This is a small excerpt from the short story An Invisible Girl, available now as part of the book London Eyes: Short Stories.
The City of London swallows her whole; a lonely girl who wasn’t built for the city, she puffs out her chest and wears high-heeled shoes, as though this will prepare and protect her.
It is the middle of the day and the streets swell. Hungry, preoccupied, rushed, they push past the girl who keeps staring straight ahead, as wary of eye contact as she is of falling into the cracks in the pavement.
Red. She stands and waits for the lights to change colour, staring at the back of a man’s head. The short hairs that lie there spoon each other flat. She’s ready for his head to turn at any moment.
Green. She takes small steps onward. Shoulders move in on either side, masking how she holds her brow high but keeps her chin dipped to her body. She doesn’t know where she’s going, but she knows what she’s doing.
For the City of London swallows her whole, makes her invisible, and that’s exactly what she wants.
6th July 2005
12.47 (Twenty-one Hours Before)
Six months had passed since she’d walked through the double doors to the office and it no longer smelt unfamiliar. Her first full-time job, the beginning of her professional career and an opportunity to shine. That’s what her father had called it. He’d also told her to ‘work hard; keep your head down; get on with it’. They were blunt words of advice, but they were working.
She marched up the gentle slope of Lombard Street and past a pub that men spilled outside of, pint glasses in hand and top buttons undone. They pulled up onto the toes of their over-polished shoes to gaze through the window. She thought it an odd time for a football match, but there always seemed to be something to stop people working in the City. She kept moving.
A noise pulled her back. An eruption of joy. Someone must have scored.
Moments later, she passed the window of an electronics shop, filled with television screens. The words “London 2012” flashed up. A sea of waving arms and open mouths filled Trafalgar Square. Her borrowed city had just won their bid to host the Olympic Games in 2012.
2012. It seemed a lifetime in the future. Bursting the small bubble of pride that had inflated inside her uninvited, she kept moving, maintaining the perfect distance behind him.
She followed the man to a restaurant she had heard of but never visited. Without breaking her pace she walked on, crossing the road and lingering at the nearest corner, just out of sight. Her phone rang at the very moment she was pulling it out of her pocket.
“I’m worried about you,” said a familiar voice.
“Don’t,” she whispered back.
“I keep thinking about what you said.”
“I shouldn’t have told you.”
“You should have told me sooner.”
“I have to go. I’m working. I’ll call you this evening.”
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(Image source: Alexander Shustov)
Frances M. Thompson
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