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Chapter Five - Be Careful What You Wish For

     I learned a quick lesson that day. Customs officials have a zero sense of humor. You would have thought I pulled a gun on him by his body language. It’s funny how a body can change from small to large in the blink of an eye. Took no time at all. Harold grew a foot, no, make it at least two feet, I expect,

     “You,” He sputtered. I froze; every muscle in my body went rigid as if my English teacher caught me cheating on my final. “Go over to the chair by the wall.” His once short arm was ten feet long, pointing to a grey metal folding chair beside a dark wall by the doorway with the sign on top saying ‘To All Trains.’ People behind me stared like I was wanted for murder and backed away.

     “Go, Now.” Saliva sputtered from his mouth. I walked stiff-legged, silent, toward the chair, afraid he could explode any second.

I tucked my plaid box pleated skirt between me and the icy metal of the folding seat, then wrapped my legs around the bottom rungs of the chair for support. I felt as if I were a stone in the middle of a raging current as people rushed around me to retrieve their luggage, grabbing their children and pulling them to protect them from the villain in the chair. 

      The once loud din of passengers became a mummer as travelers got their passports stamped and moved toward waiting trains.  As each line finished, the customs official manning it turned and approached the chair where I was sitting. Nine agents, one by one, soon crowded around my chair like pirañas, seeking a meal. Their questions came in rapid-fire, over and over, as they demanded answers to questions I had no answers for.

      At last, their ‘boss’ arrived and shushed the lot. By this time, I lost my appetite for speech and was mentally curled up in a fetal position. He found another folding chair and sat beside me. As the officers surrounded the two of us like a huddle on a football team, the official spoke in a low voice. He informed me I had the choice to move forward with a limited one-month visa.

     I agreed by nodding my head, and as fast as possible uncurled myself from the chair and pushed through the human blockade, my stamped passport clutched in sweaty hands. I shoved my passport into my purse, glancing up at the sign on the wall, “To All Trains.” and hurried along the hall, glancing back, fearing the officials might change their minds and chase after me. I was the last passenger to leave, and a blanket of quiet filled the ‘customs’ hanger like an approaching storm. I remembered Bonnie needed to make a connection in London to her final destination. She and David may have believed that waiting was not an option for them, and I considered that I may have to continue alone.

    The hall inclined downward and echoed the further I walked. I passed a turnstile and went through another door with arrows pointing to luggage claim. At last, I rounded a corner and saw them standing together, surrounded by a sea of luggage.

   “Oh, thank God,” I said.

   ”What happened? Are you okay?" Both David and Bonnie spoke at once, but all I could do was shake my head, because a sizzling bubble of stupid covered me. Was I okay?, well, NO. I felt foolish, embarrassed, and wanted someone to tell me not to worry. It was as if my dad caught me doing something wrong, and this somehow was my fault.

    “Here, you want some spearmint.” Bonnie tore a half piece and handed it to me. She reminded me more of a big sister, looking out for me and being supportive when needed.

    We were comfortable together. The three of us. I told my new friends what happened and listened to the advice Bonnie and David offered. They reassured me the Agency could work out the problems with my passport, and kept saying not to worry. David’s anger over my treatment brought me a sense of solace.

    “How long before we get to London?” I asked when the locomotive jerked alive, and the next leg of the journey began. 

     “About an hour and a half, but we will need to change stations once we get there,” David said, leaning toward me. He had scooted next to me on the bench seat. I felt the heat from his legs, and my own started shaking. My nerves were up and down the entire trip. I wanted to spend time with Bonnie but worried I may never see my new acquaintance again.  David assured me he came to London on business and promised to call me.

    I could not wait to see London, and when the cars slowed at last floating into Victoria Station, I claimed a window seat.

    “I’ll find a cart as soon as we stop” David told us. He was open about the time problem because we needed to travel to another terminal in the city to catch Bonnie’s connector.

    “Somehow, I guess I thought the trip would be longer,” I told Bonnie while we worked getting bags onto the platform.

    “It’s okay. At least they let you in,” she said.

     We moved from the relative safety of the compartment into a sea of people, moving in a constant drift. London, in my perception, appeared archaic and unclean. Victoria Station smelled somewhere between old hotdogs and burnt diesel gas. I couldn’t decide which was worse. Old blackened cathedral-like arches loomed over our heads, and I kept expecting Quasimodo to swing from the rafters at any moment. David became a taskmaster, driving our cart like a battering ram through the throngs. Bonnie and I ran to keep up with the squeaking cart.

