Volume III: The Return (to Civilisation).
I greeted my last day in the Lake District with great joy. It wasn't that I hadn't enjoyed the trip; I did have a brilliant time despite certain horrendous moments. But I missed the city. I missed my cousins and meals that didn't comprise breakfast and strangers that shoved me aside on the pavement instead of hellolovelydaying me. And to be honest, the country was getting on my nerves. Everything opened too early and closed too early and I was starting to see Izzie's point about the whole chips with gravy thing. If chips with tomato sauce were a cigarette, chips with gravy would be a bidi.
Izzie and I discussed our plan briefly over breakfast. The plan was this: Pack. Leave bags behind. Kill time till three thirty pm. Collect bags. Walk to station. Get on train. Leave. Never come back.
Excellent plan really.
As Andrew thrust congealed eggs and salty bacon under our noses, we asked him if we could leave our bags behind and collect them in the afternoon. Understandably, we didn't want to lug them around the Lake District for the next six hours.
"Okay," he said, almost graciously. "Leave 'em in the dining room. Ring the doorbell when you come back."
"Thanks very much," said Izzie.
"Lovely day," I added. It wasn't. If ever a sky was going to burst into tears, it was this one. But I was trying to be conciliatory. It didn't work. He turned away and started haranguing some poor Japanese tourist in Japanese.
"So that's how he communicates with his wife," Izzie muttered.
We decided to pass the morning by climbing another fell. It was quite close by, and not very high. We climbed it. We stood at the top trying to savour the moment but it was ruined by a couple of girls dancing around photographing themselves. We went back down. I found an interesting tree which had initials and dates carved all over its bark. The oldest inscription I could find said: TD, 1915. I thought that was extremely cool. I tried adding TD, 2010 below it but none of the stones I found were sharp enough. So I was unable to leave my mark on history.
"I'll find other ways," I told Izzie on the way down, but she was busy tripping over stones and didn't hear me. Or perhaps she thought it was kinder to pretend, who knows?
We wandered sadly around Windermere for a while, and because it's so small, we soon found ourselves on the road to Bowness.
"What to do? What to dooo?" said Izzie, as we passed a row of cafes.
A sign caught my eye and a lightbulb went off in my head.
"Izzie!" I said, grabbing her arm and pointing towards it.
We dashed across the road, forgetting to look right or left but since there were no cars, it didn't really matter. We went into the cafe, ignored all the little patties and cakes because nothing - not even a strawberry tart - was going to deter us from our goal, and plonked a couple of coins on the counter.
"Those two are free," said the kind lady-behind-the-counter.
Two and a half hours of email and facebook bliss followed. I'd been cut off from the world for four days and in the interim, many things (heartbreak, meltdowns, and influenza) had attacked my friends. I did my best, in the short time I had, to set their world aright and it was with a lighter heart (I'd managed to confess some unmentionable deeds as well) that I stepped out into the streets of Bowness once again. Even the sun was making an attempt to peep out.
However, it was with no small amount of relief that we begin to walk back to Windermere to pick up our luggage. We reached the B&B by three thirty. We were early; the train wasn't to leave till four and the station was only five minutes away, but we didn't want to take a chance. The thought of one more night in Andrew's B&B was too horrifying to even contemplate.
No one answered the door.
"Maybe they're upstairs and can't hear," said Izzie nervously.
I pressed the bell three times in quick succession, counting to ten each time. Someone passing by gave us a dirty look.
"Do you think they're asleep?" I asked.
"They could be dead and they'd still hear it," said Izzie desperately.
I stood before the window. Through the thick glass, I could see our suitcases. I thought of opening it and climbing inside, but it was fastened. Blood pressure running high, I walked all round the house looking desperately for an open window but they were all locked. Probably as protection against Asian refugees.
Izzie was still pressing the doorbell, not giving up hope, saying rude things about Andrew and B&B owners in general under her breath. Well, okay. Not under her breath.
I pushed open the flap where the letters go through. I could see the hallway, I could see the stairs, I could see the room where our suitcases were. It was torture.
"Hellllooooooooooo," I called.
No one helllooooooooo-ed back.
"What's the time?" I asked Izzie.
"Nearly quarter to four,"
"Do you have his number? Maybe we could call,"
"No, but maybe Mum does." Izzie rang her mother who rang the tourist office who gave her the number which she passed onto us along with a don't-worry-if-you-miss-the-train-it's-not-your-fault.
"We are not going to miss the bloody train," snarled Izzie. She called Andrew, punching in the numbers on her phone so viciously that I winced a bit.
When she spoke to him though, she was quite civil. At first.
Iz: Hi, is this Andrew?
Andrew: *presumably saying yes*
Iz: Right. Well, our train leaves in twelve minutes and no one's answering the door. We need to collect our bags.
Andrew: *says something I, obviously, cannot hear*
Iz: *raising voice slightly* We did tell you that we'd be back for them. You said you'd be here.
