All Day Breakfast
Another one written in response to a prompt from my face-to-face creative writing group. The task was to write a story in which these three words occur: bingo, Sam, eggs. This was written at one sitting and not really looked at again. Comment and feedback very welcome.
Victoria Station was bigger than I could ever have imagined. When I got through the gates at the end of the platform I seemed to be in some kind of big shopping centre, bigger than any I had been in at home. I was adrift in a sea of people, some of them pushing past one another, some standing still talking on their phones or to the people they were with, or just staring at the big electronic screens where the platform numbers and times and destinations kept rolling down and repeating, over and over again.
Suddenly I wasn’t excited any more, I was scared. The need to get away, the steely determination to be independent and grown up – it had all melted away in the blink of an eye. What crazy impulse had made me come here? Without even a return ticket?
I didn’t have to look in my bag, I knew exactly how much money I had. I thought I could probably buy a ticket back, but if you don’t order them in advance they cost a lot. Maybe all I had. And then what? Crawl back, cap in hand? Face my dad and my sister again? Listen to all the scolding about what a fool I’d been?
I looked around as a woman with a pushchair brushed past me. I was standing right in front of the gate on to the platform. I moved to one side, pulling my wheeled suitcase with me, and leaned on a railing. No, that would be an even worse option than seeing it through. God knows what he would do to me. It was too awful to think about.
I fished around in my bag for the piece of paper with Laura’s address. I had no idea how to get to it. A taxi? No, that would be a waste of money. She said I could get to her on the Underground. So I needed to find that, wherever it was. I could ask someone. A woman, definitely. Not a man. Someone who didn’t look too busy or severe. But they all looked so involved in their own affairs, their own lives. Who was going to have time for me? Who had a kindly face?
I spotted a couple of girls of about my own age. They were just standing, they didn’t seem to be doing anything or talking to each other. I walked up to them and spoke: ‘Excuse me, can you tell me where the Underground is please?’
Oh lordy! They don’t speak English. I felt like I had just landed on Mars.
‘No, it’s okay. Sorry. I’ll ask somebody else.’
‘I can help you, Miss.’
The voice came from behind me. It was a young black man, mid twenties maybe. Quite dishy, I thought. I smiled without meaning to.
‘Oh. Thank you. I need to find the Underground Railway.’
‘That’s no problem. It’s just across there. Straight ahead of you. New to London, are you?’
‘Yes. I suppose that’s pretty obvious.’ I tried to place his accent. Foreign but I couldn’t say where.
‘Not long since I was new here myself. It’s a big place. Seriously big. What bit are you trying to get to?’
The piece of paper with Laura’s address was still in my hand so I gave it to him. He drew in his breath sharply when he read it. ‘That’s hardly London at all. I hope you aren’t in a hurry.’
‘You mean it’ll take a long time?’
‘It’s hard to estimate. A bit over an hour I should think.’
‘Really? That long?’
‘You just got off that slow train down from Newcastle, right?’ I nodded. ‘Have you eaten?’
I shook my head. ‘You must be starving. How about a burger or something before you get going again?’
It sounded like a wonderful idea. I could see a McDonald’s and a Kentucky Fried Chicken not far from where we were standing. ‘Over there?’ I suggested.
‘No, you don’t want to go to those. The places in the station all charge inflated prices. Tourist prices. There’s an ordinary little cafe just alongside the station that’ll give you a bigger portion for half the money. Come on, I’ll show you. Let me pull that for you.’ He took my suitcase and trundled it along as I walked briskly beside him.
‘It’s very nice of you but…’
‘No trouble at all. I know the owner. Good bloke. I was going there myself anyway.’
It seemed pointless to argue, and he was right, I was extremely hungry – and thirsty. We strode on together without talking, through a sort of exit tunnel and across a big open bus station, then left and down a little side street with clothes shops and small businesses. I could see where we were heading for now, and felt a bit more comfortable. Inside it smelled of hot chip fat, and instead of tables there was a long Formica surface connected to one wall, and bar stools. We were the only customers.
‘People call me Obi,’ he announced brightly as I sat down, ‘like in Star Wars. Obi-Wan Kenobi. You know? And this is on me, by the way.’
‘Oh no, please, I don’t want to…’ But he had turned to the little grey-haired man behind the counter. ‘Usual for me, Sam. That’s the full English. Same for you sweetheart?’
It was hard to refuse. ‘It’s not exactly breakfast time.’ I just said it to give myself a moment to think.
‘It is for some people. Depends on the business you’re in. Don’t it, Sam?’
‘Oh all right. But I want to pay.’
‘No. I insist. This one’s on me. And you’ve got to try Sam’s special herbal tea. I don’t know what he puts into it but it’s the most fantastic brew you ever tasted.’ He sat on the bar stool next to me and smiled. ‘So. I didn’t catch your name.’
‘I haven’t told you. It’s Denise.’
‘No kidding? I knew a Denise once. Knew her very well. Now she used to have her breakfast at pretty odd hours, didn’t she Sam?’ Sam had started to cook our meals just out of sight behind a low partition.
‘That she did, Obi,’ he shouted through.
There was a pause as we simply looked at each other. I couldn’t make up my mind about him. He seemed okay, I thought, but why all this attention? What did he want from me? I wouldn’t mind getting to know him later maybe, but this was too fast. I had too much else to worry about. I wasn’t ready. I decided to give him my number but nothing more. After all, this was the first day of my whole new life. I needed a place to live and a job. All kinds of things that came before boyfriends.
He seemed to read my mind. ‘Got a job yet, Denise?’ he asked casually. I felt a little shot of panic. My hesitation made it obvious what the answer was. ‘You see, a friend of mine needs a pretty girl like you to look after the one-armed bandits in one of his arcades, give out change, call the bingo, that kind of thing. You would be just right. Good money too. And I could put in a word for you.’
I didn’t know what to say. I had assumed it would take weeks to find a job in London. And it didn’t sound all that bad. A public place, with lots of people around. It couldn’t be too dangerous surely. I could give it a try, couldn’t I? See what it was like. What could be the harm in that?
‘How do you like your eggs?’ Sam shouted from behind his partition. It gave me another moment to think. Maybe I should have taken a little bit longer.
And that was how I ended up following Obi through a network of back streets, he dragging my case, me following a couple of paces behind, the sun sinking behind the high rise blocks in the distance and the cranes that stood beside them, ready to build more, my phone battery flat after a series of unsuccessful attempts to call Laura, and my will to resist Obi’s increasingly crude advances fading away with the daylight. It wasn’t such a bad feeling. Mellow would perhaps be the best word to describe it. And all I seemed to be thinking about was the fantastic taste of Sam’s herbal tea…