes and Kirsty was on the 'phone. 'Where are you?' 'I've got a strange log in from a strange office. It's not in our building but it's one of the faculty's laptops' We were Sprung! The next day we lost the office too.

I don't know why but for some weird reason she said yes when we proposed having a few drinks after work. Perhaps it was because her best friend Kate Parsons was coming. Kate was lovely. Warm, friendly and, as the professor's secretary, our co-conspirator too. Kirsty was scary though and we were both leery of her and her gatekeeper demeanour. First, they showed us their new tattoos. They'd got matching tattoos in New Zealand following a holiday there and we saw their vacation snaps too, over a bottle of Fat Bastard Chardonnay. The tattoos were on their feet and matched, and both were wearing sandals anyway so even the Church Bar was a pretty safe place for that.

We got talking about travels. I've done a bit and have what I thought were pretty bruising stories. Dentists in Pakistan, rain and swordfish in Kuala Lumpur, Deli belly in Lahore and more recently the Russian work. I was pretty smarmy I guess. Kate's stories weren't so dangerous, and David said nothing, he only ever tells me anyway. Then Kirsty started to talk. We said nothing.

She'd been backpacking in Croatia. Yes, Kirsty the gatekeepter, in a former life, had been a backpacker. All the images came through, the dreadlocks, the overalls. It wasn't a two day bout of Deli belly that got her either. She'd passed out. She'd really passed out. At 2am, on some footpath, in some back street, in Croatia. She was gone. Lying inanimate on the side of the road with some kind of food poisoning combined with other ailments, and she was a long way from home.

A stranger happened by. A good Samaritan in a different guise. He was a taxi driver. Not a relative or a friend but a stranger. He bundled her into his cab and took her home. I know what your thinking. We thought the same and sat open-mouthed. I didn't really want to hear this. He took her home to his wife and child in a 40 sq metre two-room Soviet apartment. Kirsty had the only bed. His wife tendered her fever each day with cool washers and fed her broth. Somehow, over 10 days, she recovered.

Don't ask me what happened next. I don't know. All I know is that there's more to Kirsty that I thought, and more to strangers and Croatia than I thought! Now she's moved away and we hear from her via Kate from time to time. Kirsty Fitzmaurice and the stranger. Kirsty Fitzmaurice the gatekeeper. I won't forget.

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