Serene looked up, distracted yet again from the book she was trying to read, and stared at the small screen in front of her seat. Three hours, 49 minutes to go on this eight- hour flight. Just the small realization that she had passed the halfway point, made everything seem more manageable. Suddenly it seemed the entire world began lifting from her shoulders, and she let out a deep sigh. Now she could put her whole past behind her. Start fresh. No turning back now. She abandoned the half-hearted attempt at reading and laid her head back to doze.
She kept holding his hand…wouldn’t let go. He sweat almost constantly now. She gave him sponge baths every few hours and insisting the nurses do the same when she had to go to work. He has stopped talking a week ago. Only grunting now in response to her voice.
After landing at Heathrow, she had a lovely conversation with the customs agent…an all too young, all too eager university graduate who pretended to be interested in the fact that she was indeed going to be living in his country. He almost sent her to the office for further questioning when she mentioned jokingly that she was in London to ‘do some major renovation’. To her life, she clarified, not the city. I mean really, what harm could she possibly cause to his beloved city?
All of her worldly possessions came lumbering in one overstuffed suitcase down the luggage belt. Serene took this as a sign of good things to come…as if the airlines were almost guaranteed to lose her bag. Swiftly and purposefully she made her way outside into the warm, unseasonably balmy London air. It was mid-September, and the city was clinging to the last remnants of summer air as if its life depended on it. She took a slow look around her in one deep breath. Even though it was cloudy and threatening rain, she welcomed the humid air; it seemed to hold promise as if welcoming her into its country and enveloping her in its arms.
“Good Morning, Miss, do you need a ride?”
She followed the voice to a young Indian man standing next to his cab. She smiled at him. “Yes, can you take me into the city?”
“Certainly, Miss, anywhere you want to go.”
“Kensington Gardens Hotel, then, please.”
As they sped out of the terminal, the cab driver made an attempt at small talk. “Are you on holiday?”
“No, actually I’m moving here. From Illinois.” Fully expecting him not to have the slightest idea where Illinois was.
“No kidding? Where in Illinois? My cousin lives in Springfield.”
Serene’s eyebrows lifted. Oh great, she thought. Already she was realizing it was a small world, and the idea didn’t exactly comfort her. She wanted to be far away from all things familiar – totally disconnected from everyone and everything she knew – at least for a little while. For the rest of the ride, she offered no more information, only giving the kind cabbie short answers to his questions. Eventually, he got the idea and fell silent the rest of the way to her hotel.
As the car pulled up to her new temporary home, she smiled apologetically as she paid the cabbie and pulled her large suitcase behind her through the hotel doors.
This was Friday, so she gave herself two days to find an apartment before it was time to hit the pavement on Monday to follow up on some job leads. She had been told that apartments in London were a dime a dozen, with no credit check or waiting period before moving in, so she really didn’t think she’d have any trouble finding one.
Boy, was she wrong. Over room service ate on the bed, she combed through the London Times and saw only twelve ads for available flats…eight of them were out of her price range. Mentally exhausted by this time, she dropped the paper and slumped down on the pillow…what the hell was she doing? She was in town less than two hours and already things were not looking good. Maybe I should try craigslist. For a long time she just lie there thinking; feeling an increasingly familiar downward spiral into another one of her brief fits of depression. She could always just pick up and leave when the going got too tough, right? But go where? Back to Chicago? Not on your life, she chastised herself. No, there were far too many painful memories there. Far too many people in her life who’s constant looks of concern and pity only made things worse for her.
After a while she got up and took a long steamy shower until the hot water ran out…then returned to the paper and circled the four ads that sounded potentially promising. She called her mother to let her know she arrived okay. After watching a little TV, she quickly fell asleep, jet lag finally catching up.
Bright and early the next morning, she called to make appointments to see the apartments. She could only get a hold of two, and arranged to see them both in the afternoon. The first one was in Knightsbridge. It was clean with bare-bones amenities, but it was on the fifth floor of a huge complex of turn-of-the-century buildings, and no elevator in sight. The landlord wanted a deposit right away before even guaranteeing that the apartment was available…not promising. As she approached the next one, she didn’t even bother walking in the front door…it was in a poor neighborhood filled with garbage and shady looking people.
When she returned to her hotel, one of the other prospects had returned her call and agreed to see her the next morning. But when she showed up at the flat the next day, she waited over an hour and he never showed up. Discouraged, she went back to her hotel and wrote almost constantly for the rest of day, only stopping to take another, hot shower to soothe her aching brain and ti stimulate various other body parts. Around nine o’clock, she could ignore her rumbling stomach no longer and decided to grab a bite. Earlier she had spied a small grocery store around the corner, so decided to load up on supplies for the next couple of days. Tomorrow would be a busy day of pounding the pavement for a job.
She awoke the next morning to the phone ringing loudly in her ear. After debating whether to answer it, she finally groped for it. Wrong number…dumbass. Her sleepy eyes noted that it was a little after 7 in the morning.
She looked over and gazed at Damon, still asleep. He always looked like a little boy when he was at rest. Even through his thinning hair and the creases on his forehead, it was so easy to imagine him 8 years old. It was only when she got up to rouse him for the day, that she realized he was gone.
Serene shook her head, getting those dreadful memories out of her mind. She kept having to remind herself not to dwell on the past. It was time to finally start the carefree life she’d always longed for.
Her first task: a 10 am appointment with a temp agency in Knightsbridge. Work visa tucked securely in her bag, she pretended to read the latest issue of British Vogue while she waited for her interview. Just as she started to wonder if they were going to give her a battery of clerical tests like they did in the States, she was called.
The man behind the desk looked too haughty and finely dressed to work in a temp agency. “So, Ms. Hawthorne” he had to look on her resume to get her name right, “I see you just came off the boat from America. What brings you to sunny London?”
She smiled at this, even though no hint of amusement crossed his face. She decided early on she wasn’t going into specifics with total strangers. “A fresh start.” She paused, he waited. “I came to a dead end in my career in Chicago, and London has always held a special place in my heart, so I decided to give it a go.”
Wow…he certainly had a way with words. “My decision to relocate did not come lightly…I’ve done a lot of research about the cost of living and job prospects here…and I think I’ll be quite happy here.
“Well, according to your resume, you’ve dabbled in everything from a travel agent, to a textile assistant, to catalog buyer’s assistant…anything you want to focus on while you’re on board with us?” The way he stressed the word ‘focus’ immediately put her on the offensive.
Feebly, she responded. “My greatest strengths are in Liberal Arts, purchasing and merchandising…and with my strong clerical background I could start in just about any entry-level position, preferably in those fields or something similar.”
“Hmmm…” he gazed at her, appearing to drift off in his own thoughts. “Right then, I should have something for you in a week or two…as it happens we are slow in getting job leads at the moment.”
“Okay…” London job market slow at the moment. Not good. Gonna have to research that claim.
“Decidedly so.” As if he had just read her thoughts.
“Alright then…do you need me to take a typing test or anything?”
Not at all, you obviously know your way around the office. That will be all for today, Ms. Hawthorne. Thank you for coming in…we’ll give you a ring when something turns up.”
“Very well, thank you. Please call as soon as you have something…anything.” Her voice struggled to remain strong, just as she was sure her parting handshake told a quite different story. Time to have a strong coffee and pour over the want ads.