I walk from Embankment tube. I buy a pack of fruit chew star bursts and I unpeel them as I hop down the station steps. I see a park I’ve not noticed before and make a mental note to go back there one day. As I put the wrapper paper in a bin, two police men walk past and I wait to see if they are cute. They are not.
I walk for what seems like a long time and start to get worried that I won’t find Temple station, or I’ll be late. I come across Somerset house, so that’s one thing, and I notice a guard.
Excuse me? Where is the courtyard?
Turn left and then turn left again.
I thank him and offer him a star burst but he declines.
I start walking and around a corner I find the station. Alba is not there yet so I look for a Money Machine. I turn and Alba is there. He is smiling.
I was looking for a money machine. Should we get some strawberries?
I point at the fruit cart
If you’d like.
Would you like them?
I mean, I don’t have any cash.
You want me to buy them?
Are you hungry?
I am now.
I decide against the strawberries and we start walking. I give him the rest of the starbursts.
Where are we going?
To Somerset house to see the fountains.
I don’t know where that is.
He unwraps and eats a starburst.
The Chilean tennis player lost at Wimbledon today. It was the eighth round? What do you call that?
The quarter final?
No, that is _______ in Spanish. What is the round before that?
Semi final? I don’t know. Octo-final?
I don’t think we have a word for it.
We walk until we arrive at our destination. At the courtyard I can see the fountains. They are jets of water that come out of the ground and there is enough room to walk between them. In each corner of the courtyard there is seating where well dressed people are drinking. We choose the corner with a bar.
You’ll have to get the drinks because I don’t have any cash, if that’s OK. I’ll pay you back later.
We look at the menu
What will you have?
A gin and tonic please.
I sit down at a table while he pays for our drinks. I see a couple walk between the fountain jets. They cling together to keep dry.
Here you go.
We take a sip and I tell Alba about my day. I ran a meeting which went very well. Afterwards the marketing woman from my company told me it was the best meeting she had been to.
Why don’t you do this for a career then?
Because I want to be a writer.
He takes a sip of his drink and processes this.
In Chile, people build their houses of concrete, even though it is better to build them out of wood. They do this because there is much change and they want something that will last. You Europeans have a very different idea of things. That is why I could never live here in London. Things are too different.
I feel a pressure begin to build up in my solar plexus. Behind us Americans are talking in loud voices.
I’m not really a European. I grew up in New Zealand. We’re probably more similar to Chile than we are to Europe.
What is it you want to do with your career then?
I’ve already told you before, have you forgotten?
I am trying to work it out, that’s why I’m asking again.
I want to travel somewhere and write another book, and then come back to London.
You seem so certain. Where do you want to go?
I don’t know. Nice? San Francisco?
How old were you when you left London?
How old were you when you came back?
So you only did a year of Drama School?
No, I did two.
The fountains make a different noise.
Look at the fountains.
I look at the fountains and they are doing a display. The jets lengthen and shorten. Sometimes they are short, sometimes they are long. Sometimes they are mid height.
I feel angry inside and I don’t want him to ask me anymore questions. My gin and tonic in the paper cup is half empty. We watch the display for a while. The silence feels awkward so I fill it.
I haven’t made choices about my life lightly. They came with sacrifice and commitment. I ask myself these questions every day. I don’t believe in stereotypes either. People aren’t stereotypes.
I feel a burn in my solar plexus. I feel tired.
I don’t believe people are archetypes either, but I think we can learn things from looking at a group of people. Who did you stay with when you came to London?
No one. I stayed at a hostel.
How long did you stay at the hostel?
And in New Zealand – there was your Mother and your sister?
I have three sisters. My Mother and three sisters.
And when you were in London before did you live with your father?
For a while.
I want to tell him to shut up and wait for this information when I’m ready to tell him. I can feel the anger building up inside and I’m afraid of where it will go and how it will erupt. I want him to stop asking me all these questions. I’ve nearly finished my drink and my head is swimming. I feel exhausted. Drained. He is making me feel exhausted.
What does your sister do?
She is a debt collector?
She deals in debt.
What did she study to do that?
I don’t know you’ll have to ask her.
What is she..?
I pretend to yawn. It’s a stupid stage yawn. I even raise my arms.
I’m so tired. I’m sorry I can’t answer anymore questions.
We sit in absolute silence. My heart is racing. I am scared to look at him. What have I done? What have I done? Why didn’t I handle that better? It’s ruined. I’ve ruined it. I am fucked up. He thinks I am fucked up. I should say something. I don’t have anything to say.
We watch the fountains.
After a while Alba starts to put on his leather belt bag. It starts spitting which gives us both the excuse to leave. We start walking. I laugh and try to bump into him playfully but I don’t think he notices. We walk down the Strand and the voices are yelling in my head. This is over. You have ruined it. This is over.
Will you get the Victoria line?
We are only half an hour into our date. It is ruined and we are going home separately. This is ruined.
I think I’ll take the bus.
But I don’t know where I’m going. I am lost.
Oh, wait. I’ll get some money out.
I walk to the cash point and I put in my card and press the numbers to make the note come out. I put the note in my wallet. Alba is further down the road looking in a shop window. I join him.
Here is ten pounds for the drinks. I said I’d pay you back.
It’s OK. Buy me a drink another time.
OK. Thank you.
We keep walking. We are silent. I look at the poster’s for Chicago. I see MacDonald’s. I see without really seeing. We reach Charing Cross Station.
OK then, see you later.
You have fucked this up. Say something. I don’t say anything.
Alba goes to leave but before he does he turns.
I hope you can talk to me about it some day.
I don’t know what he means. He is waiting for my reply. I don’t know what he means.
Alba walks off towards Charing Cross Station.
I don’t know what he means. It is over.