This week’s prompt is ‘A Story Set in London’. It is loosely inspired by things that happened when I went to London on a school trip when I was in high school. Fortunately not all of these things happened to me.
The story is below the cut. (CW for vomit.)
Coming to London, England had been Jude’s dream for as long as she could remember. When she was little, she had taken every book she could out of the library to learn about London and it’s history. She had studied the maps so often that she was absolutely certain that if she were to arrive in the middle of London suddenly that she would be more than able to find her way around the city.
Once, when she was eleven, her father had said that the family was going to go visit family that lived in London. Jude was ecstatic. She told everyone in her class about how she was going to London and how she had family there and how sophisticated she was going to be when she came back. However, her disappointment was epic when her mother told her (after a conversation with Jude’s teacher) that they weren’t in fact going to the London in England but the London in Ontario. As it turned out, her father had an elderly relative that lived there who had passed on and the whole family was going to be meeting up to mourn the relative and have an impromptu reunion. Jude had been terribly disappointed that instead of strolling past Buckingham Palace or through the Tower of London, that she would be forced to sit in her scratchy black dress in an uncomfortable church pew and then on uncomfortable couches surrounded by old members of her family that she had never even met before in order to mourn an even older member of her family that she had never even met.
But this time was different. Jude was twenty-three and she had spent the last year and a half since she finished school working a shitty but well paying job in order to save up for her first ever trip to London. It was going to be glorious. She had shelled out so that she could stay in a semi decent hotel room in a semi decent hotel and not have to worry about her backpack and suitcase being stolen in some shifty hostel where she would be stuck encountering people she didn’t like who didn’t bathe nearly often enough. She had even planned every single one of the seven days she was going to be spending in the city. She wanted to make sure that she had enough time to see all the sights. She was sure that by the end her feet were going to ache but she knew it would be worth it in the long run.
Her flight brought her into London really early in the morning. It was honestly too early to check into the hotel so, she would have to lug her suitcase around for a bit.
“WOULD PASSENGER JUDITH REYNOLDS PLEASE COME TO THE BAGGAGE COUNTER?”
Jude, who had been waiting patiently for her luggage by the baggage carousel, was puzzled. However she had always been one to follow directions and so she shouldered her backpack and headed to the aforementioned counter. The woman at the counter looked about thirty-five and bored out of her mind. She was chewing gum with her mouth partly open and Jude couldn’t help but notice the fact that her teeth could have used some work.
“Uh, hi,” she said nervously.
The woman barely looked up from the screen in front of her and kept chewing her gum.
“I’m, uh, Jude-Judith Reynolds,” said Jude. “I was paged?”
“Yea,” said the lady. “We’ve left your luggage behind.”
“Behind?” asked Jude, her voice squeakier than normal. “What do you mean behind?”
“I mean,” said the lady, “that it is still in Toronto. They couldn’t coordinate the switch between the two planes, luv.”
Jude gulped. Almost all of her clothing were in that suitcase. What was she supposed to do?
“How did that happen?” she asked.
The woman simply shrugged and punched a few keys on her keyboard.
“When will it arrive here?” asked Jude, trying to hide the panic in her throat and the welling of tears in her eyes. She had had such high expectations for the trip.
“They’ll pop it on the next plane, I expect,” said the woman.
“And when will that arrive?”
The woman hit a few more keys on her keyboard. “Tomorrow,” said the woman. “‘Round three.”
“Do I come back here to get it?” Jude asked, feeling relieved.
“Nah,” said the woman, smacking her gum. “We’ll courier it over to where you’re staying.”
The woman handed Jude a pad of paper and a pen that was attached to the woman’s desk by an almost too short chain. Jude wrote down her name and then pulled out a packet of information about her hotel. She wrote down the hotel’s name and address and there phone number. If she had know which room she had been staying in, she might have written that down as well. She returned the pad to the woman and then stood there awkwardly for a moment.
“Thank you very much,” she said.
The woman shrugged. “That’s okay,” she said.
Jude adjusted her backpack awkwardly before realizing she had been dismissed. Her body was still all fluttery and anxious due to the scare, but it was a relief to know that it had only been left behind in Toronto and that they hadn’t somehow lost all of her stuff. That would have been terrible. It certainly wasn’t ideal and it certainly wasn’t her dream trip so far but none of that mattered. She was here in London finally and she was going to make the best of it. She was particularly happy that she had done enough research to know that when going somewhere on a plane, you should always pack a change of clothing in your carry on. She was glad that she had done that now, because it meant that she wouldn’t be stuck in her plane clothing for the next thirty or so hours.
It turned out to be a small plus to not have to carry her big suitcase around with her. It would have been cumbersome and difficult for her to drag around while she bided her time in the city til she could check into her hotel. It meant that it was quick and easy for her to hop into a taxi from the airport into London and that it was easy enough to hop out of the cab and walk the streets near her hotel simply to be in the London air. It also meant that she was able to slip into a tiny little hole in the wall fish and chips place to try the local cuisine. She hadn’t read about this particular place in any of her guide books but Jude thought that was almost for the best because then she was going to eat where the real Londoners ate.
