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Okay. The bed is probably not as high as it seems, Ortica. Don’t panic. You also have the carpet as a precious ally, so if you just let yourself fall down he won’t hear anything and you’ll be able to crawl away. You can do it.
I try to glance at him without moving. He’s sleeping. His pitch-black hair is spread on the pillow and he’s perfectly still, as peaceful as an exuberant teenager stuffed with tranquillisers. The colour of his hair is the only thing I can tell for sure about him, since I don’t remember jack about last night, he’s turned to the wall and I can’t see his face. Last but not least, my head is thumping like hell and I feel I could puke on these expensive-looking, silky sheets at any moment.
To be honest, I think I’m having the sort of awakening you see in bad movies, when the director needs to introduce a very self-centred, assholey womanizer who wakes up next to some random chick and runs away without a word. Only that self-centred asshole is me, and running away is approximately what I would like to do, but the girls in those movies must sleep very heavily, because I have the feeling that if I just flip the blankets he’ll wake up and I’ll have to bear the sort of awkward conversation no one really wants to have. So, I think the best way to avoid all that is just to lean on the edge of the bed and let myself fall down on the floor. I mean, the carpet should muffle the noise, right? It’s going to be fine, Ortica. Just go.
I look at the floor that’s waiting for me and feel a pang of disgust at the top of my throat. The wine taste is coming back when I cock my head. I blink twice and try to concentrate on the carpet. It’s green with little golden lilies, which is remarkable, since the average guy I sleep with has pizza slices scattered on the floor – at best. But this is quite an elegant pattern, so I guess I made a qualitative leap in terms of my choice in men.
The floor, anyway, makes me think of the dark, low-quality carpet of my own room in Stratford. I must be quite far from my house, but that’s again the only thing I can tell. There is a huge armchair probably made of ebony and a mirror carved out of what seems to be spirals of precious wood. Right next to the bed there is a small desk with a chair that looks very expensive, with the armrests made out of … ivory? … Really? I shiver in disgust and realise that, despite getting some hints on the bad taste of the man lying next to me, I know nothing about the place where I am. This is just a random elegant-looking room. Alright man, you have money, I got that, but I still don’t know where the fuck I am.
Trying to move as few muscles as possible, I straighten up a little bit, just to let myself glance out of the window on the right wall. Dark green curtains, exactly the same sober tint of the carpet. Everything is perfectly in style. You’re starting to annoy me, man.
As far as I can see, there is a branch of what could be a lemon tree that partly covers my view. Then, the clear sky of an early morning of March.
I’ve been told that some people can tell you where you are in London just from hearing the description of a bedroom, but I am still not used to London’s unwritten rules. This could be anywhere, and if I really had to guess, I would go for something around Chelsea or Primrose Hill, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
Truth is, I am not a Londoner and I am not even British. I’m part of that copious, very-much-discussed crowd of EU migrants that English people are not sure to be happy with or not. But they are going to state it in the next referendum, so I guess I’ll find out soon. I come from Italy and I’ve been here in London for almost five months. So I guess I don’t have to feel that bad if I can’t tell where the fuck I am by looking at an ebony carved armchair that smells like naphthalene and a lemon-tree branch waving smugly at me from the window.
I glance again at the alarm clock by the bed. It’s getting late and I need to go. The thing is that I really don’t want to wake him up and ask him where the fuck should I get the tube or the bus or whatever. As far as I know, I could be anywhere and it could take me three hours to get home. And my head thumping like crazy isn’t helping me to steady myself and concentrate on my aim. Roll over the bed and go.
It’s a pity I don’t have One-Night Stands for Dummies at my fingertips. If I had, I’d go straight to the section Sleeping with strangers you don’t remember shit about and I could learn a great deal, instead of daydreaming about crawling on the floor like a soldier in a foxhole during WWI. But, well, I guess I need to implement an alternative plan and take time to research nonfiction about one-night stands later. I mean, this is not the first time for me, but still. Alright, Ortica, stop overthinking. Just go. He won’t hear jack. I swallow, slowly. I put my right foot on the floor, leaning over. As I go, I don’t even have the time to pray not to break my nose, because I land on the carpet in less than a second.
Fuck. That was higher than I thought. I feel like my shoulder could be dislocated, but the worst is over. Now I have to get past the chair with ivory armrests – why has he got a fucking desk right next to his bed?! – so I just need to contort myself, crawl towards the door, and I’m out. Just a little effort, Ortica, and you’re free.
