by Craig Loomis
This is the sad but true story of young Sara who at 23, going on 24, had convinced her parents that she needed to go to London alone, that she was old enough to be on her own for 10 days and 10 nights, independent enough at 23 going on 24, and so on. So, after a daily dosage of 'I'm not hungry' and 'Nothing's wrong' along with much talk and half talk, not to forget the assorted silence combined with staring off into the middle distance, the parents, exhausted with her, said, "Fine.".
Sara was surprised and said so, "I'm surprised. Really?"
They replied, "Really, but 10 days only and you must call us twice a day and be in bed before 9:00, and . . ."
But never mind because she said yes, to everything, "Yes, certainly yes."
And so as Sara hurried to pack shoes and pajamas and just a few more shoes, the mother cried while the father assured her there was nothing to worry about-or maybe it was the other way around. The next day, once at the airport, when Sara was safely on the other side of immigration and could see them standing there behind the glass, she waved good bye. She cried, a little.
In the beginning, in London for five days and five nights, all went well: she caught the right trains, at the right times, booked the best hotel rooms, held her hand high for the taxis, did her shopping, along with a hot chocolate every morning. Of course, there had been the beggar at Paddington Station who had asked her for some spare change and she said, "No thank you," to which he replied angrily, "What?" Not to mention the bicyclist who almost ran her over in Hyde Park, cursing her for walking where he was riding. Or, how about that guy who had what could only be described as a terrible burn across his cheek, who stopped her in the street, asking directions to White Hall and she pointing straight, then motioning left, and then, "another right," and he nodded while not once taking his eyes off her face. And so London life was almost perfect. But then came that afternoon of day six when she decided to explore and give bigger and better things a chance and so took the morning train to Barry Island because her best friend's middle name was Barry. Only after she had spent all day walking through the park, taking photographs of the flowers and gardens, did she stop and decide that she was hungry and bought herself a chicken sandwich. In fact it was a special chicken sandwich (that's what the sign said), and when she dared to ask what was so special about it, he, a man with a walrus moustache, a blur of colorful tattoos all up and down one arm, sporting a greasy apron that once might have been white, said, "It's special because it's small, see, very small." Showing her how neatly the tiny square of bread fit into his palm.
"It's special because it is small?"
"Exactly," he said with a walrus smile.
Sara nodded like this was as good a reason as any, and seeing that there were no other vendors around, bought the special and walked to the nearest park bench. With the park and bright flowers and gardens thataway, and the ocean the other, she sat and watched the seagulls seesaw back and forth. This, thought Sara, was the escape she needed, yearned for at 23 going on 24 and smiled. That is when she spied two old people walking their dog. Sara, not used to seeing old people walk dogs anywhere, decided this was the stuff of a photo and with the sandwich safely at her side, on the bench, neatly wrapped in wax paper, she aimed her camera and happily clicked away. Her mistake was in the old people with dog, in her forgetting all about her special chicken sandwich-never mind the wax paper-that sat next to her on the park bench. Because, in the end, when she turned to take a bite of her special chicken sandwich, she was no longer alone, a seagull was with her, its wings flapping, head cocked, considering, its beak having expertly lifted the sandwich from its wax paper. She jumped up from the bench, did Sara, spilling her water and whatever was left of her lunch, which was nothing, and said, "Oh," The seagull cared nothing about the Oh part, only that it had her special chicken sandwich and was pumping its way into the sky, closely followed by other seagulls. Then Sara said it again, "Oh," but louder so the old people with cocker spaniel stopped to look at her. Although the sea gull with special sandwich was gone, Sara refused to sit back down on what only moments before had been a perfectly good park bench.
That night, in her Barry Island hotel room, Sara made a decision, and the next morning she took the early train back to London, never mind that she had already paid for three nights on the island. Once safely back in London, she hurried to treat herself to a hot chocolate without seagulls. And now, regaining her confidence, and feeling better by the minute, she took a taxi straight to Harrod's and purchased three pairs of shoes.
Of course, Sara could never tell her parents about the special chicken sandwich and seagull, how scared she was, how that night she fingered her telephone, considering calling them, to say yes they were right and yes she was coming home, and yes. . . . But at 23 going on 24, Sara knew that if she did that, any future Londons would be impossible. And so, Barry Island taught her a lesson that was much bigger than simply seagulls and chicken sandwiches. The stuff of London was for her, she now understood that. It took old people with dog, along with a hungry seagull to make her understand that. And so, she was happy, was Sara, who would be 24 any day now.
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