It’s twelve o’clock on Monday afternoon and a swarm of suits from Howel’s Insurance spill out onto the street for lunch. Women slip into trainers and light cigarettes whilst the men watch and light their own. I duck and weave between the mass hoping that Christian doesn’t spot me from his penthouse office. Christian has grease stains on his shirt from duck legs and burps bubbling champagne. I exaggerate because I’m excited.
I have a backpack with my old shirt and trousers in. They’ve just been replaced with some fresh attire from a shop down the road. The glimpses I catch in shop fronts and car windows reminds me of what I saw in the changing room: a broken thirty year old. I had to buy clothes two sizes smaller. I haven’t been myself.
The coffee shop is filling quickly with a claustrophobic press of lunching cattle. There is a table for two at the back. The collar of my new shirt is stiff with sweat. I’m here for the project. I’m here for the project. My phone rings.
I’m almost sick, the bile forming as a blob in the back of my throat like bloated rice in a dirty kitchen sink plug hole. It’s Kit.
“Hey, what’s up? What are you doing?” I ask, scanning the crowd for a face I cannot pick out.
“Just on my break. Wondered what you were doing. If you wanted to get something to eat, a coffee, a fizzy drink. Anything.”
“I’m sorry I’m busy right now,” with what, with what, with what, “I’m meeting an agent. She says she likes the sound of my new project. I’ll see you later?”
“Sure, of course, right. That’s okay. I’ll get something with Sally. Good luck. I love you,” she says, before I can reply she has hung up the phone.
My head falls into my hand. What am I doing, what am I doing – the phone rings again. Unknown number.
“Hello?” it’s her voice, Cora’s voice. The guilt evaporates.
“Hello, is this Cora?”
“Sure is. You in the coffee shop?” she asks, “Stand up and wave or something.”
I get up and wave my hand in the air. At any moment she will emerge. We will make eye contact. We will –
“Hi,” she says. Half English, half Japanese. Mid-twenties. Cropped hair frames a round face. Skin the colour of toffee. She is wearing a low-cut top with the name of a band I do not know and white jeans with rips on the upper thigh. White and toffee like Banoffee. I feel a stirring I haven’t felt since. Since. Smoothing down my shirt front and jamming a finger in my collar does not sooth my wildly beating heart. I stamp my foot, under the table.
“Hi, hi, hi. Please. Sit down. Sit down. I’m Edward. Hi,” I thrust out my hand, “I am Christian’s associate, assistant. I deal with all this, all this stuff, when he’s out doing insurance type stuff.”
She looks at me but doesn’t say anything. Sitting down, she asks: “You didn’t get me a coffee then?”
I laugh, “You can have mine,” and I slide it towards her whilst I take my own seat. I gave her my coffee. Why did I do that, no one has ever done that. No one.
“Thanks,” she says.
I hope she doesn’t drink that coffee. What am I doing? We sit in silence for a moment and she looks expectant.
“Paper!” I say.
She laughs, “Are you new to this?”
“I. I. Well. Yes. Actually I am,” I say reaching down to my backpack, I have no papers in there, I didn’t pack papers, how didn’t I pack papers, “So new, in fact, I think I’ve left the papers upstairs.”
“You don’t work for Christian do you,” she says. It is not an accusation. She looks curious.
“I. I do,” I stutter.
“You don’t have a tie. Your blazer still has a sticker on the inside. Who are you, how did you get my number?” she is still calm.
I let the façade slip, “Fine. You got me. I’m a writer. A friend of Christian’s. He told me about you.”
“A writer?” she brushes her hair behind her petite ear.
“Yes. I am doing a new project. I. Uh. I’ve been running around a lot recently. I used to be a teacher and a writer now I’m just a full time writer. This new project. I had an epiphany. Wanted to get out of the house. Meet new people. Find something…find something worth my life, worth someone else’s life. It’s been up and down so far,” I spill out. The words are unformed and I don’t know where they come from.
I don’t know where to take the conversation, “Well. Why. Uh. Why do you want to go travelling?”
“Before we start I want to say this is weird as shit,” she laughs and it’s as tasty as the froth on the coffee I have just passed to her, “but you obviously went to some effort to talk to me. I’m flattered.”
I can feel myself turning red, “I’m new to this bit, too. I didn’t know the best way to…to get in contact with you.”
“It’s fine. I’m going travelling because my parents are -”
“Harsh,” I suggest.
She nods, “You remember.”
“What kind of harsh?” My mouth is so dry. Why did I give her my –
“They’re great people but self-made capitalist drones, they work in money, money, money all it is ever about is money. They have enough moolah to pay for this trip three times over. More than that maybe,” she takes a sip, yes, enjoy it, I guess, “yet I haven’t seen a penny.”
“You said they bought you a flat.” I tried not to offend her in my tone.
She narrows her eyes, “Yes. They did. And it was shit. So shit it caught fire.”
“Why do you even want travel insurance? Why not just…go?” This has been bothering me. I need to clear it up.
“My parents would never let me back in the house. They have a firm belief in insurance. If I broke my leg whilst I was away and didn’t have enough money I think they’d just leave me out there to rot. Seriously.”
“Makes sense, they’re harsh,” I say.
“You can’t actually get me insurance can you?”
“Maybe. There must be other reasons though,” I press.
She shrugs, “Maybe.”
“I see. I’ll get you insurance, but you have to answer my questions. I want to know. Know more about you,” and I can feel my heightened emotion slip into my voice. She shuffles her chair a little closer.
“My ex-boyfriend Carter, this American patriot turned affable English gentleman, some transformation, right? up and left me,” she starts, “no note, no goodbye kiss, no goodbye at all. Three weeks later I get a postcard from Venezuela. Venezuela. I had to check it on the map. Just to be sure. He says ‘Hey honey,’ all that shit, ‘Come join me!’ he’s making ‘tonnes’ of money and so on. I don’t want to know what he’s doing but I’ll bet you a whole coffee that it’s nothing good.”
I nod. Asshole ex-boyfriend all the way in Venezuela. This is good stuff.
“But now I’ve got the bug, you see. If he can run off to Venezuela and start shotting cocaine or lazing around some marijuana mountain retreat, why can’t I? I want to make films. I want to make films of the whole world. Every country. Just something from each. That’s my dream. He’s an asshole, but he inspired me,” she finishes and sits back in her chair, “that’s it.”
I give it a moment as if I am letting it settle in, “Sounds. Sounds admirable.”
“You think so?”
“Sure. I’ve always wanted to travel. Never had the chance. I don’t think I will have a…what kind of films do you make?” I ask.
“Some artsy stuff. My most recent project involved three tubs of ketchup, some seaweed and one or two naked bodies,” she grins, “but you don’t want to hear about that.”
“I’d like to see it.”
She pauses, “I don’t have it with me.”
“You were just coming to get insurance,” I laugh and lean forwards, “I would like to see it though.”