The food was quick to arrive. Her fish and her chips were both wrapped in sheets of newspaper and grease shone through in irregularly shaped patches. Eagerly, she ripped the packages open and began to dig in. The food was delicious, but it hung heavy and greasy in her stomach afterwards. Jude, whose mother had never let her eat anything deep fried as she grew up, wasn’t sure if it was normal to feel like this. She hadn’t really enjoyed her first fish and chips experience, but at least she could say that she had tried it.
As she finished eating, the lone waiter in the place came up to her.
“Card or cash?” he asked.
“Card, please,” Jude said. She had cash in her wallet in her pocket but she wanted to save that for places that only took cash.
He punched the total for her meal into a little machine in his hand, then handed it over to her. Jude slipped her card into the slot in the bottom and began to try and complete the transaction. She punched in her pin number, typed in a small tip amount and then hit okay several times. The small screen on the machine read PROCESSING for several minutes before it switched to DENIED. Jude flushed a bright red. The waiter looked annoyed. Rather than fiddle with the card again, Jude pulled out her wallet and offered him the correct amount in cash. She was embarrassed but at least it wasn’t such a catastrophe.
After her lunch, it was just about time for her to go check into her hotel. The man at the front desk was dressed very elegantly in his suit and tie. The interior of the lobby was polished and quite nice looking. It had a sort of historical feel to Jude, which she loved.
“Hi,” she said brightly to the clerk. “I have a reservation. Jude Reynolds?”
He looked her up and down in an appraising sort of way and then began to type things into his computer. Finally, she heard the whirring sound of a printer and she watched as he turned around to gather the papers from the printer. He brought them back over to her with a fancy looking fountain pen emblazoned with the name of the hotel.
“I’ll just need you to fill this out and sign,” he said, his accent sounding less posh than what Jude had expected.
Jude took the pen and the papers. She set the papers neatly in front of herself and then uncapped the pen. She set the tip of it on the paper and suddenly as she touched the nib to the page, ink splurted everywhere. Jude gasped loudly and dropped the pen. It continued to spill ink all over the page.
“I’m so sorry!!” she cried drawing back her ink stained hand.
The man sighed loudly and tapped a few keys on his computer. The printer whirred again and he handed her the replacement papers. Then he handed her a different pen, a simple ball point this time, and took away the leaking fountain pen and ink ruined paper. Jude busied herself with trying to fill out the new sheet he had given her. Her stomach was twisting itself into knots as she wrote though.
After the paperwork was filled out, the man gave her a key card in a small envelope labelled with her name and the room number (210) in neat printing. Jude hefted her backpack once more and headed to the elevators, or lifts she reminded herself in her head. She hit the up arrow and then waited patiently. But as she stood there, a sudden feeling of unease came over her. Her stomach twisted again in a new and unusual way and sweat broke out on the back of her neck and on her forehead. Jude gulped and wrapped her arms around her middle. When the elevator doors swung open, she nearly knocked an elderly woman over in her haste to get inside. She pressed the button for the second floor with urgency, pressing it several times in a row as if that would make it go faster. The doors slid shut and then the elevator, or lift she reminded herself, inched upwards slowly. She really could have climbed the stairs faster than this.
When the doors opened, she shot out of the elevator and down the hall towards her room. She had caught a quick glimpse of a sign that had an arrow pointing down the hall and Rooms 209-214. So she rushed that way, paying a lot of attention to her numbers. When she found the room, she fumbled with inserting the key into the door. Her stomach twisted ominously and the hair on her her forehead matted to her face. Finally the light flashed green and she was able to turn the handle and fling the door open. It bounced against the wall and swung back but she was already inside.
Jude let her backpack fall from her shoulders and dashed into the bathroom. She knelt in front of the toilet as she felt a rising sensation in her esophagus. As she bent her head over the bowl, her hair swung in the way and she managed shove it back just in time for the contents of her stomach come up and splash into the toilet. Her throat burned and she gagged, but it kept coming up. A drip of sweat ran down her nose and dripped into the bowl of the toilet. Tears stung at her eyes. Could this day be any worse?
A few hours later found her curled up in the bed with the empty trash can wrapped into her arms. She had spent a lot of time sleeping and had suddenly woken up so that she could puke one more time. She had desperately wanted to call home but she knew that it would cost like $50 if she called collect. So instead she called room service and ordered some soup and crackers. That was going to cost her like $50 dollars as well with the exchange rate but it would hopefully make her feel better. She turned on the television and watched some asinine comedy show that made no sense until her soup arrived.
When the knock came, Jude stumbled out of bed and over to the door. She caught sight of herself in the mirror and shuddered. She looked like someone had chewed her up and spat her out. There was nothing to be done with that though, and so she pulled open the door and let the young man bringing her soup in.
“Thank you,” she mumbled, stumbling over to the table.
“Are you all right, Miss?” he asked.
Jude attempted to smile but it was feeble and shaky. “Not really,” she managed.
“Well, this one’s on the house then, Miss,” he said. “Call down if you need anything else.”
He turned and left her with the soup. Jude found herself able to smile. Maybe London was going be as good as she thought it would be.