by Erin Maxwell
Her name was ‘luscious Laura’. At least, that’s what she told me it was. Our meeting lasted exactly three minutes, but she was unforgettable.
It was a Tuesday afternoon, almost seven o’ clock at night on October 1st. I had just returned from a long day of three-hour lectures and was feeling exhausted, cranky, and quite angry; my poetry had been rejected from yet another literary magazine for ‘lacking substance’, which was only shocking enough to make me a little bitter and frustrated at the crowds that filled up the station.
I had to pee; it could not wait the entire three minutes it would usually take to walk down Old Street to Pitfield to get my dorm. So, in desperation, I ducked into the station’s bathroom. It reeked of piss. I didn’t care. One of the lights was out, which left this tiny vestibule coated in half a shadow. Deplorable, filthy; this is what a tube station bathroom looked like.
After I finished my business, I exited the grimy stall and proceed to wash my hands. Someone had written in bright red lipstick, “Lonely Londoners.” Although this was probably a reference to the 1956 novel by Samuel Selvon, it resonated with me in a different sort of way. Perhaps it was the day, the time, the awful crowds. Perhaps it was none of those things.
Before I could give the scrawl another thought, the door swung open. This is the moment that has stuck with me weeks later: the black pixie cut with neon blue streaks, the over-sized red checkered shirt, and the baggy pants that were hanging off her skinny waist. This was ‘luscious Laura.” Of course, she would not tell me this until the end, when it was time to say goodbye.
She didn’t acknowledge my presence at first as she situated herself in front of the mirror opposite me; she was too busy fiddling with her hair, poking at her hollow cheeks, wrinkling her nose. I had just switched off the water and was about to move around her to get to the paper towels before she asked, “Oi! Darlin’, you mind helpin’ a girl with her hair?” I blinked, confused.
“What exactly do you want me to do to it?”
“Aww you know. Mess it up a little. Like yours,” she said, pointing a bony finger at my own pixie cut that was growing out quite well considering it was uneven.
I shrugged. It was an innocent request. I moved back towards her and began my task. She smelled of beer and the kind of perfume you buy at drug stores. I tried not to gag. Her hair was very coarse. Still, its roughness felt appropriate.
As I was awkwardly flipping small strands up at her instruction, she started talking. It was her birthday; she was twenty-eight.
“Happy birthday,” I said, smiling at her reflection in the mirror.
She nodded, smiling back. “Yeh,” she laughed, sticking her hands into her pockets and rocking back and forth on her heels a little. “My friends are taking me up to the London Eye! You ever been?” I shook my head. The London Aquarium is as close as I had ever gotten I said.
Pop. A pink bubble burst. I hadn’t realized she was chewing gum. She signaled for me to stop. Then, she leaned onto the sink and took in the result. She grinned: a successful endeavor. “It’s gonna be wild. It’s gonna be wild I bet,” she sighed. Then she turned to me, and did something I was not expecting: she touched my cheek. “You’re pretty,” she said. “You’re too pretty to be a Londoner.”
“That’s not possible,” I laughed, embarrassed. Her hand hadn’t left its spot on my cheek, which made me even more embarrassed. “All the women here are so…fashionable. I feel quite out of place most of the time.” It was true. With their flashy Calvin Klein suits and dresses from French Connection, I always felt ashamed when I walked down Regent Street in ripped jeans to browse the boutiques in Soho; I feared these women’s giggles as I whizzed by were about me.
“Yeh, well,” she said, rolling her eyes. “They’re bitches. Cold stuck up bitches. Me? I love London. It’s moody, yeah. It ain’t so pretty most of the time, it ain’t like it don’t have its flaws. You know what I’m sayin’?”
I nodded. She took her hand away from my cheek to pull out a tube of hot pink lipgloss from her pocket, which she began to apply sloppily, no mirror necessary. She continued on with her monologue.
“London, it’s a great city. I’ve lived here almost ten years. Came from Liverpool to work. You know what I do? I deal with idiot blokes all day, guys who want tattoos just to have tattoos.” At this, she giggled, and then capped her lipgloss and stuck it back into her pocket. “But you’ll never forget it. This city, I mean. Oh, you Americans got your Empire State Building and your Wendy’s and your houses in the suburbs. But London,” she said, her eyes glittering. She smacked her now shiny lips together. “London’s at the center of everyone’s heart. When you’re here, you love life. You just love it.”
I was silent. Suddenly, I didn’t feel so tired or cranky anymore. I had forgotten about my poems. All I could see was this woman, really a girl, who looked like she was taken out of an Egon Schiele painting and thrown into reality one fine day. She yawned. We were done here.
Before she exited, she gave me a big fat kiss on the cheek. “You tell ‘em you met the luscious Laura!” she hooted. Then, just like that, she was gone. She never asked my name.
I touched her imprint, and then I was going, too. I had met ‘London’ in a station bathroom. That’s what I would take home with me.