‘Opportunity’ can be a shining word when it wants correctness. It was, though I drew pain from the memory, one of the things my adopted mother had said: ‘grasp every opportunity that you will encounter’, the words almost becoming a favourite phrase of hers. It was true that I never knew what I was going to find.
I almost broke into a run. I had that habit of being undignified. If there was anything that I wouldn’t be party to, it was watching my life rush by.
“Excuse me,” I said, as I made my way up to the two I had been observing. The mother turned her pale head, questions in her eyes. Involuntarily, I drew back from the diseased child, but then came to shake my head, scolding myself for my own preconception. I had been through the phase. I would be fine with him there.
“Yes?” the woman answered me, still batting her vaguely-lined eyes.
“Can I see that teddy bear?”
Up close, however, it was clear that this bear was far newer than my Bluey had been before my mother had taken him away from me. Bears were not the sort of thing for five-year-olds to have.
The fur was deep in the evening blue that my bear had been, but he had both black buttoned eyes, a sewn-patterned mouth the dripped upwards rather than being smeared across his face, even his feet were not clumped with dirt. This bear, in comparison, was unworn, despite it being loved here.
A thumb slipping up to his mouth, the little boy held out his toy without hesitation, which I myself merely let my hands float over; I could not take hold of another child’s prize, remembering briefly how much I had cherished my own. I watched the uncertainty flit across the mother’s eyes, but she seemed too tired to really care.
“Now, where did you get this from?”
“It’s just a teddy bear.” Without fail, the woman answered for her son.
“I know it may sound silly, but I’d really like to know. It’s…unique, just the sort of treat I’m looking for to give to my baby sister. She’s turning…three in a week, and I’m just a bit stuck.”
The woman laughed, whilst her son gave me a vague, bemused look.
“Okay, then,” the mother replied, still rather taken aback. “Do you work here?”
“No, I’m just visiting. My…father is one of the doctors here.” I watched her. It was a ridiculous lie, but only I was to know that.
“I see! That must be nice for you.”
“It is…” I was beginning to get impatient, the useless conversation playing further on my dampened mood. I gestured down. “Can you…?”
“Oh, yes. I’m sorry, my mind has been so busy! As I’m sure yours has too. There’s a little shop on Regent’s street- you know that street, don’t you? Well, it is there that they create handmade bears; just choose a colour and they’ll stitch it up especially for you. Pretty marvellous, really.”
“Well…thank you,” I said, the gratefulness lost from my voice.
“I can’t remember the name, though. Just look for a little blue-boarded shop on Regent’s street, W1B. That’s where you’ll find these brilliant creations.”
At last! The batty woman had given me a postcode. With a smile, albeit a nervous one, I nodded to the young boy and his mother, turning swiftly before either of them could devise a crazy reply.
As I strode away, not daring to match eyes with that receptionist, I heard the little boy chirp:
“Mummy, who was that woman?”
Now there was someone whose innocence meant their intelligent sense matched mine.
There was almost a smile playing on my lips. It hid the worry very well; at least I would be able to escape to an internet-café if nothing else, and from there find out exactly which route was the best to Regent’s Street. It was a ridiculous notion to consider that I’d never heard of the place…but that didn’t mean that I would instantly have the access to what I’d known as the ‘business area’ of London. Thinking to myself, as I dallied in the hospital- pretending to be looking up a specific doctor from the board for no proper reason- I remember the little that the woman who had brought me up had said about the place. In fact, if memory did not deceive in that moment, she had talked about the place a lot, despite her persistence never to tell me the facts. One argument was painted in black and white, the words only key because of the memory they dragged up: one of my mother’s charming relatives inviting her to London, to which my mother had replied a strict ‘no’, her eyes, those which had flicked in my direction, only now revealing her anxiety over my presence in London. And I could take that as the reason why she had hastened to stop me from running away.
“Could Lily’s mother be present amongst the eaves?” I questioned, the theory’s ridiculousness dimming. “London…finally,” I added as a whisper to myself, almost giggling. But I had hoped not to appear on the verge of megalomania, especially not here in hospital, so instead I simply made my way back towards the exit. Having already checked out whilst I had been dwindling, the boy and his mother passed me, and I greeted them with a new smile; however, something else, as I could tell by sudden instinct, wasn’t right in my presence. That irritating feeling grew inside me…a feeling of being watched. It tripped my sight at the corner of my vision. A man in a dark jacket. That and nothing more. Suddenly he was gone, back into the crowd.
I couldn’t help staring into the space he had vacated, confused. Had he himself been looking in my direction? I hadn’t been able to discern much before he had evaporated.
“Onwards,” I whispered again, marching out into the sun.