Saturday, May 19, 2012
Leaving London: a magical departure
She wrestles her luggage out of the hotel, careful not to bump the case of eggs that has been left precariously on the narrow stone step, along with a flat of milk in plastic jugs and a large basket of bread. This food is destined to become the hotel breakfast.
Does she have everything? Before allowing the heavy red door to close behind her, she checks one more time: backpack, long-strapped purse, pouch around her neck with passport, ticket and London wallet with a few pounds still in it. The alarm clock and key have been left on the desk as instructed.
Confident that all is in good order, she maneuvers her dented suitcase past the eggs and flumps it down the stone steps behind her. It's rough on the wheels, but at the moment, it's the best she can do. Once on the sidewalk, she readjusts her burdens and stands for a moment indecisive.
At 4:30 am, there is nobody in the street, and no clear sign of dawn yet either. Across the corner of the green square, she can see the Hotel Russell, its entrance well-lit. Should she go there to seek a taxi? No, she will take the advice of the hotel desk clerk, go directly to the taxi rank in front of the British Museum.
And so she sets off down the street, her suitcase wheels bumping along the uneven stone paving slabs. Now she's the one making that familiar thumpety sound. When she first heard it from her room, she thought it was made by skateboarders.
She rounds the corner into Great Russell Street, but to her dismay, the taxi rank is empty. The only sign of life is a man driving a pedicab -- a bicycle with a little two-seat conveyance behind. She approaches him saying, "I need a taxi."
With a smooth black hand, he gestures in the direction of Oxford Street. His speech is accented by an African language, but she cannot discern which one. "You have to go to the main road." Then, as her face fall, he asks, "Where are you going?"
"Just to St. Pancras Station."
He gives her luggage an appraising glance and says, "I can take you." Smiling with relief, she climbs up, and he wrestles the large case up beside her and fastens the seat belt around it. He hands her the back pack and tells her to hold onto it.
"How much will it cost?'
"A tenner?" She detects a slight rising tone in his voice -- tentativeness, or an expectation of bargaining.
"Fantastic." She nods her agreement and he climbs onto the cycle.
"What time is your train?"
"I'm hoping to make the 5:30," she says, "but the 5:12 would be even better."
"We'll be there in about 6 or 7 minutes," he says, pressing hard on the pedals to force the heavily laden vehicle into motion. From behind, his head looks smooth and round, with tight even curls.
She sits back to enjoy the feeling of the fresh morning air on her face. The sky is clear; apparently the weather will be fine on the day of her departure. She watches the familiar buildings, brick and stone, pass by as they trundle along the nearly empty road.
When they pull up to the door of the shiny glass-fronted entrance of the newly refurbished St. Pancras International, it is only 4:40.
He unloads her luggage and she gives him two tenners, so pleased is she to have found him at the moment she needed the ride. Upon receiving the money, he half bows, politely thanking her, and then lifts her large case up the three stone steps to the station and wishes her a good day.
The station is nearly empty. Platform A is just a few yards ahead of her. From here she will take the Brighton Train, which calls at Gatwick Airport. She finds her ticket and heads for the barrier.
Once on the platform, she looks at her watch. She will make the 4:54. The young man has put her two trains ahead; she will have extra time at the airport. From first to last, this London trip has been magic.