Andrew: *says something else that I cannot hear.*
Iz: Well, you shouldn't have told us then. It's not our fault. *Pause* Wait. What? WHAT? No-
She snapped her phone shut and looked at me.
"He says," and she sounded so defeated, poor thing, "that he'll be here in five minutes. Our train's in less than ten."
"We'll run," I said encouragingly.
Izzie looked doubtfully at me but didn't say anything. Five minutes later, Andrew drove up (along with his wife and the children). He got out of the car and went to the letter box. The key was on top. Izzie and I looked at each other speechlessly.
"Why didn't he just tell us it was there?" I whispered to her.
"Because he's mental," she hissed.
We ran in and grabbed our stuff. Andrew followed us to the door.
"You should have planned this better," he said to us. "It's really not my job to be responsible for this. I'm a busy man."
"Goodbye, thank you." I said cheerfully, clutching my duffel bag in one hand and using the other to hold Izzie back. She had a slightly crazed look in her eyes and her hands were balling into fists.
"No time to hit him," I told her. "Let's run,"
We ran. Uphill, obviously.
"Not his job?" Izzie yelled as she ran, her hair blowing up in a puff above her head. "NOT HIS JOB? HE'S A FUCKING BED AND BREAKFAST OWNER IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE. OF COURSE IT'S HIS FUCKING JOB."
I would have agreed, in equally strong language, but I was having trouble breathing. And most of my attention was focused on avoiding the straps of my duffel bag getting tangled up with my legs.
"BUSY?" Izzie has remarkable lung capacity. "BUSY? BUSY DOING WHAT? MILKING A FUCKING COW?"
"Or shearing sheep," I said as we stumbled into the station, a minute before the train was about to depart. We rushed onto the platform. There was no train.
"Do you think we've missed it?" I said, terror seizing my heart.
"No. It's late," said Izzie gloomily, pointing to the signboard. "Eight minutes."
I repressed a sob with difficulty and plonked myself down on the platform.
"At least we didn't miss it," said Izzie after a pause.
I shot her a filthy look.
Eight minutes turned to sixteen. Izzie went to speak to the office and came back with the horrible news that the train had been indefinitely delayed.
"You know what this means don't you?"
"What does it mean?"
"We're probably going to miss the connecting train to London."
And that of course, is exactly what happened. The train came forty minutes late. I insisted that it had probably been delayed because a cow had wandered onto the tracks but we later found out, from the ticket inspector, that it was running on one engine instead of three.
"But why?" Izzie asked.
"These things happen, love," she said, shrugging.
We reached Station X to find that our train to London had left without us. We called our family, all of whom were supremely unconcerned. They told us to catch the next one and let them know what time we'd reach London so someone could pick us up.
"What if we never reach London?" I said darkly, while talking to Sue.
She snorted unsympathetically. She didn't know. No one knew.
We finally caught a train (an hour later) that took us to another station where we had to wait for another train that would take us to London.
"It's going to come to Platform 5. Where is Platform 5?" said Izzie, looking around.
I didn't answer. I'd spotted a vending machine and the vending machine had chocolate. Chocolate. I needed chocolate.
"I SEE PLATFORM 4! I SEE PLATFORM 6! WHERE THE FUCK IS PLATFORM 5?" yelled Izzie. I ignored her. I was too busy unwrapping my chocolate.
"You're on Platform 5," said a sweet old lady timidly, pointing to a sign that said 5 on it.
"I've had a bad day," Izzie muttered, sinking down next to me.
"Chocolate?" I asked. My mouth was full, my eyes had glazed over slightly and I could feel the chocolate smears all over my mouth. I didn't care. I'd reached another plane, a higher one (some would say a lower one), and nothing else mattered except the chocolate.
"It's going to be past nine by the time we get home," groaned Izzie.
I finished my chocolate and got another one from the vending machine.
The train came and we got into it. It would take us a couple of hours to get back to London but we'd be back before dark. Nine thirty in the summer is before dark.
The journey is hazy. I remember eating the chocolate and then moving onto a muffin that Izzie had on her and then I think I fell asleep. I woke up covered in crumbs only to be told that London was still an hour away.
We did reach eventually. I texted Sue, telling her I was a shadow of my former self.
Izzie's parents were there to pick us up. They took us back to my aunt and uncle's and we all had dinner by candlelight. I was forced to skip dessert.
"So how was your trip?" Pria asked me.
"I'm a shadow of my former self," I said tragically.
"We saw that text," said my uncle, who has been notoriously unsympathetic towards me since the day of my birth. "Don't exaggerate. You missed a train. It happens to everyone."
I looked at Izzie and Izzie looked at me.
"Let it go, mate," she said, shaking her head. I let it go, choosing instead, to raise my wine glass to her. We both made a silent toast to the city. To civilisation, and our return to it.
"Stop drinking so much and finish your salad," said my uncle.
I comforted myself with the thought that those who truly suffer, suffer in silence.