A tiny shop was clutched in the break between the Harrod’s and the next department store, well ignored due to the influx of travellers who were eager to experience a taste ofLondon’s best toy-shops. And the blue-framed wooden shop was abandoned in the rush.
As I hastened to cross the pathway of the street, looped golden letters caught my glance. ‘Louise’s Bears’ headlined the front, followed by an afterthought across the window: ‘a companion for everyone.’
“What about your source?” muttered Clarissa, picking up the lost train of thought.
“Oh, nothing. Come on now. I think that little shop there is the one we’ve been looking for.”
“Okay,” she replied with a smile.
We pushed on through, travellers again in the sea of people who remained as free as the waves they made through society, that collection of peaks I tried to avoid.
The shop-front was as wooden as it looked from afar. The glaze that had been applied to the navy-blue base-coat was beginning to peel, as if the antiquity of the apartment was ready to return.
Clarissa checked the door; it was unlocked, albeit stiff. I half expected the hinges to be cut off. We, together, edged it open, to be faced with the entirety of an almost-abandoned shop. A little bell tinkled somewhere high above the door, the light sound to the crack of the closing door.
“Hello?” I called. Bear-shells hung just as cobwebs would, as the collective inferences of a toy-shop were apparent- though this one had been crammed, too, with the odds and ends necessary to create all toy-animals, from buttons as eyes and little outfits handmade and sitting on shelves in the corner to the bundles of stuffing that clumped together, leaking out of the apparatus that lay in the centre of the shop.
“There’s no one here,” said Clarissa. I could feel her hand on my shoulder. I shrugged her off, making my journey around each object, touching the displays, feeling each part of the place where I was now certain that my Bluey had called his origin. The soft tuffs of the display ruffled like memories beneath my fingers.
“No, there is.” I, of course, had now come to be further in, and from the dim light of the central bulb, I could see the edge of a floral patterned skirt, gypsy-like, and so reassuringly clashing with her yellow plimsolls. Though fighting the temptation to peer any further through the door marked ‘office: no entry’, I recognised the tanned skin as hands, steadily gripping a long-handled broom.
“She’s just busy-”
I was thrown backwards by the sweep of the door opening wider.
“Get away!” the woman cried, jumping forward and brandishing the broom. She would perhaps have managed to sweep my dust away, had Clarissa not grabbed my scruff and hoisted me up. Though dressed in her Londonian glamour, Clarissa suddenly slipped on her ‘desk-girl’ attire.
“Hey, we’re customers, you know.”
I watched as the woman grabbed the side where I had been standing, but scowled at the nothing but plush that she had encountered.
“Nosy people are not customers. You should wait, look around a bit.”
“We were,” Clarissa countered. “Is this how you treat all your customers?”
“You don’t look like customers. Two teenage girls.”
“No wonder you have little business-”
“Excuse me! It’s a weekend, midday; all my staff are on their breaks. Don’t worry, my son will be back soon to deal with you two troublemakers, wanting to destroy an old woman’s work.”
“Let us look around. It’s our privilege, you know.”
“That’s not how it works,” the lady added, her breathing settling, whilst her eyes remained wide.
As Clarissa went to reply, I leant by her side and pinched her arm. She shot me yet another glare.
“I didn’t mean to disturb you,” I told the woman. “I was curious, that’s all. And, I am here to buy a bear- it’s for my sister’s birthday. Clarissa is just a friend of mine, passing by. Have you been having some vandal problems?”
Though the lady had now visibly calmed, she was not ready to recount her story.
“How can I trust what you say?”
“My father runs a successful hotel chain,” Clarissa told her. “He could send someone to help.”
But instead of smiling, the woman spun around and tossed away her broom, her face tightly pulled across the skull.
She stood, hands on hips, staring us down.
“I don’t believe you. Get out.”
And her hands went back to the broom handle. She worked as if by magic.
“Wait, wait,” I cried. “Before you attack, criticise, or be offended by us, please listen to the little explanation I have to say. My name is Lily. Lily Highclere.”
I was the best I could do, I thought, letting my hands drop back to my sides from their previous defence position.
But instead of the woman loosening her broom and greeting the long-lost Miss Highclere, her hostility simply increased, along with the strain of the painted lines above her eyes.
As her dark lips parted, she snarled the words I least expected:
“Oh, yes? Prove it.”