It is a Tuesday, sunny, and she is walking the streets of London alone. She is walking along the Strand, and does not want to be. She is not entirely sure where she does want to be, but she knows it is not along the Strand. She knows this because she has walked up and down it three times now, and has found nothing remotely interesting.
It has been unusually sunny since her arrival in England, two months ago, in the company of a man called John who propositioned her in a chiropractor’s office. She bought an umbrella, polka-dotted with a handle that curves, especially for this trip. There has been no occasion to use it, and she is angry.
John is long gone. It began when he chipped his tooth on a bit of hard candy, two weeks in. She had seen the end the moment he smiled at the girl in the dentist’s waiting room. The girl was of an average height, with mousy brown hair, a poor complexion, and unremarkable eyes. Plain, but John has never gone for the remarkable. Their elopement to Europe, three days after meeting, is proof enough of that; her back problems are the most elegant thing about her.
Alone in the city, she buys clothes she can’t afford and can’t quite fit in, and frequently becomes lost. Somewhere within a hundred miles is a hotel room containing all of her bags, her computer, and her passport. She knows, distantly, that this is important, the passport at least, but cannot find the energy to care.
She did not love John, or does not think she did. She does not miss him, certainly. But without him she is lost, adrift in a foreign land. Her new skirt from Harrod’s is riding up, and there is a tear in her stockings. She has no money for a plane ticket home, but is certainly the best dressed backpacker in the UK.
She wishes it would rain.
Her mother had still tried to call her, five or six weeks ago. As she no longer has a phone card, she cannot be sure when the last time was. It may have been this morning, but she will not allow herself to feel guilt over that. She is an adult; they can hardly launch an international search for her, and she has assured them many times that she knows what she is doing.
This is completely true. She knew that running away to the other side of the world with a man she’d just met, even flightier than herself, would not be the stuff of fairy tales. She had not wanted it to be. But a whirlwind romance with an attractive man is a small price to pay for the freedom of a whole new hemisphere.
The heat is unbearable, and there is a run in her stockings. There is one pair left, in a golden bag on the dresser of her missing hotel room, and her wallet holds six pounds. There is also the matter of lunch.
She ought to get a job, but that would require a work visa, and she is not sure that avoiding homelessness is worth all the trouble. Perhaps she could become a street performer. Digging through her wallet again, she ponders the price of a guitar.
Guitar lessons, too, she adds to the list. A case for the money to be dropped in, a microphone, a sensible outfit for street performing. Then lunch, and three new pairs of stockings. The hotel room is reserved for five more nights, at least, assuming she can find it.
Sighing, she looks toward the red phone booth across the street. Her mother, perhaps, would wire her some money.
She yanks down her skirt again, and walks purposefully toward the department store behind it.