Resting my head against the shuddering surface I counted the stops in my head. “Soon,” I thought, “soon.”
Opening my eyes just enough to successfully unscrew the lid of the energy drink I had bought at the station shop, I let the sweet, artificially orange – flavoured liquid run down my parched, dry throat.
“Why me?!” I groaned to myself while searching for the two, small white pills I had grabbed before I’d left. Finding them amongst the lint, chewing gum wrappers and lip gloss in my coat pocket I held them under my tongue, flipping them back as I chugged what was left of the energy drink. Feeling them bounce off the back of my tongue I withheld the urge to gag, covering my mouth with my hand I took a deep breath and let my head roll back. “Soon.” I repeated to myself as I dozed off, my scalp prickling with sweat, my body aching.
And there is was. The darkness, the warmth, the acrid smell, the comfort of the London underground.
Pulling out of Marylebone station and away from the dim platform lights into the abyss of tunnels it was now that I felt brave enough to have a look,
“Christ,” I rolled my eyes as I peered into my small compact mirror, it was worse than I had initially thought.
It was the mid-week military hangover. And I wasn’t even in the military. I wasn’t entirely sure why I did it to myself.
Every Wednesday evening I would race out of my offices in Knightsbridge, handbags, lap top cases and small suitcases hanging off shoulders and wrists, elegantly hop into the back of a black cab and whilst haltering through rush hour traffic to the train station I would plaster on my array of foundations, blushers, glosses and high lighters, smiling with excitement at the thought of seeing him again.
Once the train was hurtling towards the countryside, smart, office pumps would be off, sexy heels would be on, one button undone here, one stocking pulled up there. We would promise ourselves a quiet night every time, but sliding into the front seat of his car at High Wycombe train station I would always, always sigh and say, “god, I’m gagging for a wine! Should we just go for one?”
The first time I had gone up to see him in the middle of the week he had taken me to the mess bar, as he marched through the imposing doors of the ancient building I all of a sudden had lost my London edge and became rather timid and quiet, almost running to keep up with his long strides down the darkened, silent hallways, oil paintings of historical men in battle lining the walls and sparkling chandeliers crowning the high ceilings. Greeting uniformed people as he went, I smiled meekly at them wondering … “What fresh hell?!”
This was no bustling Mayfair wine bar or balmy SoHo Mexican jaunt.
However, once in the bar and a white wine and a half later … it was better. I was a novelty. Pretty, young thing from London, all made up, perky and full of sarcasm. He and I would surround ourselves with the same crowd every Wednesday night whipping up a frenzy of excitement and laughter. What was one glass of white wine would become bottles of champagne, which would become elaborate shots of liquers. Everyone caught up in the frivolity of life. Often lounging in the courtyard we would all sit drinking bubbles and smoking cigarettes or cigars until the early hours of Thursday morning putting the world to right. More often than not a guitar would be commandeered from someone’s room and as the birds began to sing, so would we.
A few hours later he would drive me to the train station, where I would buy an energy drink, light a cigarette, converse with the devil about soul exchange and then trudge down the platform to slip into a velveteen seat on the train back to London. And just die.
London. It was the city you lived in should you be single and not own an iota of responsibility. I had arrived back in England after years of globetrotting and as I was single and not an owner of any responsibilities my summer began in a quiet house share on the posh end of the northern line. With the sun rising at 4am, I would often lie awake listening to the birds chatter as a breeze wafted the curtains allowing shards of sun light to stream across the room. Don’t get the wrong idea … this only happened occasionally, for the most part I slept until my alarm went off.
At an appropriate hour I would meander through to the kitchen, pour a glass of fresh orange juice and settle myself on the sunny back terrace. Lighting a cigarette I would lean back and allow the already warm sun to seep over my sleep creased face. Planning my outfit for the day and wondering whether an energy drink counted as breakfast, I smiled as I remembered just how wonderful life was. Stubbing out my cigarette, I made my way back up the soft carpeted stairs. Turning the radio up, I hopped in to the shower and began my leisurely routine of shave, scrub and soak. As fast paced as London was, my showers were particularly long and slow and took forever. Sometimes I would stand beneath the stream of hot water for ten minutes just enjoying the warmth cascade over my shoulders. With a big, dark grey fluffy bath sheet wrapped around me and a slightly smaller one encasing my head I sat in the sunny window, cracked open my ice cold energy drink, lit another cigarette and began applying my make up whilst mumbling along to a song I loved but barely knew the words to other than the chorus. Standard.
With my chin dipped I first liberally applied a primer around my eyes, paying careful attention to the shadows beneath. With my high lighter stick I could do it with my eyes closed, in fact, some mornings I did, up the centre of the nose, under both eyes, a dab on the chin and four spots across my forehead. Taking a drag from my cigarette I leaned forward and tapped the ash out of the window. It was incredibly still outside, barely a rustle of leaves in the trees beside the house.
