Sylvia challenged me to another story competition… I suggested we base our tales on local news headlines this time. She chose ‘One hundred yellow umbrellas’, I chose ‘Bag a Slag event forced to cancel’. She suggested we swap and then regretted it instantly after seeing my title, I think. As a result, my story is done and ready for reproduction here, and hers is still in the creative process. Good luck Sylvia!
One hundred yellow umbrellas
Arriving at Marylebone Station, Sarah stepped carefully onto the smooth, white, polished floor and thought that this flooring didn’t seem the most sensible in the world for thousands of travellers to walk on. Surely it led to more than its fair share of slippages and falls.
Cautiously, she tried a few steps and, when she didn’t land on her backside immediately, gained a little confidence and tried to look like the others leaving the train. Everyone seemed to be in a hurry, knowing exactly what they were doing and where they were going, so she copied them. Trotting along at a brisk pace, her eyes fixed firmly on the ticket barrier, she found she could not leave the platform without inserting her ticket. Damn. She dug in her handbag, rooting around amongst polo mints, keys, make up and cigarettes until she found it finally, hidden in one corner. She blew the bits of fluff and loose tobacco from it and inserted it into the provided slot. The barrier opened with a ‘beep’ and she bustled through it, hearing an impatient “Tuh!” sound from the pinstripe –suited man behind her.
Now feeling very slightly under siege, Sarah wished to get away from the people who obviously thought her hopeless and parochial and hurried, without delay, towards the ladies toilet. In contrast to the rest of the station, the toilets were rather bleak and miserable looking. She locked herself in a cubicle with some relief and hung her handbag on the hook fixed to the back of the door. Layering toilet paper onto the seat in an effort to avoid any horrors that had been left there, she pulled up her dress and took down her pants and tights and gingerly sat, waiting to pass water.
Sarah wasn’t entirely sure she needed to urinate, but it seemed like the right thing to do, given that she had taken up a cubicle and sure enough, the can of Fanta she had consumed on the journey provided her with sufficient reason to be in there.
After washing her hands back out in the dreary bathroom, she wiped them on the skirt of her dress, rather than stand in line for the hand drier and looked in the mirror. There was no other place to put her bag other than in the wet sink, so she lowered it in there and dug around for her comb and lipstick. Some improvement was made to her reflection, but she still felt she looked rather gauche compared to the other women dashing in and out at lightning speed. She pulled out her body spray and squirted a little around her neck. Okay, now she was a little more ready than she had been.
Deep breath; the map she had printed off her computer the night before told her that she should exit the station and turn left, walk up Melcombe Place and then Melcombe Street, and take another left onto Baker Street. Sarah glanced at her watch; she was just a little early, which was good news.
He had told her he’d be there by midday and that her walk shouldn’t take more than ten minutes. It was quarter to twelve now. She gazed at her own reflection, this was certainly an exciting day and her nerves were only natural. It was an adventure to go and meet a man she’d only ever written to before, not a trial by hanging. She tried an experimental ‘hello’ smile in the mirror. She thought she looked half-witted, but no good would come of self-doubt now. He’d just have to take her as she was.
Upon exiting the station, Sarah found it was drizzling with rain. She pulled up the hood on her coat to avoid the bizarre frizzy curls her hair went into when confronted with damp conditions and walked, (now with her own sense of purpose and a cigarette to steady her nerves), along the pavement. It seemed extraordinarily busy, but she supposed London was always like this. She wouldn’t know, this being her first time in the city.
As she reached the end of Melcombe Street, the rain began to come down in earnest. She saw a crowd around a news stand and wondered if something serious had happened. She then realised that a promotional umbrella was being given away with each sale. How fortunate! It seemed the gods were on her side. She joined the throng and paid for the paper, gratefully taking the Aviva branded umbrella, and, like everyone else, putting it up immediately.
As she began to walk along Baker Street towards 221b, now the site of the Sherlock Holmes museum, a sudden realisation hit her. She dug a bit of paper out of her bag – his email. Scanning it quickly, she found the part she needed, “…will meet you outside the Sherlock Holmes museum at midday, I will carry a yellow umbrella, so you can recognise me easily.”
She had stopped walking and looked ahead, a combination of frustration and amusement welling inside her. The road had been closed outside 221b Baker Street. A banner declared it was the 160th anniversary of the ‘birth’ of Sherlock Holmes, famous fictional detective. A crowd of fans were milling around, trying to gain entry to the museum and a carnival atmosphere had developed. This wasn’t what amused her.
Each and every person was carrying a yellow Aviva umbrella.
Sarah did a quick head count; there must have been at least a hundred yellow umbrellas. She laughed out loud. Well, thank you Aviva, she thought wryly.
As she continued to walk towards the gathering, she wondered if she would be able to spot him. She didn’t know anything about how he looked. Somehow appearance had not been something they discussed in their correspondence, it hadn’t seemed important.
Soon she was swallowed by the mass of Sherlock enthusiasts. There were many tweed overcoats and scarves, a few Benedict Cumberbatch –alikes with their dark curly hair and lots of young women craning their necks. Sarah realised, by reading a poster on the shop front, that the real Benedict Cumberbatch, popular Sherlock Holmes actor, was inside the museum and was due to come outside soon. The crowd continued to grow and pulse with energy, occasionally thrusting forward en masse towards the small frontage. Suddenly, he came outside and the sea of yellow umbrellas swelled towards him, wanting to touch a piece of him, exchange a few words or ask for an autograph. He obliged, smiling widely, his chiselled cheekbones gleaming in the sunlight that had burst through the clouds, seemingly in response to his appearance.
After a few minutes with the crowd, Mr Cumberbatch was escorted to a car, which had been waiting by the edge of the cordoned off area, and was whisked away. The rain stopped suddenly and the crowd began to dissipate.
As, one by one, the people disappeared and the umbrellas went down, Sarah became aware of one short, chubby man with a good-natured, but anxious looking face, the bald patch on his head shining under his yellow umbrella. He was been standing right at the back of the crowd and holding high above his head a bright yellow umbrella, it looked like he had drawn something on it in black marker pen. The ink had begun to run, due to the rain, but as she looked more closely, she could make out the word he had written.