The sticky floors kept bogging down the cart wheels. The third time it happened, Bonnie and I shared a glance and she inclined her head toward the food court.  

    “We’re hungry,” I informed David.

    We stopped at a kiosk vendor on the main concourse, plastered with posters advertising anything you could imagine, from local shows to cheaper fairs. I watched the server pour milk into a paper cup on the nose-high counter. He then fills it with tea. I tried to order tea without milk but found it was impossible.

     “I could have told you that,” David said, looking at me with a sly grin.  We headed outside, looking for transportation. A red double-decker bus was loading passengers nearby and Bonnie pointed and squealed, “Hey, let’s get on one of those “…”

David laughed, motioned to the luggage, and suggested a taxi might be best. The day was overcast, and a mist made everything wet. I threw on my poncho while David motioned to a black bubble-shaped taxi waiting by the curb. It took the entire luggage compartment and the front seat to accommodate Bonnies and my bags. Leaving the back seat for the three of us.

    I got stuck in the middle, not that I cared. It put me next to David, making it impossible to see from the windows. And other than the clicking of the taximeter, Bonnie’s chatter, and David’s breathing, nothing else registered. Euston Station, modern, shiny, and efficient, made unloading and getting Bonnie to her platform easy. It happened far too fast.

     We stood on the platform at Euston Station, and Bonnie hugged me three times.

    “He sure is a cutie,” Bonnie said, motioning to David waiting by my luggage cart.

     We became sisters in three days. I wrote this to my mother, telling her, 

    “Bonnie and I immediately formed a bond because we had to depend on each other the minute we landed in Brussels.”

      As Bonnie’s train pulled away from the platform, I turned to catch David’s eye. I did not want to leave him, but.. well, according to the paperwork given to me in Brussels, I had a commitment. It will be okay, he told me. “I come to London a lot.”

I carried with me two phone numbers. One, a woman who contracted with the Agency to hire me, Mrs Greenfield, and the other, a phone number for the Au Pare placement Agency in Manchester.

     In my letter to my mother, I say: “When in London, I found I was not expected by Mr. McCormick (agency) in Manchester, … but I have no recollections of actually calling him. There is the possibility that I lied to my mom or I did call and forgot. This day was long and arduous by any standards. But I had a reasonable expectation upon arriving in London of at least having a job. I would like to say the Agency was not at fault for the Customs kerfuffle, but they admitted in correspondence with my mother dated October 15 that “this is a new problem we are having to face.” I am not trying to make excuses for my decisions that day, and while I didn’t regret my choice, I wonder if the result would have been the same.

    So besides the pungent diesel odor, trash in the streets, dark and brooding architecture my memory of London is sparse, except for certain details, such as a discussion I had with a potential employer in London.

    I stood in the cubical of the train station’s red phone booth, my breathing audible. The dial turned easily each time I pulled. I hesitated only a moment on the last number, then I stuck my index finger in the six-hole, pushed it around, then let it go and watched it spin. The receiver warmed my ear as I leaned on the side of the phone booth, looking for David through the wavy glass panes. As I listened to the rings, my breathing became shallow. Davids’s cologne lingered. I breathed in his scent while I waited, hoping Mrs. Greenfield would not answer.

    “Ello,” a shaky voice clicked on. The minute I identified myself, she cut me off…, “I told them I did not want a girl!”, then the lecture started. The longer she talked, the louder she got. In the end, besides telling me she did not want me, I remember her telling me to “Call American Express; they will take care of you.”

    The receiver slipped in my hand as if someone put grease on it, and I struggled to get it back on the cradle. Despite my reluctance to part ways with David, the magnitude of rejection overwhelmed me, leaving me ill-equipped to deal with it, leaving feeling me abandoned and alone.

    When I turned, I could see David through the wavy glass panes of the door. David knew the moment I opened the door.

    “What’s wrong?” he asked. I stared into his eyes while throngs of travelers moved past. We stood two feet from the phone booth when I related my conversation. He wrapped his arms around me as sounds drifted away and said,

    “Come home with me.”

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