I just left.
I didn’t even tell Mum and Dad. Just grabbed Misty, my sleeping bag, and the few quid I had on my dresser and left. No plan, nowhere to go, really. But it all just got to be….well, frankly, too much.
I always hung out with the older kids. They seemed so, so…mature. And when they started leaving Sixth Form, I didn’t know what to do. I still had two year left, and I wasn’t going to make it. Not at this pace. I just didn’t have anything in common with the kids in my grade. I’d run into Julie now and again, and she’d go on and on about University and how great it was. She was living the life of freedom in the dormitory, and I was living the life of a prisoner trapped in a pink cell with no telly.
So I just left.
Oh, I was sure at some point my parents would get worried. I mean, they didn’t argue all the time. But I bet it might take them most of the day to figure out I wasn’t coming home. It wasn’t unusual for me to miss dinner, and after that they’d lose themselves in that wanker Benny Hill. God, I hate Benny Hill. But I love his show…it was the only part of the day that provided me with some peace and quiet. And, on rare occasions, I’d actually hear my parents laughing togehter. It was the one reminder that life used to be normal. But as soon as the show ended, so did that little fantasy. The yelling would start again, and I’d drift off into my homework or Mick and Keith or John and Paul.
It really was the monotony of it all. Day in, day out. Same, same, same. Boring the living piss out of me.
So I just left.
My first thought was to go to my cousin’s flat about a kilometer from our place. She’s fresh out of University…she’d understand. But then I figured she’d just ring my folks and I’d be right back in that bloody pink cell by nightfall. I could see if Bobby could put me up. He’s nice and all, but he can waffle all night. That might be worse than listening to my folks. Julie would put me up for sure, but she’s a good four hours away, and me having Misty might be an issue.
Piss on it, I’ll just start walking.
For the life of me, I don’t think I’d ever wandered London with nowhere to go. I’d always been off to somewhere when I was out…off to school, off to my friends, off to meet some bloke. But I’d never just walked. It was odd. It wasn’t so much what I was seeing that threw me…I mean, I’d seen it all before. But it was the sounds. The loud, raucous cheering from the pub. I wonder if they’re listening to the Man U match? A man having a ‘spirited’ conversation with the owner of the haberdashery. And the cars! Did they always make this much noise?
About an hour on I saw him. It struck me as odd that he was just taking pictures of, well, apparently nothing. He’d hold up his camera and spin, click, spin, click, spin, click. It’s amazing he didn’t end up on his arse. He looked to be about seventeen, maybe eighteen. Just taking pictures.
I stood about ten yards away, and Misty and I just watched him. I don’t know if he saw us right away, but I started to notice that he was slowly, deliberately, drifting my way. I step here, a step there…and before I knew it he was at the lamppost just in front of me.
“Hey! You, with the cat. Can I take your picture?”
That caught me off guard. I wasn’t expecting the American accent.
“Huh?” I said.
“You’ve been watching me for twenty minutes. I figure the least you could do is let me take your picture.”
“Uh, I’m going to friend’s house and I’m going to be late,” I stammered.
“Yeah, you’re late because you’ve been watching me for twenty minutes. It’s just one picture.”
Crap. He was kind of handsome, though. “Where are you from?”
“New York. Just here on vacation. Now, can I take your picture?”
It’s not like I had anywhere else to go. “Sure,” I said.
I took a step closer to him, looked at his camera, and smiled.
“Nah, don’t look at me…look down the street or something.”
Sigh. So I took a step closer to the curb.
As I looked down the street, it dawned on me at that very moment that I wasn’t going back. Not tonight. Not tomorrow. Not ever. Not to my classmates who didn’t understand me. Not to my parents who didn’t care about me. Not to the pink prison.
It was a rush of a hundred emotions all at once…one of those moments that literally takes your breath away. Fear. Excitement. Sadness. Everything. All at once.
It was hard going through Tom’s things after he’d passed. He always had a camera with him, wherever we went. Disney with the kids. The grandkids first birthday’s. Back to London to visit my old friends. And that led to boxes and boxes of old photos.
Rummaging through those old photos, I came across the first one he took of me on the sidewalk that afternoon in London. How my life would have been so, so different if I hadn’t stopped to watch the boy taking pictures. And, as it did those many years ago, the sudden rush of emotions literally took my breath away.
As I wiped away the tears, I picked up the old photo of the girl on the streets of London. I smiled, quietly thanked Tom for loving me as he did, and laid the photo on his nightstand.
And I just left.