|This is the beautiful view I enjoyed in Summer 2007 - my cabin could have been plucked out from the set of Dirty Dancing! Dream come true|
‘They do that quite often you know,’ the girl sitting next to me smiles.
I frown at these words, my concern spreading onto my features. I had stepped out onto the tarmac parking lot and seen the shuttle. Having expected some sort of motorized flying tram I was disappointed by what awaited me. It turns out that shuttle is just a fancy word for minibus. Resentful of my high expectations I climbed on board and settled next to this girl. She immediately introduced herself, though her name now escapes me, and struck up a conversation. After the bewilderment at the airport I was glad of the friendly company.
‘Just this airline,’ Lindsay (for want of a name) continued, not losing her cheerful demeanour. ‘They fly to Hamilton because it’s cheaper. The flights are offered at a cheaper rate, but if you don’t know the company it can be confusing. They’re often vague about which airport they will be using.’
‘But the woman, that French woman,’ I spit out almost without realising it. ‘She wasn’t at all vague! I asked her and she said we were definitely flying to Toronto airport.’
‘Technically we’re on the outskirts. It’s all in the small print,’ she replies lightly, amused with my incapacity to accept this truth as the only one available.
My truth was certainly different, these people had lied to me, scammed me. Technically or not, this was far from where I needed to be landing. When the driver asks us all to look to the right, where he points out a bridge of some sorts, I look over with all the energy and excitement of a new born zombie. I’m still focused on the scandal at hand.
‘But the main airport is five hours away,’ I state, bemused by the nonchalant attitude she takes to company fraud.
‘Only in traffic,’ she states, like there are plenty of other travel options, but where was the flying shuttle when I needed it? ‘This road is usually busy though. It’s the only way from downtown to the centre. I used to live near here, when I was a kid, because my parents didn’t want me growing up in the city. We’ll be passing my school soon.’
She looks out the window; the smile on her face seems to be a permanent feature. I wonder if all Canadians are like this. She’s a really pretty girl, blonde and tanned. I realise she’s the girl I first noticed at the airport in Manchester, and then once we had gotten off the plane and were queuing to get through customs, because she was carrying a pillow. She slides on a big pair of white rimmed sunglasses. The evening sun is still quite bright. Outside the window I see a bunch of ads shaped out of the lawn, they take advertising to a whole new level here. We also appear to be surrounded by factories and empty cement lots, again I feel let down by the unexpected scenery.
When she talks she puts a hand to her glasses and lowers the rim slightly so I can see her blue eyes. The sun is slowly running its course, slipping down lower on the horizon. Her blonde hair shines where it’s touched by the light. She has a just slipped out of bed look to her, I feel like I’m intruding in some morning ritual, which is odd given the time and the place. She tells me she tried to sleep on the plane ride over, and was going to on the bus trip to the city, but she’s glad to have someone to talk to.
‘Look, that’s my old street,’ she cries out.
I look and see a group of houses nestled between the factories that line each side of the road. The scene makes me smile too, as I pick up on her excitement. I’ve done this myself in the past when driving by familiar places with new friends. It’s hardly very different from city life though, all built up and green free. My parents hadn’t wanted me to grow up in Surrey, so they moved to the Spanish countryside. Lindsay’s idea of out of city life was very different than my own.
‘You know they don’t make wine gums over here. So I’ve stocked up,’ she opens her hand luggage and pulls out a plastic carrier bag full of sweets. ‘I love the candy in England. I don’t understand why they can’t make it the same over here. There are some things that are better here though.’
I smile at her, enjoying the company, wanting to thank her for making me feel so welcome. But wording that kind of thing is always awkward, and I’ve just met the girl.
The more I think about it, the more she reminds me of my best friend back home. She had also taken me under her wing, so to speak, when I started at a new school. She approached me mere moments after stepping through the school gates with a terrified look on my face. I had promised to visit her in Spain during the summer, but my plans had changed radically and I hadn’t had the chance to tell her. I feel guilty now. Here I was talking to this nice Canadian girl instead of going to see my friends. I knew she would understand, she always has, but that didn’t make the guilt go away. I soon realise Lindsay is talking again. I’ve been nodding, smiling, and incorporating an odd giggle every now and then, all automatically. I haven’t heard a single word she has been saying.
‘Over on that side is a great water park. I’ve been there loads, with my brothers. If you ever get the chance to go you’ll see what I mean.’
I hope this is all she has been speaking about. Maybe she’s been pointing out places the whole time and hasn’t noticed my mind going AWOL on me again.
