She would move nine times in ten years, and every time, in a London black cab. She used to say that she did not need to own more than one cab ride could fit.
Photo by Arvydas Venckus on Unsplash
There were of course, her books. Only those she owned, though: two boxes. The most personal. There were hundreds more she had read and loved, but she believed in libraries. An aging tin box that had once held biscuits, in fading gold and burgundy, with a silhouette of the Eiffel Tower, in which she kept her jewellery.
Two suitcases. One in tanned leather, no wheels, she had come across on a Sunday strolling up Portobello Road with her sister on their way to brunch. Toast and poached eggs. The bag had been cheap – a mere five pounds – its former owner a wealth of stories. She admits she bought it more for the stories than its actual practicality. The second suitcase was large, plastic, durable, compartmentalized for efficient packing. A luxury brand. A present from the same sister who, at brunch, always had mimosas.
In between the tired vintage suitcase and the state-of-the-art one on four wheels, her wardrobe, the same for ten years with very few alterations, fit. A few dresses, some black, some white, one of which had been her wedding dress. A short and simple consignment store find, no frills. She had worn it on summer days since. A grey pencil skirt with a plain boat-necked black top – she hated shirts. One white fitted shirt. The rest was an array of white and navy and jeans and scarves – she loved scarves – in pastels.
She had, at one point, owned a cat and white orchid, the first a street tabby met on a rainy, foggy, quite typical London day. A Holly Golightly sort of moment. The second a present from her mother, perhaps a subtle, certainly tasteful hint toward a more settled life in which a girl could keep an orchid on a window sill.
The former had scampered by the third cab ride. No hard feelings; she understood the impulse that had sprung the feline out of the open car door. Some would call it liberty. A big word. She preferred to call it air.
The latter of her travel companions had found itself a home on just the window sill her mother had dreamed of for her. She, however, had not, not in that life or that flat or that pair of arms in that wide bed, so girl and orchid had parted ways. No hard feelings there either; they only made baggage heavy for traveling.
Then there were the non-essential essentials, her traveling wunderkammer: her Taylors of Harrogate teas, Moleskine notebooks and vanilla-scented candle from Diptyque. The latter a splurge she allowed herself in Paris, in the boutique on the rue Saint-Honoré, if and when life took her that city. Her red rimmed glasses, perfume, and matte peach lipstick. Whatever book she was reading. All stuffed in a classic navy blue shoulder bag inherited from her grandmother.
The bag and an insatiable wanderlust; for ten years, in between black cab rides, she had ridden the tube and trains and planes and, once in Bangkok, a boat and tuk tuk, to places where she had taken in sounds, smells, tastes, sensations, experiences, taken no pictures or souvenirs and then left, as lightly as she had come.
Till one day she shared a ride, longer and out of London, across an ocean and romance, to a sun-filled cottage with white walls and blue shutters and a garden with a vegetable patch. It smells of vanilla; Diptyque candles in every room, no longer a splurge for Holly. She serves us one of her teas in wide porcelain cups finely hand-painted with bluebirds.
Atlases and books, far more than two boxes’ fill. Two infants on a playmat, tummies down, chins up, eyes big and set on the bright colours of the toys scattered around them. ‘All this would never fit in a black cab!’ she laughs. The dog saunters in. On the table, clementines, kiwi on a plate also hand painted with birds, ‘and ginger shortbreads from London. Please try them!’ I do. The dog tries his luck. He likes them too.
She is not too different from the girl who used to move only in London black cabs. There are so many ways to travel and love so many different times and places. On the window sill facing the forest green sofa, a giant white orchid blooms in the afternoon sun. By it, an armchair. ‘I read and write for a few hours here after the boys are put to bed.’
We talk a few more minutes of past and future adventures, on our knees, by the little ones smiling up from the coloured mat, then I must leave. My cab is here.