Chapter Four; Stranger
I woke up dazedly at around 7.15 am to the sound of a car horn beeping, followed by angry shouts. A fear gripped my stomach, forcing me to wretch but as I was drawn up from my half slumbering sense of perspective, I realised that the sounds were coming from a couple of streets away. Nevertheless, I thought it was best not to hang around for too long. Cursing myself for having fallen asleep in the middle of nowhere, I angrily batted away the last few remnants of dreams from my vision and tugged my phone from out of my pocket. I flicked the screen up and down a couple of times before turning it on and then waited in expectance for the messages to pour in. Vibration after rattling vibration signified the incoming of another voicemail message or text. I’d missed 13 calls...all from home. I scrolled through the texts. They began calm but as the times attached to the messages dragged on; later into the night, they became more and more irrational. The voicemails were full of tearful shrieks from my mother. The last one was my father telling me that the police had been contacted and if there wasn’t news from me within twenty-four hours, I was going to be reported missing. Now, I thought to myself, that wasn’t exactly part of the plan. What plan? You’re only making this up as you go along.
I didn’t want the police to have to waste their time on me. I texted my mother.
Im fine. Dont bovva wiv police. Dont call agen.
Perhaps she deserved more than that but I had to keep moving. If I’d had time I would have spelt everything in proper English but text talk would have to do whilst I was rushing. What I was rushing to-or away from- I wasn’t quite sure but what I did know was that I just had to keep moving.
My first instinct was simply to have something to eat; I hadn’t eaten a proper meal since Mrs. Finbury...I bought a bottle of water & a bag of chips from the nearest café I could hunt out and then ventured onwards into the relative abyss of unknown. I wandered aimlessly around endless bends of grey stretching pavements. All the time, thinking about Mrs. Finbury. Since her death, I’d desperately sought to assure myself that I couldn’t have prevented it but I suppose that in my heart of hearts, I was just going to have to accept the blame sooner or later. If I’d just said something, made an excuse to stay a little longer or insisted that I should stay with her perhaps I wouldn’t be talking about her in past tense. I knew that something was wrong. Why hadn’t I done anything? I dug my fingernails into the palm s of my clenched fists as my furious self-deprecation rose within me. I glanced towards my white knuckles; resenting who I was. I’d been walking for almost an hour straight without even realising it; I was at a train station.
Having lived in semi-rural suburbs for most of my life I have to admit; I’ve never before been on a train before. The last thing that I wanted now was to be recognized for the little girl that I was fast realising I really was. I couldn’t give the game away so I tagged behind a middle-aged man who was carrying a brief-case. It was Wednesday morning so I gathered that he was on his way to work. I peered over his shoulder (somewhat more conspicuously than I’d have hoped for) as he purchased a ticket and then headed through another part of the train station. I did just as he had done, ripped my ticket from the machine and quickened my pace as I headed out of the door in pursuit. I perched on the edge of one of the few remaining seats in the already over-packed carriage in which I was part of.
I risked stealing a glance at the passenger beside me as the train began to move away from the station and roll on steadily. He was a good-looking guy who was, at a guess, a couple of years older than me. He had crazy, wildly curled dark hair, a cute grin and sapphire eyes which twinkled smugly at me as he established that I was attracted to him. In a beetroot-faced flush of shame I turned my head away and pulled my diary from my bag. It was more of an excuse not to look at the mystery man on my right than anything else but as I opened up the pages and clicked my pen; I was consumed by an insatiable desire to write.
If I hadn’t experienced the last twenty four hours for myself then I doubt I’d believe any of it at all. This is probably the single maddest thing of my life so far; infact, I’m not likely to ever have a stranger experience. I’m a tom-boy-as everyone at my school frequently likes to remind me; “Oi, Joey, you’re a man”...sophisticated, eh?- but I’ve never really been exactly keen on risk taking. This couldn’t be more out of character for me...
I pause for a moment as I feel myself being watched. Mystery Man with blue eyes is reading what I’m writing...what a cheek! However, I stare intently at my page, in an absolute defiance that I shan’t allow myself to be distracted once again by my own shallow tendencies to swoon at anyone who could pass as a, “handsome prince”.
...I’ve left Dylan with my mother and father and now I’m halfway to nowhere. If I could pinch myself hard enough and force myself to wake up then maybe this would never...
I don’t believe this, Mystery Man pinched me! He’s definitely being the nosey so ‘n’ so I first predicted he was. Brow furrowed and eyes narrowed in preparation to shout at him out of pure and utter rage I turn to face him. He’s gazing innocently out of the window...he has such a lovely profile...being the superficial nonce I am, all of my anger melts away, along with my heart as he faces me and shoots me with another grin which wouldn’t be out of place in Hollywood. Get a grip Joey, you don’t even know his name. As if reading my mind he offers me his hand and, oozing charm, says,
“Jake. My name is Jake. Now you can put a name to my gorgeous face.” I might be annoyed by his arrogance if I didn’t agree.