‘I’m hoping I’ll have somewhere to sleep tonight,’ she laughs. ‘I’ve been renting my room out at college, while I’ve been away for the summer and I wasn’t supposed to be arriving there for another week, but my folks live too far away for me to get there today. I might have to sleep on the couch, unless my flatmate is out again, then I can steal his bed for the night,’ as she says this her phone rings.
I hate eavesdropping when someone I don’t know is on the phone, it’s disrespectful of their privacy. But stuck on this small minibus none of the passengers had much of a choice on the matter, we were all intruders. She was talking to one of her friends and smiled at me apologetically as she asked them what their plans for the night were.
‘I’m here for the night,’ she says. ‘It would be great to see everyone before they all go their separate ways. How about that Chinese place?’
She hangs up, telling me she has been trying to make plans for tonight. There are some great clubs. She asks where I’m staying. The clubs she likes are just around the corner from the Backpackers Inn that I’m booked in at. The idea of sleep seems to have faded from her mind now as she sits up straight.
‘You should definitely get out tonight. There are some great clubs in that area. All these themed places. They do great food at a Chinese restaurant down the same road. That’s where I’m hoping to go tonight. I think they do take-away,’ her phone rings again. ‘Sorry, that’s him again. I asked him to contact some of my other friends that are leaving soon,’ she says all this whilst answering the phone, leaving him waiting for a moment before she says ‘Hey, couldn’t you reach her? Did you leave a message on the answer phone then? Ok. I’ll try and phone her in a minute. Actually, if I give you her other number could you phone her?’
Later… at the inn
‘I haven’t got a hairbrush,’ I said again to the young girl in the bunk bed across from mine.
She was from Cambridge, blonde and petite, traveling in Canada with a friend for the summer. She said she wouldn’t have been able to do it alone, but somehow her fear of loneliness made me feel more secure in mine.
‘Do you have any friends out here then?’ she asked with a hopeful expression on her face.
‘No,’ I say. ‘I came here to be alone.’
I eventually manage to explain the basics of my plan, to live alone and far away from anyone I have ever known. I may not have had any friends here, but my immediate thoughts were on my hairbrush, because I certainly didn’t have one of those with me either.
I woke up early the next morning having slept from the moment my head touched the pillow, waking momentarily in the middle of the night, when Cambridge came back drunk. Upon waking I went out to inspect the shower rooms.
The only problem with the so called shower cubicle privacy set up, was the make shift part of it. This involved large gaps in between each wooden panel, making them less private and more Peep Show. Yet I felt driven by the knowledge that no-one would expect me to be able to cope with this situation.
‘If nothing else I will cope,’ I thought to myself.
I’ve met people in public toilets before. On drunken nights out, random girls have often introduced themselves in inappropriate manners in these grotty little establishments, but those are other stories from far less sober moments. I met Aileen (not her real name) at the Backpackers Inn, just outside the toilet cubicles as I was brushing my teeth. This was definitely a first. And I had never traveled this far to meet a Scottish woman before.
Aileen had been in the lower bunk underneath mine. She arrived before me, but had then gone out to find food, something I could not have faced the night before, apparently too distressed by loss of hairbrush. She was twenty-six going on thirty, with a panic of aging that had brought her to the conclusion that adventures should be had before hitting that dreaded age. I would later find out that a relationship had also been her reason to depart from the British Isles, but hers she was running towards, as her hopeful man to be was Canadian.
I found a connection with Aileen from the moment I met her, her eyes squinting, looking much like a mole that had come up to see the daylight for the first time. She was a confusing woman, although admittedly I found I could hardly understand a word she said for the first week of our Canadian adventure. British accents aren’t a major issue where I was brought up; in Spain we have the Catalans to contend with.
Not knowing what you say to someone in the cubicles whilst sober, I went for my current preoccupation. I told her about my hairbrush. The ever absent brush I would find months later, sitting on my desk at home looking ashamed of itself. (I’ve since bought new brushes, just to show it I can cope without its presence, call me insane but at least I’m never without a brush now)
She looked at me with a confused look, probably mirroring my own. I had asked her to repeat each question four times before coming out with a reply that I hoped fit the question asked. This time I understood her, she said we could try to find a shop and buy a hairbrush later. A smile returned to my face, everything would be fine as long as I could get a hairbrush.
I was in a country half way across the world going into a life I knew nothing about. Hours later I would find myself living in a Jewish summer camp, surrounded by children aged six and upwards wondering why on Earth I had agreed to work for a crazy chef in the first place. This was something no one else could bail me out of.