I walked through the glass and chrome doors and surveyed the shop with interest. There was a square area with sculptures and paintings on display and a counter with a rack of art brochures and artist fact files. The walls and floor were smooth and a flawless white, giving it a very modern airbrushed look. There were two doorways, one with a sign over it reading “Exhibition” and another with a similar sign saying, “Gift Shop”.
As there was nobody at the counter, or indeed the room, I went through the doorway to the gift shop, pushing through a curtain of tinkling glass beads. This room had glossy blue walls adorned with painting reproductions. Home-made dream catchers and wind chimes hung from the ceiling, and various art-related materials for sale were heaped on white shelves. There was a shelf of trinkets made from beads and shells, and intricately painted Chinese dolls.
My mother greeted me with a delighted smile and a hug; I told her that I’d had a good day and she didn’t ask too many questions. She excitedly showed me around, and I showed a mild interest. When she had finished the tour, a group of Japanese tourists had congregated in the main room. I wondered what there was in Slake to attract tourists there. Before hurrying off to deal with them, my mother slapped a twenty pound note into my hand and gave me an encouraging smile.
“Get to know the city a little. Buy something nice, okay! I lock up at six.”
I tucked the money into a pocket and wandered along the rows of shops. There wasn’t really anything that I particularly wanted, so I browsed the shop front windows absentmindedly. I didn’t think I would “get to know” Slake that quickly; although a small city, it was still big enough to get lost in.
I found a promising kitsch shop halfway down a narrow side street leading off the main road. It was packed with the kind of useless pretty junk that my shelves held at home. I strolled leisurely through the displays of glittery trinkets, brightly coloured plastic toys and other merchandise and was surprised to see a familiar person in the crystal jewellery section. She was reading a book on spiritual healing and once again her pale brown hair fell over her face.
I was put off for a minute by her response. I was still at the bottom of the aisle and had barely got her name out before she replied, but she had not even turned around.
She replaced the book on the shelf and finally did turn around, looking straight at me. For some reason, I thought Meena was out of place in the shop, although she looked right at home.
“Where were you in History?” I asked suspiciously. She certainly hadn’t got the bus into town straight from school.
She shrugged casually and turned her attention to a carved wooden tree designed for holding rings. She answered coolly.
“I had something more important to take care of. Sorry if I missed something…”
“No, I just wondered,” I said, flustered. I wondered what could be so “important”, but I shut up quickly, not wanting to put off one of the only people who seemed interested in being my friend at the new school. The ring holder was carved like a willow tree, and it reminded me at once of Willow. She had said that she knew Meena. I wondered if there was some deep-rooted secret between them, or just something lighter and more closer to the surface. I had never seen them together, or talking to each other. Perhaps they disliked each other, for some reason. Well, I wasn’t going to ask.