I take his hand in my own politely but wish I hadn’t as I realise that my hands are hideously clammy. Every time I come into contact with a boy that I’m at all interested in, I glow with embarrassment and clam up.
Stuttering with nerves; I manage to mutter, “...Er...I’m...J-oey” Well great, not only will he think I’m a sweaty pink fool but my new-found speech impediment is just the cherry on top.
“J-oey, what an interesting name, can’t say I’ve heard it before but I’m not complaining my baby kangaroo”
Right, I don’t care how handsome he may be, he still has no right to treat me in such an impertinent manner.
“Look, Jake,” I hiss with more menace than I’d intended, “I don’t suppose that with your good looks, you’ve ever bothered to develop much smarts so I’ll say this slowly for your benefit,” A little shocked at quite how mean that came across; I pause for a moment, but having managed to regain my angry persona, I enunciate very clearly, “I have been through more crap in this past week than a pretty-boy like you has probably experienced in his entire life so do us both a favour and,” I slow my speaking pace even further and lower the tone of my voice to little more than a snarl, “Leave. Me. Alone.” I wait for his smug grin to deplete and with one final squint of my eyes, I turn away.
I’m well aware that what I’ve just said is quite possibly the nastiest I’ve ever been, however, defiantly, I return to my diary.
“...maybe this would never have happened. I like adventures but this is nonsense. I’m going to lose my head soon if I can’t find something familiar to hold on to. At the mention of, “something familiar” my thoughts return once again to Mrs. Finbury.
Just what would old Mrs. Finbury have to say about all of this? In fact, I already know what she’d say to me. For as long as I can remember, she’s urged me to chase my dreams and find myself something special and new. This couldn’t be more different to my life back home so maybe this is along the lines of her encouragements. I can almost hear her gentle voice, so much younger than her years, meandering its way daintily though the air towards me; the way she always moves...moved. She showed me her old dancing dresses once, they were beautiful. She taught me some steps but no matter how technically good I got from practice, I could never master the natural grace and beauty that she accentuated every time she donned her dancing shoes.
In those memories, I placed my pen in my hoody pocket, closed my diary and then close my eyes.
“Joey, you listen to that hip-hop beep-ity-bop music of today but I bet you’ve never heard real music in your life,”
Mrs. Finbury puts a Vera Lynn record onto her player and expertly adjusts the needle until the song, “We’ll meet again” fills the air. She beckons me over to where she is standing and then takes me by my hands, leading me through the dance steps that are in her blood. We twirl our way through murmurs of, “...keep smiling through, just like you always do...” until the song comes to an end. Her arms wrap around me, embracing me in a perfumed cuddle of happiness that has a peculiarly comforting resonance.
Once again, I’m plucked from slumber, mourning the dream world which my mind’s created as I feel Jake tapping on my arm.
“What do you want Jake?”
“It’s my stop and I can’t get past you.”
Rather embarrassedly, I gather myself out of his way and then, after a thought strikes me, I query,
“So, er, where are you heading?”
He pauses hesitantly; obviously, he’s not quite forgiven my rude tirade of earlier on.
“London, I have an apartment there, I’ve just been staying with a friend for the past couple of days.”
Jake picks up his bag from the floor and I know that if I don’t say this now, I never will,
“I’m sorry.” My outburst’s just a bit more hurried than I’d hoped but at least I’d apologised. Jake’s standing now, ready to get off at this station but in one moment he faces my direction but gazes intently at the floor.
“...you don’t have to apologise to me...I was a prat and I’m sorry.”
As hard as I try, I can’t stifle a giggle any longer; our cliché apologies sound as though they’ve been yanked out of a 40’s movie. A smile plays across Jake’s face and in that second, I can tell he’s just had the same thought as me. We laugh for a moment before settling into a comfortable silence. I don’t know where I am or where I’m going but I know that I like this boy and wouldn’t mind seeing him again. I pick up my own bag, checking that I haven’t mistakenly left anything lying around and then I say something that I never thought I’s have had the courage to,
“Jake, I haven’t got plans and I’d like to tag along with you...what do you think?” I know that after that childish admittance, I haven’t got a huge chance of him agreeing but miracles do occur...
“Yeah, alright then.”
I follow him off of the train, it’s lunch time and so it’s suitably busy.
“Joey, hold my arm so that we don’t get separated.”
I link my arm obligingly through his and as I do so, I feel a thrilling zing pulse through me. I don’t care if this is just a measure of practicality; I’m linking arms with a handsome older guy...and it’s not bad!