I dozed off a little once it was morning, and woke up to stewardesses opening window covers and serving breakfast.
The captain’s voice came on, in a prim, polite British accent.
“Good morning, passengers, we hope you had a restful night. We’ve just passed over the Isle of Mann, and will be beginning our descent into London shortly.”
Isle of Mann…London…Whoa. I peered groggily out the window. The sun was just getting high enough to lose its morning softness, and I squinted against its growing glare, trying to see down through the patchy clouds.
I could see a few patches of ocean—a white speck that may or may not have been a ship—there. There it was, the coast of England.
In my condition, it was remarkably underwhelming. There was more excitement from the satisfaction of achieving my goal to spot the coast through the clouds than there was about the fact that I was on the other side of the ocean, looking down at a foreign country.
England, my exhausted and bewildered brain thought blandly. Cool.
The breakfast cart had already passed us, but Amanda had been awake and had gotten enough food for me too.
“You have to try that thing,” she said, pointing at what looked like some kind of granola bar. “It’s gross.”
“Why do I have to try it if you already know it’s gross?”
“Because Olivia and I tried them last time so now you have to.”
I picked it up and examined the wrapper. “Squidge,” it said. I turned it over to find a lengthy description assuring me that this product contained just the perfect amount of “squidginess” and that if it didn’t, I could return it for a full refund.
I had no idea what squidginess was or how I would know if there wasn’t the right amount of it, but I opened the wrapper and took a bite of the small brown oval.
The flavor had warm overtones of molasses, and the texture was a bizarre sponginess somewhere between bread and nougat. So that’s what squidginess was—I assume.
“Isn’t it awful?” Amanda asked.
“Not really,” I said around my mouthful. “I mean, the texture is a little weird, but the flavor is good.”
She stared at me like I was nuts, and went back to eating her breakfast.
The clouds began to clear up, and I could look down on the English countryside. Being a farm girl, I was curious to see the system by which they arranged things, the array of outbuildings I couldn’t identify, and the close efficiency of everything. I suppose when you don’t have all the space in the world to sprawl around in like American farmers do, you’ve got to be pretty organized.
Before too long, we began to see the outskirts of London, and from the air it seemed as though the entire world condensed into the city, like stars condensing into the core of a galaxy. Buildings drew closer and closer together, more and more cars lined the roadways, and the grass and trees vanished.
I went back to my vigil at the window, hoping to spot as many landmarks as I could.
There was the Shard—that one was easy. There was the London Eye. There was Saint Paul’s! That one was much more exciting, after everything I’d read about the efforts to preserve it during the Blitz. There was Kensington Park, and there was…the Thames?
Surely not, I thought. That must just be a canal or some other river. The Thames would be much bigger, surely.
But—how many other rivers could there be winding right through the center of London?
“Amanda, is that—that isn’t the Thames, is it?” I asked.
She peeked over me out the window. “Yeah, it is.”
Well that was disappointing. After everything I’d read, all the talk of the Thames as this great, glorious river, the most well-known landmark of London, and this skinny, muddy little ditch was it? False advertising, that’s what it was.
Of course, later I would have an enlightening conversation with an Irish person about it. When I mentioned my disappointment with the Thames, they responded immediately by asking where I was from. Upon learning that I was from the American Midwest, they explained that I come from a place where “all of the rivers are unreasonably large, so of course the Thames would seem small. It’s really quite normal.” I could concede to that; the Mississippi—the nearest major river to where I live—is rather on the monstrous side.
As we circled the city to land, I could see at least six other planes doing the same. When we finally landed—what felt like hours later—and taxied to the gate, I was fascinated by the huge array of nations and cultures represented by the other planes already stopped. Turkish Air, Air Qatar, Delta, planes emblazoned with Arabic and Chinese writing, colors and flags proudly displayed on tail fins.
Wow. Even more than in Chicago, I felt that I had truly stepped out into the World as a whole—that all my life I had somehow been tucked away into a little pocket off to the side, away from the stream of the bigger world around me. Now I had suddenly ventured out into the current…and if I kept my feet and didn’t get swept away or run back to hide in my safe little hole again, I knew it was going to be amazing.
We had a two-hour layover in Heathrow. Customs was less intimidating than I had thought it would be, but by now I was getting used to that sensation, and I finally had a stamp in my passport, which was what really mattered.
In the waiting area, Amanda once again engrossed herself in a book. For a while I stood or walked around just to stretch my legs after our overnight flight. And then things began catching up with me.
I felt a strange disorientation in my brain and body; it was around 8AM in London—I thought, but wasn’t sure—which meant I had been more or less awake for over twenty-four hours…and yet the times of our flights and layovers didn’t add up to twenty-four. A heavy exhaustion, physical and emotional, pulled at me. The exhaustion tempted me to sit down, but whatever sense I still had rebelled. I had been sitting for far too long already, and there was still more of it to do. Thank God the last flight was short.
It was a bit of a crazy summer, finishing up a sci-fi novel and sending it off to an agent, plus a laptop that decided to kick the bucket. But now I'm back with more of the story! It's actually kind of funny - when I started this, I hd no idea how in-depth it was going to go, and how long it was going to turn out to be. Seven chapters and we're not evento Ireland yet!