My phone beeped and I leant back in my chair, feet resting on the window sill, “Kings of Kool tonight. Meet you at Hyde Park Station at 7. Got free tickets. Kat xx”
A smile played at my lips, “How freaking great,” I thought. Kat was my best friend, she worked as a corporate travel agent and more often than not was the recipient of thoughtful gifts from grateful clients.
Turning my attention back to the mirror in front of me I began pushing bronzer down either side of my nose and the outline of my face as well as paying careful attention to my cheek bones. Two squirts of foundation into the palm of my hand I began to blend all of the sections together, before being rather generous with coral coloured blusher, “The joys of being a woman,” I surmised as I reached for my eye shadow, then the mascara and finally a dash of nude lip gloss across my lips.
Feeling laid back this particular morning, I spun round in my chair, crossed my legs, lit yet another cigarette and surveyed the open doors of my wardrobe. Planning was essential today. I had to go from a corporate office to a party in the park. Letting my arm rest on the warm window sill I mentally tried on a million different outfits. Settling on a pair of dark grey high-waisted skinny trousers, a white silk blouse and a beautifully tailored navy coloured blazer I whipped off my towel and got dressed. I had obviously put my cigarette somewhere responsible, possibly balanced on the window ledge. Slipping a chunky gold watch over my dainty wrist and wrapping a few strands of costume pearls around my neck, I threw a pair of rough looking Converse tennis shoes into my oversized hand bag for later and surveyed the room. Popping my feet into a trusted pair of nude heels I decided that I would let my hair dry in the warm breeze as I walked up the hill to the train station and once at work somehow style into a purposefully messy bun. Turning off the radio, closing my bedroom door behind me, I practically skipped down the stairs and out of the front door. I had obviously flicked the dead cigarette off the window ledge before leaving. Obviously.
Walking up the hill from the house to the station there was a routine, earphones had to be plugged into ears with song of the moment on repeat. Cigarettes, lighter and mobile phone had to be in the right coat/trouser pocket, train ticket and spare change for magazine had to be in the left pocket. Hand bag to be on right shoulder, lap top bag to be on the left. No cracks in the pavement could be stepped on and every person passed had to be greeted, although as ear plugs were fully ensconced in the ear, occasionally the greeting was inaudible due to self-awareness.
Following a 45 minute rumbling, tumbling tube journey through the rabbit warren of the underground I emerged, blinking, into the sunlight of Knightsbridge, sunglasses on, fully caught up on the gossip of the moment thanks to my daily tabloid magazine that I now tossed into a bin and happily buzzing from the energy drink I had finished whilst flipping through the pages of gloss and trash. Harrods was not yet open but its doormen stood at the ready in their stiff green tails and top hats. Crossing the road, dodging taxi’s and cyclists I turned a corner into a pretty leafy court yard, unloading my bags onto the bench I perched on the arm, lit a cigarette and logged into my work e-mail from my smart phone. Scrolling and high lighting important messages from my bosses and discarding those from sales companies.
I worked as an executive personal assistant to the directors of an investment company and my days revolved around organising flights to and from their other offices in Brazil and New York City, dealing with vast amounts of money and generally mincing about London in the back of cabs running errands. More often than not my work day would end with my bosses and colleagues in one of the many up market wine bars around their office, gulping jars of Pinot Grigio, smoking cigarettes and talking shop surrounded by the fragrance of money, summer and the exhaust fumes of the bevvy of sports cars parking up for an evening of hedonism.
Friday lunch times would be a leisurely stroll to find sustenance or shoes, a sneaky wine with the boys at the pub, sending the last of the important emails, spreadsheets and itineraries and then I would whip my head round the bosses door, salute them cheekily, whilst wishing them a lovely weekend and they knew where to find me in case of an emergency blah, blah, blah and within a second I had descended twelve floors to the leafy court yard and hailed a taxi.
I always referred to my weekends at his in High Wycombe as my country retreat. We would drink with our friends at the mess bar or various pubs in the area, sometimes heading back to London to eat in a restaurant that he had read about that week, we would stumble out, giggling in the early hours of the morning having chatted for hours about our dreams, our wishes, our lives together. Sundays were dedicated to long walks through the woods, the sunlight trickling down to the forest floor and warming our backs, a bag of apples accompanied always, as a treat for the horses we passed on the way, we always ended up in our favourite pub, the George and Dragon, to devour a Sunday roast while reading the weekend papers. More often than not we would be too full and tired to walk back to his military suite and would call a taxi for what was more or less a seven minute drive.
Our lives revolved around each other, our social life, spending as much time together as our jobs would allow, missing each other when away on business trips, sneaking off on weekends away to European cities to immerse ourselves in food, wine and culture.
Our relationship felt like one long, hot sticky Indian summer.
One sunny morning one early August Saturday, we stood together, with two friends as witnesses, in London’s Chelsea Town Hall and exchanged vows to be married. we sealed it with a kiss. It was simple, it was all that was required. To us, it meant the world.
The rest of the day was spent with a menagerie of friends and colleagues, lounging around one of the militarys’ Mayfair premises sipping on champagne and revelling in the glow of a new adventure.
I was now a military wife. How glamorous. I thought.
“You knew what you were marrying into,” They said.