The keys came out of the jeans, the purse out of her jacket pocket and hit the black tray proffered before her. She stepped forward still bleary eyed and progressed through the scanner and the noise was unbearable. Maybe after a full night’s sleep and without the anxieties of what lay ahead she would not have reacted so badly.
The guard gestured towards her belt and gently encouraged her to step back. Inclined to swear at the guard in one of several languages she slunk back and removed her belt, and boots were now demanded to be taken off as well. Kathy had suddenly taken a step or two up the register of potential terror suspects at the parochial airport outside Avignon.
The months on the road and country lanes across France had not endeared her any more to the culture. Which was a bit of a problem, learning languages had seemed like a great way of travelling the world but maybe Kathy didn’t like the world she had envisioned travelling quite as much as she had hoped. Suddenly the leafy suburbs of Surrey were a dream, but a dream tinged with nagging questions that had been conveniently avoided throughout the summer. She knew that after a few days grace they would return, and with a more urgent tone. Manifested mainly through the quiet concern of her parents, and generous suggestions of friends, various options would be presented to her. And right now she had considered them all and mentally written them all off already. It was not that they didn’t mean well, but they were thinking about it all the wrong way round.
The extra week she had stayed after Emma had left had mostly been about not coming home. She’d seen all the sites there were to see and spoken enough French to convince herself that she had achieved her purpose. But the seven days had given her too much time to think. Especially as she sat in the ramshackle farmhouse across the river from the historic centre. It had seemed quaint when they were together, it was also incredibly cheap, far less than the hostels five minutes away. But the quietness of autumn drawing in had drained the last customers away and after consecutive evenings alone with the owners she started wandering back into town at night to find an escape from the tedium.
Kathy supposed it was fair enough for Emma to want a few days with her brother after a summer apart and before a job consumed him once again. But the hassle of changing flights to return together had seemed too much and the alteration fees and non refundable deposits all made it seem an unnecessary waste of money. And money was something she didn’t have. It was always difficult to explain to people that she had no money, they always assumed she was part of the Surrey Set, born ready to live a life of luxury and extravagance. But that never quite matched up with her life.
She had made it through security desperate to find a cup of coffee to shake of the weariness that was haunting her. The hourly bus out of the town to arrive at an airport not yet open. Waiting for the check in staff to arrive for work, manually changing the flight boards which remained from yesterday’s flight to Paris. The inane questioning, the pointless suspicion, all conspiring to make the trip home as interminable as possible. Kathy found the lounge, or Formica chairs and tables, arranged around a bar which few self respecting hotels would place in their bedrooms, and was not surprised to find that no one was there.
Finally the bar opened and caffeine was forthcoming, from the check in assistant. This was the most comical excuse for an airport she had yet encountered. Kathy realised that perhaps despite the rural privations of the summer or the development tourism she had experienced on trips to Africa she liked her comforts. It was the expectation of what an airport should be that shook her, especially one in France. Had this been a bush landing strip in Ecuador she would have had no problem. She said this to herself despite never having been anywhere near Ecuador never mind a bush landing strip. As she ruefully considered her coffee as actually rather good Kathy granted herself a little chuckle at the prospect of the surly security guard turning out to double up as the pilot.
Kathy had hardly spoken to anyone during the past week. She was not a shy person by nature but the limited social contact and the pointlessness of any interaction when she was about to leave made her mind up for her. So when the young French chap sauntered over to her table sat down and started speaking she resisted the urge to switch to French for his ease and hoped over a few pleasantries he would go on his way. The problem was that unless he worked here, which he didn’t, then he too was on his way to Gatwick.
“Can I use this seat”. She silently wondered what he would use it for but politely assented with a universal nod of the head and picked up the coffee cup to preclude any immediate conversation. It was at times like this she wished she was a little ruder. There were plenty of free tables, so she could have suggested he used one of the numerous other chairs and tables on offer. But she didn’t and he sat down and just as Kathy reached into her bag to retrieve her book and provide further insulation against prolonged conversation he launched into another faltering sentence. “Have you had a holiday? Is it that you had a good time?”
Convinced that she could not ignore him any longer she carefully chose her words so as to not offer any unnecessary encouragement. “Yes, I have been in France all summer, mostly travelling with a friend but she went home last week”. But Kathy had committed a fatal error, one she would remember in the future: when trying to stop a conversation do not leave any unanswered details.
“Where have you travelled? What was your favourite place? I love Paris, did you go to Paris?” If it wasn’t happening to her she would have laughed at the cliché riven questions. Instead she switched to polite and informative hoping that perhaps someone else might join the conversation. After wishing to be alone it was now safety in numbers she sought.
“I started off in Calais, travelled into Paris and stayed there for a week and did all of the usual tourist activities. Then we mostly walked through the country staying at villages and in farmhouses. We got to Avignon two weeks ago and, this is a city I really like, but I am ready to go home now.”
Kathy paused and then did the dutiful thing, “Do you live in Avignon?”
“Yes, I live in Avignon, but I am travelling to London to see my friend who is studying.” Kathy caught herself before she tried to work out if he was referring to a girlfriend. It seemed a little odd to be travelling at the start of term to visit someone who had presumably just left, to see a girlfriend made a little more sense, it also would have provided the reassurance against the suspicion that had been lingering in her mind for the past few minutes that he was trying it on.
“What should we do in London, what are the best places to visit?” This what not a question she was well equipped to answer, never really into tourist attractions she had tagged along to the day trips to London to get out of school for the day, but struggled to muster much enthusiasm.
“There are lots of museums and places to visit. The Tower of London is my favourite,” Kathy decided on the spot, “where are you staying?” This was a twofold device, firstly it steered the conversation away from something where she would only disappoint, but also reckoned she could have another go at finding out if he was visiting a girlfriend.
At first Kathy thought he had perhaps not understood, but then thought for a horrified second that her unprompted question could be considered an offer of accommodation. Fortunately he found his voice, seemingly only hesitating to decide how to translate into English what he wanted to say, “I will stay on my friends floor.” This did not answer Kathy’s question in quite the way she had hoped. She also realised that she had given far to much thought to this rather insignificant conversation. But it occurred to her that if it was a girlfriend then this was a rather strange arrangement, either they would sleep together, or surely he would stay elsewhere. She knew of no couples who would be happy sharing a room but insist that one gets the carpet.
“This London Tower, it is good? Do you have a bit of paper so I can write it down to remember?” Kathy was suddenly aware of the power of her words, she’d never been, what if it was dreadful, anyway, this seemed like a way to end the conversation on a good note. She rooted into her bag and failing to find any paper aside from her precious Moleskin notebook, which this situation did not warrant the desecration of tearing a page out of, she eventually landed on a card which brought a wry chuckle which she failed to suppress. In her remarkable optimism at the start of the summer before she embarked on her little expedition Kathy had got some card printed with her details on to hand out to anyone she thought might be able to offer her a job as she travelled through France. She scribbled ‘Tower of London’ on the back of one and handed it over.
The card flicked over as it crossed the table, “Kathy Lawrence”, he said as he turned it over and thanked her, “my name is Sebastian Gillette and it is very nice to meet you, thank you.” With that he slowly picked up his bag as the solitary flight leaving Avignon was now called for departure, and Sebastian made his way to the gate. Kathy was completely flummoxed. Not only did this strange French man know her name but she realised that card she so thoughtlessly handed over also had her phone number and email on. This could all be unnecessary worrying she thought as she made her way, thankful for the few passengers now between her and Sebastian, to the plane.