I had never been to America before. When I first told Beryl I had won the competition in the Reader’s Digest, she warned me that I wouldn’t be able to get a decent cup of tea there. Notwithstanding her dire warning, she slyly asked if it was a trip for two. The last time I had been abroad was the Tanzania trip with Margaret but I had lost the appetite for travel since she passed. She was always the organised one of the two of us. I had spent most of my youth marching to the beat of someone else’s drum; I could pack neatly and in a jiffy but I still needed someone to give the orders. As I packed, I missed my old Tardis of a kit bag. The trolley bag my daughter had bought me was a reminder of my physical decline. Would New York be cold now? It always seemed to be snowing there in films. Better pack the long johns, just in case.
I decided the optimal time to leave was just after supper. Most of the residents were left in a stupor afterwards and so the staff were reciprocally insensible to us. It was hard to shake off Beryl who buzzed around me like a wasp at a picnic; just when you thought she had lost interest, she would circle around for another approach. I couldn’t really blame her; me being one of the few widowers at the Cedars. Albert did not count as eligible given that he could barely muster the energy to brush the toast crumbs from his moustache most days.
“Beryl! Time to check your blood sugar, love.”
The nurse’s bark covered my retreat from the dining room.
I retrieved my trolley bag from my room and slipped out of the fire exit that I’d seen the cleaner prop open to have a crafty fag break. It was our little secret as she’d always let me have a puff or two whenever I caught her. I still had to clear the front gate. Matthew, the security guard at Checkpoint Charlie, always played on one of those “iPhones” that my granddaughter demands every Christmas. Strange that the young willingly confined their life to a six-inch screen when I felt that the walls of Cedars smothered me in their caring embrace. It was easy to manoeuvre past him. When you are put somewhere to be out of sight you are already halfway to invisibility.
The journey to the airport was quicker than expected. I passed through the automatic doors and entered this vast, liminal space where every screen and announcement heralded an opportunity – Milton Keynes, Birmingham, Glasgow! I tried to politely enquire of a young gentleman as to where the departure gate was for New York. The young man looked at me quizzically, “you what?” He turned to his friend as he walked away, “mate, I want whatever he’s smoking.” None the wiser and reluctant to face further ridicule, I joined the only queue I could see and jostled between a portly woman in milk bottle glasses and a nurse. How odd she was wearing her uniform to fly I thought; perhaps I should have worn mine for such a special occasion.
I followed the nurse onto the bus.
“Is this the bus to the plane?”
I waved my pass at the driver who responded with a fractional glance in my direction and a desultory nod. He was another one of those who bounded their life within a handheld device. I ended up sitting across the aisle from the nurse.
“You didn’t have time to change after work then?”
“No, I’m heading to work now.”
“How exciting! Is it your first time too?”
“First time? No, it’s my regular shift at the General.” She scrutinised his trolley bag.
“Are you going for an overnight stay?”
“No, a whole week actually.”
“Do you know where you need to go when you get there?”
“Well I believe I have a transfer arranged to my hotel. It’s all in the itinerary.” I patted my breast pocket and the nurse narrowed her eyes.
“Oh I see.”
“I’ve never been to America before, you know!” The nurse gave me a tight-lipped smile that did not reach her eyes.
“Could you excuse me for one minute, please?” She got up and went to the bus driver, speaking in hushed tones before the driver nodded. She didn’t return to her seat, preferring to surf the aisle clinging onto a pole.
The bus pulled into the terminal bay. I gingerly stepped down to the ground and strode towards the automatic doors to be met by an air hostess flanked by two police officers. Her eyes flickered from passenger to passenger; unsatisfied with what they saw before they landed on me. She looked at me with tears welling in her eyes, “Dad!” One of the officers placed a shepherding hand on my shoulder, “let’s get you home old chap.”
I had never been to America before. When I first told Beryl I had won the competition in the Reader’s Digest, she warned me that I wouldn’t be able to get a decent cup of tea there.
“Like I told you last week Fred, they don’t brew the tea properly, they just dangle the tea bag in hot water for a second. Don’t you listen?”
Victoria squeezes in writing flash fiction around her busy London legal career, rushing around meeting court filing and writing competition deadlines alike. When she is not litigating or writing, she enjoys collaborative story-telling through the medium of table-top role-playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons and Call of Cthulhu. If she still has spare time after that, then she will be dancing or sewing.