In New York,
The concrete jungle where dreams are made of,
There's nothing you can’t do,
Now you’re in New York,
These streets will make you feel brand new,
Big lights will inspire you,
Let's hear it for New York.
Another normal day passed at John F Kennedy airport. Passengers bustled in, hurrying in anticipation of their trip, and tourists scuttled out, eyes squinting in the bright sunlight, looking for a taxi, their eyes showing the signs of jet lag and tiredness. It was not until late evening that she arrived. A tall, thin girl, a girl who looked affluent and beautiful and yet had a strange air of pain and inner turmoil lingering in her presence like the trace of a fine perfume. She certainly was a thing of beauty; large, dark eyes framed by long black eyelashes, tanned skin and dark, wavy hair.
She stood at the door of the airport smoking a cigarette, attempting to look nonchalant and as though she knew where she was going, although she clearly did not have any idea. In her mind, Isla was asking herself whether running away to New York to find a new life had been such a good idea. She had no clue where she was going, and only the thousand or so pounds left in her bank account and the $100 cash that she had just withdrawn to support herself. She questioned whether buying the one-way ticket to this huge and foreign city had been too rash a decision, fuelled by her angst and anger at her family. She thought that she would be able to merge in amongst the thousands of other people who come to New York in order to carve their way in life, like the flock of Mexicans who she had learned about whilst studying Spanish at school.
She moved closer to a rank of taxis filled with ominous-looking men, thinking on her feet. She would ask their advice on which hotel to take her to and hope to God that they did not take her to the 'hotel' that was their home basement. She approached the friendliest-looking taxi driver, a black man with long dreadlocks and a leather waistcoat.
'Hello, I'm looking for somewhere to stay, I hadn't quite thought this far when I left home.. Would you be able to help me?' Isla immediately felt embarrassed of her admittance that she had not thought this through adequately.
The taxi driver looked slightly bemused and replied, 'Well, there's a place up on Lexington that a lot of tourists ask me to take them to, it's right in the centre of the city.. Get in, girl, you're gonna get run over standing out there.'
The taxi driver got out and lifted Isla's less-than-full suitcase into the back of the taxi. She took a seat in the back and rested her head against the window. She looked at the clock on the dashboard. 5 pm.. That was midnight at home, it was no wonder that she felt tired. It had been a long day. She did not dare switch her mobile phone on. The taxi driver got into the front seat and started the engine, pulling away from the airport and into a busy four-lane road filled with cars, vans and school buses all piled together in the rush-hour traffic. The smell of coconut filled the car from a hair product that he had obviously been using.
'So, you've come from England, if I be hearin' your voice right', came the voice of the taxi driver from the front of the car.
Isla laughed, thinking of the amount of attention that her well-spoken English accent was going to attract here. 'That's right, you are hearing correctly, I'm from just outside London.'
'London? Now there's a town I've heard of before. Most of you Brits come from all these snazzy-sounding places, only place I know of is London. How long are you staying for?'
'Uh.. I don't really know. I came here on a bit of a whim, really. I know it sounds ridiculous, it's just, well, I'm 18, I felt as if my life wasn't going anywhere at home. I really want to try something new here. Not that I've ever been here before.. Maybe I'm crazy.'
'Wow. I respect you girl, you got some backbone. To think you're only the same age as my daughter.. I know so many people who have come here lookin' for a new life though, you know what I'm sayin'? I wish you luck. What's your name?'
'Isla', she replied.
'Isla. There's a name I don't hear all too often. I'm Bert, by the way', he paused for a minute, as if thinking. 'I'm gunna give you my number, Isla, and if you need anything, drop me a call. Hell, I can't live knowing there's a young girl the same age as my daughter on her own out here.'
Isla felt touched by this gesture of help so soon after her arrival. Maybe this city wasn't so cold and impersonal as she had assumed. 'Thanks, Bert', she said. She noticed that they were coming up to a large bridge.
'Get ready for your first real view of the city', piped up Bert from the front seat. Isla looked out of the window and saw over the river the most breathtaking view of the city lit up in the twilight; each skyscraper dotted with more lights than she could count, all merging together to form a greenish, ethereal light that reflected off the water. She had seen pictures of the New York skyline before, but never had she imagined it to be so big; even from her vantage point, she could see the scale of the buildings that pictures failed to put across.
Before she knew it, they were driving through streets filled with bright billboards; never in her life had she seen so many advertisements, nor so many people; the pavements were invisible under a sea of feet, and the darkness that filled the rest of the world at night seemed not to apply here; light was everywhere, emitted from the buildings, the billboards and the brake-lights of hundreds of cars and taxis. They turned into Times Square, and if Isla was impressed by the city before this, her excitement rose tenfold; everywhere there were screens displaying flashing logos and slogans, brand names, celebrities, there were people laden with shopping bags, professional-looking businessmen hurrying along in suits, tourists taking pictures, people preaching and others trying to sell souvenirs.
She was still staring out of the window at the sheer size of everything when the taxi drew to a halt outside a clean-looking hotel and Bert began to write his number on the back of a receipt. 'Here y'go', he said, handing her the piece of paper.
'Thanks so much for all of this, Bert. I'm sure I'll be fine but I'll call you if there's anything I need', said Isla sincerely, handing him the $50 that the journey had cost her, and opening the door of the taxi. When she got out, she could see she sheer size of the buildings; she could not see the top of some of them, they appeared to peter out into the sky. Bert handed her her suitcase with a friendly smile and turned to leave. 'Thanks again for everything, Bert', she called, as Bert waved and pulled off back into the road. She was alone again, she thought as she tucked the piece of paper into her pocket and walked into the hotel lobby, praying that there were rooms available without advance booking. Isla needed to decide what she was going to do now, and she needed to decide soon.