Word count: 1547
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
An hour later I am walking though the hotel lobby escorted by the most handsome guy I’ve ever set my eyes on and wearing clothes that are making me feel like a movie star. It’s like magic: wearing them is changing the way I feel, the way I move my body.
The skirt is so soft and grazes my ankles in slow, deep waves as I walk, and the top feels like silk against my skin. Probably because it is silk. I start wondering if I ever actually wore any real silk or if this is just of such high quality that I’ve never been around anything like it. The shoes are one size too big but luckily they’re sandals and I was able to strap them tight enough.
We’re off to watch this post-thunderstorm July sunset from the London Eye. The low, golden evening rays are making their way though the clouds impetuously, painting them a rainbow of pretty pastel colours. Even though I promised myself not to, if he kisses me I’ll just go ahead and let him. This is just too perfect, there’s no way I’m going to find the strength to say no.
After a bit of back and forth we managed to reach a compromise on his gift: I would accept it if he let me pay for dinner. Taking his slightly apprehensive expression as a warning, Iended up settling with paying for the London Eye tickets instead.
The air is indeed crispier as we step outside the hotel, and it still smells like summer rainfall. Terence is opening the doors for us and we jump in. I find myself wondering what he’s been doing until now, where he has waited for us. We drive past Buckingham Palace and then over Westminster Bridge. Before we cross I point out the gold-tinged Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, glowing in the last rays of sunshine.
When we get out of the car we’re so close to the London Eye I’m not even sure you’re allowed to drive here, but I don’t say anything. Something tells me some rules can be bent if you’re Mr Baili’s personal driver in the UK.
We join a dwindling queue and I read on a noticeboard it closes at 8:30 PM, which gives us just enough time to grab the last few tickets. Up until now I hadn’t even taken a potential closing time into account.
In front of us is another couple, they look like foreigners. They’re kissing passionately, maybe a little too passionately, with tongues and everything, something I would normally find revolting, but everything that’s happened today has made me magnanimous. I’m happy and I want everybody else to be happy, too, and I feel tolerant of how others wish to express it.
Behind us is a mother with her five or six-year-old daughter. The little girl is looking at my long lilac skirt the same way I used to look at Disney princesses’ gowns when I was her age. I smile at her and she hides shyly behind her mum’s legs.
The look she was just giving me makes me realise that my dreams are coming true. Even if only for just a few hours. But I am more resolved than ever to enjoy this day to the fullest, the view I will be seeing soon, the Michelin-starred restaurant later. I’m glad I accepted this outfit. With all the negative things going on in my life, I deserve this, I deserve today.
We approach the ticket counter and I notice the attendant has fixed her eyes on Liang, seemingly unable to take them off him, even when she tells us we have to fork out eighty pounds for same-day tickets. Eighty pounds I can’t afford, same as cheap return tickets on a low-cost airline to Spain, but I take my debit card out without hesitation. It’s nothing compared to what I’m experiencing today and, most of all, necessary to make me feel like I’m paying Liang back.
As I stall, trying to stuff my wallet into my microscopic handbag, I can’t help tuning into the conversation behind me, back at the ticket counter. “Sorry, madam, that was the last ride available for today. I can help you make a reservation for tomorrow, if you wish.”
I turn around. The little girl with her pretty black braids looks close to tears.
“Please, we’re going back home tomorrow and I don’t know when we’ll get a chance to come back. And I promised my daughter.”
The attendant shrugs. “Sorry, but you should have come earlier. It’s closed now.”
“But they literally just bought tickets!” She’s pointing at Liang and I, giving me a quick apologetic smile. “Can’t you make a tiny exception?”
“It’s not up to me, madam. It’s closing time.” The attendant stand up and starts busily shutting the ticket counter down, switching the microphone off with a little ‘click’ and ignoring the mother’s further protests. I see the little girl’s huge eyes grow bigger and shinier until the tears start flooding her chubby little face.
Now, I’ve never been particularly brave — quite the opposite, actually. I have a hard time standing up for myself. Once I spent a three-hour car journey sitting in the back, with cold wind blowing in my face from the front window. I spent the weekend with a flu. Another time I ate half a platter of fresh cheese even though I’m lactose intolerant, just because I didn’t have the nerve to say I wanted to order something else. And the examples don’t end here.
But sometimes I lose my patience. Like I lost it with Adam a couple of days ago on the high street. And when I do, it’s like a different part of my brain takes over and my body just follows.
I find myself knocking on the glass window of the ticket counter. A knock that quickly turns into a full-on slamming my open palm against the glass. “Hey! Excuse me!” But it’s no use, the attendant acts like I don’t exist.
I look at Liang, then up at the London Eye, then down at the little girl. And just like that my mind is made up. I’ve had enough happiness for one day, and she definitely deserves it more than me. “Here,” I say to the mother. “Take our tickets.”
“That’s... that’s so kind of you but I can’t possibly accept it. It’s not your guys’ fault.” She gives the attendant a dirty look. “You guys go and have fun.”
The irony. Now it’s me trying to push a gift on somebody else. “Maybe she will accept it though,” I say, turning to the daughter. “Hi baby! What’s your name?”
The girl smiles her mum gives her a little nudge. “Jessica,” she says uncertainly.
“Jessica? Really? What a pretty name. My best friend is called Jessica. And how old are you?”
She holds up five chubby fingers.
“Oh, wow, so old already! Jessica, do you want to go on the big wheel ride with your mum?”
She looks up at her mum, as if for confirmation, and nods, shyly but decisively. I don’t hesitate in handing her the tickets. “There you go, then. I’d hurry up if I were you, it’s closing soon.”
When I’m done convincing Jessica’s mum that there’s absolutely no need to pay me back for the tickets, I watch them dash off and I turn back to Liang, realising I gave him no say in this and that I barely acknowledged his presence in the last five minutes.
He doesn’t say anything and I wonder if I’ve upset him. He could be. After all he’s done for me, I go and ruin the one thing we agreed I would do for him. He’s going back to Shanghai in just a couple of days and today is the only day he gets to visit London; I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s annoyed at me.
“I’m so sorry I gave away our tickets,” I continue. “I just couldn’t... That little girl was so upset… That ticket lady was kind of mean to them...”
“Don’t be sorry. I’m happy this happened.”
“Because what happened tells me a lot about you.”
Oh my god, I obviously got this the wrong way round. He must think that I’m some sort of saint now. Like, a Good Person. But I’m not, really. I’ve done some things I’m not proud of. Nothing too bad, I guess, but I wouldn’t go so far as to describe myself as a ‘saint’, either. The fact that Liang sees this in me, however, fills me with delight. “And what exactly does it tell you about me?” I ask, ready to graciously refute his compliment.
“That you are no good as a tour guide and I should have picked someone else.”
For a moment I believe him. Until a smile creeps on his face and he comes closer to me. He’s about to say something, but then he hesitates, and doesn’t say anything in the end. We start walking.
“Anyway,” he says, shrugging. “It’s not that special. Doesn’t it look just like a big bicycle wheel?”