*Based on partially true events
6 years later…
The Present: London. I was tired. A red eye flight from Chicago had me running on two hours of sleep. The past few months had been exhausting. A conference in London meant I could spend ten days here. I shuffled out after picking up my baggage and explaining the dastardly long name of the conference I was attending to the immigration chap. It was a Sunday, I knew there was no hurry with the tube so I grabbed a coffee and sandwich from the Costa right in front of me, bought an oyster card and perched myself on a seat facing the glass enclosed outer area to people watch. A young couple next to me were making out ferociously. I was unperturbed – I waited for the initial frustration of a new city to pass to be replaced by the exhilaration of anonymity. It came quickly. I hadn’t been here in many years but London was a city. And cities I knew well. I made my way to my hotel in Kensington, dumped my bags, showered and stepped out into wet nippy weather that after a long Chicago winter, was exactly what I needed. I didn’t have a plan except to walk and I did. From Westminster bridge…occasionally stopping to stare at the embankment on the other side, perusing books at an open book fair, watching people, shaking my head at the plentiful American tourists, I finally found myself at Paul’s in the shadow of St. Paul’s . I chuckled to myself. With my hand firmly wrapped around some hot chocolate and some quiche in me, I set off again. In the direction of Fleet Street. When I set foot at that corner, I looked up and saw a barber’s pole. I laughed out loud. Sweeney Todd. I was happy. I saw humour in road signs and warm drinks. Walking aimlessly and a single overcoat. I had nowhere to be. No one to talk to. No one to talk about. It was just me and myself. At 24.
A few days in I walked into a splendid little Tapas joint with excellent food a short walk away from my hotel. I’d settled in at the bar having ordered a couple of things and some red. The place seemed ideal. Small, intimate. My father called and I briefly stepped outside to speak to him. Filled him in on my walking exploits of the past few days and generally, reassured him that I was alright and my pounds were not running out. When I walked back in, I noticed two women entering the restaurant right after me. After briefly holding the door open waiting for one of the ladies to latch on it, I vaguely smiled and made my way back to the bar counter. My eyes scanned the room from my perch slowly. There were some business suits unwinding after a long day, an older couple with a grandson and a few others spotting the room. They came to rest on the two women who now occupied a small table. The one of whom I had a frontal view wore a pinstriped pantsuit with pearls. I never understood those who wore pearls. She appeared animated, regaling her friend with a story of embarrassing proportions, no doubt. Her friend kept shaking her head, with her temple propped up on the fingers of her right hand. Her back was towards me, garbed in a black pencil skirt and shirt. No pearls. She had dusky skin and wore long dangly earrings. Indian. This was London. I turned back to pay closer attention to my red, swirling it around when amidst the chatter I heard the name of my hometown. Not its newly restored Indian name, but the name the English had given it. The name that everyone with fierce loyalty to the city called it. I looked up to find the dusky friend had said it out loud and was now on her feet making her way along the bar. I saw her then. For the first time in 6 years. Her cheeks. Her smooth brow. Her delicate nose. Her lips. The same I had once been intimately acquainted with. Her eyes fell on me. For a split second, I was filled with an inexplicable feeling of insecurity. Like I was 18 again. Unsure. Inexperienced. Wrong about everything.
Recognition. I may have imagined it but her step slowed. And quickened again, she focused on the ground, paid scant attention to me as she passed and a few minutes later returned to her table and friend with the same nonchalance. The feeling passed as well. I knew she knew. Smirk. I did the math… How old was she now ? 32 ? 32 year olds can be civil, can’t they? And alluring. And still obviously delightfully inhibited about the past. I knew something about her no one else in that room knew. My food arrived and I had something to do besides remember. So I ate. An hour passed. She and her friend got up to leave. They put on their dark coats and walked out. It made me look at my watch. A brief amble outside before retiring for the night seemed in order. Despite the strangeness of the evening, I was on an even keel. Like my recovery from seeing her, strengthened me even more. I popped the collar on my coat and enjoyed the click-clack of my heeled boots as I made my way out the door. Somehow my boots and my femininity were entwined. Fetishistic? No. I just liked the way they made me move and feel. I briefly looked down to pat my pockets to check if everything was there and….Walked right into her.
(to be continued…)