“Your name’s not really Harry, is it, because I’ve known a few Harrys and they don’t look like you.”
“It’s Harriet, but I don’t like it.”
“No, no, I get it. American, eh? That accent. Love it. I really love all things American. Rap, television, they invented the internet, didn’t they. Brilliant. Yeah. So what’re doing here? No, don’t tell me. School, am I right? That’s still something we know how to do, here. Rhodes scholar or something aren’t you, am I right?”
“LSE,” I said.
“Oh, well you’re going to be making piles of money, eh, am I right? Piles. But you’re not all American are you? There’s something of the empire about you. Oh, I love Indian food. Indian, am I right? Not Pakistani. Not that I don’t like Pakistani food, but I don’t know when it’s Pakistani and when it’s Indian. I mean it’s all spicy and you get poppadoms and naan. But vindaloo, that’s my favorite. I go into a restaurant and say, ‘Give me the hottest you got.’”
I listened to him yammer on about Indian lager and how he thinks American football is brilliant even though he’s never been to a game and American baseball is brilliant but it’s different from cricket, isn’t it, although he’s never been to a cricket game in his life. And I waited and waited for the bell to tell me that his five minutes were up.
“Oh, look at me, talking and talking. You’re so easy to talk to. I hope you’ll remember number 13, that’s your lucky number.”
But it was not to be his lucky number.
“How’d it go, Harry? Anyone tickle your … fancy?” As usual, Debs was full of giggles and was clearly drunk. Her blonde hair was bouncing off her shoulders in that shower of curls that I hated and coveted.
“No Debs. Not even Basil Brush.”
“Basil Brush, how do you know about Basil Brush? You amaze me, you really do.”
“And what about you?” I asked, knowing the answer.
“Oh, one or two. I’m sorry. I’ll have to collect my winnings. I’ll see you back at the flat … or maybe, I won’t.” She swung her bag onto her shoulder and the weight made her wobble and then she unsteadily made her way to the reception desk.
God, the British make lousy drunks, I thought to myself, immediately feeling awful because Debs really was a great flatmate and a good friend. If only she didn’t have that hair.
I made my way out of the pub, careful to avoid Number 13 who was flashing his speed-dating badge to every woman who was walking to the reception desk. “Boom, boom!”
The winter air hit me hard, and even though I’d only had a pint, I could feel the flush on my face. But it felt good to get outside the stuffy pub and walk the streets of the greatest city in the world. Maybe the sun does now set on the empire, but Number 13 had a point. There’s no greater place to learn how Britain created the world we live in. Being an adopted Indian orphan, raised in Omaha and now studying at the London School of Economics, how could I ignore that?
Which reminded me that I had a paper to write. Which made me think that’s why I didn’t meet anyone I like, because I had work to do. It’s not because I’m incapable of finding anyone. It’s not because my standards are too high. And why shouldn’t they be? Don’t I deserve someone who understands why I work as hard as I do? Which one of those guys thought about anything other than sex and football and hanging out with mates and sex?
Wow, one beer and I get all whiny. Suddenly I realized I was outside the flat and I was feeling very hot, almost like a summer day, and the streetlight was almost as blinding as the sun shining through summer leaves. I staggered slightly. Just one beer, right?
I made it up to the flat and even though I had a pounding headache, I knew my paper about the East India Company wasn’t going to write itself.
The next morning was awful. My 5:30 alarm sounded harsh and cruel and I wanted to roll back in bed. I went into the kitchen and realized I hadn’t set the coffee pot the night before so no coffee before my run. I got dressed and left, but not before peeking into Deb’s empty room.
I quickly made my way to the towpath. I liked running along the canal, so unlike anything I knew in Omaha. There was a thin glaze of ice on the water and my breath was billowing and even this early a few narrowboats were cutting the ice with a delicate crackling sound.
I mixed easily with the other morning joggers and cyclists and even though I still had a headache from the night before, I could feel my muscles relaxing and my feet falling into the rhythms of the music on my iPod. I was feeling hotter than the weather should have allowed and worried I was coming down with something.
Looking ahead, I could see some confusion on the towpath; it was one of the inevitable cyclist/jogger/narrowboater collisions, so I decided to jog along the street and bypass the towpath.
I made it to the interesection and joined the queue waiting for the light to change. I checked my pulse and saw it was pretty high and then the light changed and I stepped out into the street. Someone yelled: “Watch out, miss!” And I knew I had done the stupid thing of looking left, not right. And then I heard the horn and turned toward the sound and saw the number 10 bus. Either I froze or time did. I could see the driver’s horrified face and the coffee from the cup in his hand hitting the windshield in slow motion.
Then I felt the impact, but it came from the side, not the front. And the light became blinding and I felt hotter and hotter. My body was burning from the light, and as it faded, I realized it wasn’t a bus but horses coming at me. And the driver was just as horrified but he held reins in his hands, not a coffee cup.
Time sped up and so did my body. My head jerked to the right while my body flew to the left. I could feel arms around my waist and I realized someone was saving me, but our combined weight hit the ground and now my head jerked to the left and hit the ground. But it wasn’t the hard surface of the street but dirt.
For an instant, everything became dark and then my vision returned and I saw faces staring down at me, the faces of the other people waiting at that Camden Town intersection, but other faces too: men wearing tophats and women wearing bonnets. But closest to me, I saw a man’s face looking at me with great concern. He wore a wide-brimmed hat and had a scarf about his neck.
“Miss, are you all right?” He held my hand and patted it and I thought it the most ineffectual and endearing thing I had ever seen a man do.
“Can you stand?” he asked. I nodded and he helped me to my feet, but as soon as I was upright …