Queue here for a quick romance . . .

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The Independent Online
I HAVE received a letter from a female reader who says: 'There are plenty of blockbuster novels to while away air trips and train journeys, but what I need is a tiny romantic novelette, just long enough for waiting in bank queues, etc. Could you oblige?'

No problem, madam. Here is a short saga just for you, called 'Keeping Trim . . .'

EVA was having her hair done. She was about to have her photograph taken. There's nothing worse than having your photo taken when your hair looks like last year's spaghetti.

'Having your photograph taken, eh?' said Ken, her hairdresser, as he set about turning her hair-do into a coiffure. 'Bit of modelling work at last? Congratulations]'

'No,' said Eva, a bit miserably. 'That's what Nancy thought when I told her.'

'Nancy, your lovely flatmate?' said Ken.

It was true, thought Eva. Nancy was lovely. Whereas she . . . She stole a look at herself in the mirror. Oh, God. Only 23 years old, and already the suspicion of a double chin. She must never go out with a smaller man. Every time she looked down, she would accentuate the nascent double chin.

'The truth of the matter is,' said Eva bravely, 'that I'm having my photo taken in a passport photo kiosk.'

'So you're having your hair done just for a passport photo?' said Ken. 'Vanity - I love it] But surely you'll have to have it done again every time you pass through immigration so that you look like your photo . . ?'

This was the very conversation Eva had dreaded having with Nancy. And now she was having the same conversation with Ken] She could have screamed.

'Going anywhere nice after you've got your passport snap done?' asked Ken.

'To the Passport Office in Newport, Gwent,' said Eva.

'That's nice,' said Ken. 'Send us a card.'

After she had been released from Ken's salon, Eva walked down the road to the Post Office, where there was a photo kiosk. There was something rather pleasurable about going into a Post Office and using something you didn't have to queue for. She bypassed the 20 people waiting to send parcels to Kuala Lumpur, inserted the money, sat in the kiosk and waited till the machine had flashed four times. The first three times, she stared at the screen; the fourth time, just for fun, she laughed, opening her mouth and letting her eyes dance. Too late she realised she hadn't stared slightly up at the screen - oh God, would she have a passport photo with the shadow of a double chin for the next 10 years?

Anxiously, she raced back to the machine rather earlier than the five to 10 minutes mentioned in the instructions. She couldn't bear the idea of anyone else seeing her photos. Thank goodness she had come back early. There already, slightly moist in the delivery channel, were four little portrait snaps . . . For a moment she stared at them uncomprehendingly. She couldn't understand why the machine had made her look like someone quite different. She knew these machines didn't take good photos, but . . . Then it dawned on her that these four photographs were of someone quite different. They were of a young man. A rather good-looking young man, actually. But why on earth had the machine printed the wrong photos?

There was a click. Four more came down the chute. They were of her. Oh, my God. The other four must be of the man who had used the machine before her. Quick, she'd better . . .

'My photographs, I think.'

The voice behind her made her jump. She turned round. There stood the most devastatingly good-looking young man, with a smile that jumped out and seemed to say: This smile is for you, and you alone.

'I'm sorry,' she stammered. 'I must have . . .'

'Let me see yours,' said the man, firmly putting his hand over hers. 'Hmm. Three stinkers and one masterpiece. Why didn't you laugh in all of them?'

'Well, because . . .'

'You must do them all again,' he said. He put money in the slot, pushed her back inside and made her sit down . . . She found herself laughing as she hadn't done for years . . .

'Keep still,' said Ken. 'I can't cut your hair if you laugh.'

She opened her eyes. Eva was having her hair done . . .

Now go back to the beginning and reread as often as you have to . . .