Waking up on a foreign sofa surrounded by foreign blazes of white, my back giving a dull ache, was not my idea of a good morning. I shouldn’t have let myself fold to every request of that girl. My own opinion was strung with life, but it had not been given the chance to thrive here. A fact which became unfortunate in my head: opinion was a good thing to keep hold of.
As I hoisted myself from the seat, images of the last couple of days soaked back into my spotless mind; I was staying with this girl whom I had once hated, all for my own safety. But, ironically, there the facts remained: safety with a once-enemy.
The flat was empty, the bedroom door open. The mess of white sheets left on the bed itself revealed yet another piece of my host’s idea of London majesty. The set-up called out to me, but- very nobly, I believed- I declined the snugness. The crick in my shoulders would settle, and, though distaste for Clarissa grew, I quickly pushed the feelings down and strolled back into the lounge-room.
A bang of the front door, and it was then that Clarissa sashayed back into her flat. Dressed in a loose silver garment, with her brown hair twisted above her head, she looked positively relaxed, in this ‘weekend mode’. However, her eyes settled on me with a less calm disposition.
“I’m sorry. I thought you weren’t going to be awake yet. I didn’t wake you, did I?”
“Where did you go?” I found myself asking.
She indicated a plastic bag that I had failed to notice in my haste to, once again, judge her.
“I went to pick up a few things. Did you enjoy looking around?”
“Hey, I’m sorry,” I said, blushing as I held myself awkwardly in old pyjamas she had lent me. “I’ve literally only just got up. I was seeing where you were… I didn’t mean to snoop.”
Saying nothing, Clarissa marched the bag over to that open kitchen. Once again, I was left to the sounds of her rummaging as the unsettled silence held us together. Finally, Clarissa remerged from the cupboards with a cardboard packet of branded cereal and a colourful bowl.
“Well, seeing as you’re up now, I better have a go at feeding you.”
Without realising it, I had become starving overnight. Wandering over to the counter, I poured myself the cereal and tucked in, as Clarissa began to chatter away.
“You’re doing your ‘hunting’ today, right? Where are you, like, heading?”
A scowl darkened my face.
“It really doesn’t matter. I’m going nowhere important.”
“You were up early-”
“No, I wasn’t.”
“Yeah- so, obviously, you’re impatient to get out of my flat. Now, either you’re hating me- right- or-”
“That’s enough, Clarissa. I just don’t want to get others involved.”
“You were searching for a shop yesterday, weren’t you?”
“Yes, but which is really none of your business.”
“I’ll come with you,” she replied instantaneously.
“My guardian?” I remarked, raising my eyebrows.
“I’ll be nice to see what this little place is. And you need someone to keep an eye on you.”
“Really, Clarissa? You are behaving as if I’ll want a guard. I don’t. I certainly don’t need to be looked after.”
She laughed again, preening in the reflective edge of the cooker door.
“What? Stop it.”
“I’m only trying to do what seems the best for you, Miss Brooks. It’d be more sensible for you to accept my offer or similar.”
If she had been trying to make a joke, the meaning soared right over my head.
“Look, as much as that seems nice, I don’t want you to tag along.”
“You need me in any case, so that you will find yourself in the correct street again.”
However, the look on Clarissa’s face told that she wasn’t going to back down.
Shops took the place of trees in the avenue that was more street-like. As I walked, I found myself keeping close to Clarissa, but I needn’t have worried. In the daylight that spread, broad, over the window of blue visible through the clouds, no one had eyes ready to piece or hands ready to take.
Clarissa draped her hands into the air; we had arrived.
“Regent’s Street, as you requested. Now, where do we begin?”
“And you won’t leave me alone even now?”
“No.” In one more look, it became clear that the suave woman wasn’t moving. Thus, I took a deep breath.
“Right, then: we’re looking for a shop-”
“I’ll never get anything done if you interrupt,” I snapped. “It’s- apparently- got a blue front, like a small business, and it’ll sell teddy bears.”
“Stuffed bears, you know…”
“I do know.”
“That wasn’t your question.”
“Well,” I stuttered, “it’s complicated, but that’s one of the elements I am looking for.”
“Okay.” Clarissa paused, deliberating perhaps. “I know.”
She began to increase her pace, rapidly shifting forward, and my heart grew in hope.
“-So how do you wanna do this?”
I stopped short as she strode onwards.
“Wait. I thought you knew the place I was on about?”
But Clarissa couldn’t hear me.
“Excuse me,” she demanded, marching up to a native passer-by. “We’re looking for a toy-shop around here. Sells soft-toys and stuff. Preferably smaller than the average big guns.”
With the shake of the head and a shrug, the man suggested Hamley’s, one of London’s most well-known toy-stores, but he looked bemused at Clarissa’s suggestion of more.
As she sprung to attack another visitor, I grabbed Clarissa’s arm, forcing an apologetic smile onto my face to direct to the puzzled tourist.
“I think…we’ll just go about searching by ourselves. There’s no point bothering other people when they probably won’t.” I sighed, searching the sky and the street that stretched out. It glared from the sun, but the rows of shops continued on in a blank line.
“On and on and on.”
“‘Keep on rocking…’” Clarissa sung to herself. This time it was from me that the glare came.
“Let’s just start from this point.” It was almost the beginning of the road, with three irrelevant stores behind us. “We can always inspect each side of the road. Look, that shop-” I pointed to my left. “-and the two beyond it, we can already rule out; they are too large to be the special place I am looking for.” Next I turned, pointing to the right side beyond Clarissa. “That shop there isn’t it, either. And that’s the way we’ll go about it.”
“Yup, and it can't be those two beyond,” Clarissa nodded as she spoke. If she gave a sigh, it was the quietest I had ever heard.
“Come on,” I almost moaned, “we’ll get there eventually.”
“This would be so much easier if we had a name.”
“Yeah, and I’m sorry about that…”
The tower-blocks that liked to think of themselves as shops crawled up the sky. However, every one winked at we two, knowingly. Though I did trust Clarissa- mostly- I made myself follow the curve of both sides of the road. Each shop was fiercely looking down to catch my own eyes; and there was no way that I wouldn’t notice my target when it slid into view.
As we walked, time had a way of passing quickly, yet in its unique slow way. Half an hour might have come and gone- and it felt like it, but rather in the way that my shoulders still ached with the amount of time passing. Walking down the sullen street, my eyes flicking back and forth, to and fro across the pedestrian-filled way, I had begun to faze out the frantic flickering of the shop-fronts that seemed to meld into each other.
The morning sun was no longer a hand, merely a blind. The shapes of the larger shops easily bored me.
Therefore, when Clarissa came to nudge me, it took me a few seconds to realise what she was doing.
“Miss Brooks, hmm.”
She pointed me out the left side of the street, the place where I had, for a second, taken my eyes off to watch the clouds. The department building of ‘Harrod’s’ danced ahead, dominating the remainder of the road, which dribbled off shortly. My heart-rate nearly doubled at the thought of nothingness. Had I really edged my spirits up for a place that only existed in my wanting brain?
“Could my source have…?” I began to say to Clarissa, before, from out of the corner of my eye, I saw it.