The walk across the elevated platform then down the escalators was messy. Rob and Elaine had been playing tag on the phone all morning so when he rang again, despite the awkwardness, she cradled her phone on her shoulder and pressed her left ear against it while tackling a pillow under that arm and with her right, dragged her two-wheeled cabin luggage and tried to not spill a freshly pressed juice that was filled to the brim with a week’s recommended dosage of sugar, no more wholesome for the antioxidants and ‘super’ ingredients optimistically touted on the colourful disposable cup. Her cabin luggage was the cheapest option at the Reject Shop that morning after her heavy rucksack’s flimsy stitches unravelled at the straps before she made it to the station.
There had been nowhere to transfer contents from rucksack to new luggage, so she’d opened it up on the street in front of the store and faced the ogling of passers-by who enjoyed the stranger’s chaos and their own relative shit-togetherness. Abandoning the KonMari folds she’d attempted at home, she’d gathered her belongings in scoops: a scoop of knickers; a scoop of toiletry bag and umbrella; a scoop of pencil case and socks; a more delicate scoop of the gifts she’d carefully wrapped in anticipation of their first meeting; and a gooey scoop of toothpaste tube she hadn’t manged to fit in the toiletry bag that had left a mint-scented chalky trail on her sneakers, notebook and photo of Rob she’d printed in colour at the library.
The juice, her new luggage and the pad Thai she had budgeted for later in the day would use up what was left of that fortnight’s pay, with at most a few coins left for some chewy once she got to Helmsley, where Rob lived. She’d placed all her faith in his kind face and didn’t question that he’d come good on his promise to look after her for the next few months till she settled and found a job. A part of her knew that it was too good to be true, but then she’d spent her adult life to date in pursuit of those things that were too good to be true – bargains that never fit quite right; indoor plants that clearly couldn’t thrive on neglect like she’d been told; and men who were all like each other, ticking every box until one by one each box was unticked and she finally had the courage to move on. But this time, she told herself, it’d be different.
‘Hey, sorry I missed your call earlier’
‘Elaine, it’s too soon, now is not really a good time to come…”
His voice disappeared into the many sounds of the busy station when she dropped her phone, spilt the juice, and sent her cabin bag catapulting down the long steep escalator while attempting to keep it clear of the antioxidant-packed splash. She stood still for the whole decent until the final metal step disappeared at platform level and the jerk of a sudden landing startled her.