Well, not totally free, since I’m naked and my bag (with the phone inside) must be somewhere around the house, but I’m going to work it out later. I’m pretty sure I’ll find one or two huge coats on the coat hanger in the hall in case I can’t find my clothes. I mean, leaving my favourite vintage black dress here would be painful, but definitely less painful than talking to him.
Okay. You’re not far, Ortica. I crawl towards the door, trying to breathe quietly. Just a couple of metres and…
“What the fuck are you doing?”
I slowly turn to face him. I can finally see his features. He looks like an asshole. Like one of those well-dressed thirty-year-old guys, flashing their iPhones as they get out of banks and offices to grab the usual pint at the usual pub in central London. Fair eyes, well-cut black hair and perfectly shaven beard. He wears a white t-shirt, showing a bit of the bulky arms he probably works out for because he thinks he needs them to pick up girls like me. His whole body screams that he’s doing his best to do the minimum standard to impress women and look like a buon partito you would happily sleep with, even if what really made the difference in my decision to do it was that I was drunk. And probably that I didn’t know where the bus stop to get back home was.
Anyway, he’s sitting on the bed, looking at me as if I’m a psycho who has just run away from an institute and had sneaked into his room by mistake, threatening him with a fork and screaming that I’m his real mother.
“I’m just … well … Good morning.”
He stares at me, looking just as puzzled as I probably look. I have tried not to have this awkward conversation, but well, here we are now.
He keeps on looking at me, then, before I can answer, he shrugs. “Well, if you need to slither away, please remember to say sorry for your noises to Constance. And would you mind bringing me my clean suit? It’s in the hallway.”
What? Did I really go to bed with such a dickhead? What did I say about my leap in men quality just some moments ago? And who the fuck is Constance by the way?
Alright, something is coming to mind. I am pretty sure Constance is his maid. And last night in bed I screamed like a dying eagle for at least thirty minutes before he took the trouble to inform me that Constance was probably trying to sleep just two rooms away from the one in which we were having a ball.
“Get the suit yourself, jackass.”
He raises an eyebrow in answer, definitely untouched by my insult. I know I was a little bit rude, but the feminist in me cannot be defeated so easily, even if I was trying to crawl away from his room just a minute ago. You can’t wake up and tell me what to do, even if you say it with that tremendously posh accent, pretending to be polite.
I’m not even sure that “jackass” is a British word rather than an American one, but I am still making a bit of a mess with slang terms and the too many bad American romantic comedies I watch. Also, even if it’s probably not very feminist, I’d like to get up and at the same time I don’t want him to see me naked now. I mean, yesterday I was drunk and all, but some capillaries seem to have exploded between my thighs and I’m not sure I want him to see them now. I see a sheet hanging from the edge of the bed. In a quick twitch, I grab it and put it on me as I stand up. He looks up at me, unimpressed.
“What’s the meaning of this?”
I open my mouth, trying to say something that doesn’t seem like it’s coming from a neurotic, especially because I’m still pressing the sheet on my breasts and buttocks, but he precedes me. He raises his eyebrows.
“Come on, I know you have burst capillaries. Yesterday you broke out crying about them.”
What?! I don’t remember that. When did it happen?
Here’s the answer: I got old. I cannot believe I don’t remember shit about last night. This is getting embarrassing.
Also because I don’t know what to say. I’m flabbergasted, looking at this random guy who lives in a damn palace and treats me like I’m a teenager who ended up in bed with her favourite member of the boyband of her dreams.
I mean, of course I wasn’t being nice when I came up with the whole plan to crawl away, but he could be a little kinder, right? Instead of asking me to go get his suit.
I open my mouth to say something, but he shrugs again. His jaw is perfectly wide and sharp. I mean, he is attractive. I get why I decided to go home with him. I can definitely see why, but now that I am sober, he does not really seem that different from any other guy on Tinder.
“Why don’t you go have a shower? Constance should start preparing the coffee in like…” He looks at the alarm clock on the night table. “Two minutes and thirty seconds. It’s worth the wait, right?”
I look at him. He looks good, alright, but I’m not sure I want to stay for breakfast. My first impulse would be to run out of this fucked-up-ivory-armrests-chaired room as soon as possible, but I’m pretty sure his fridge is full of delicious stuff I couldn’t normally afford and, most of all, he knows where we are and how I can go home. As I try to smile at him, I feel my features twitching and aching in the effort, and the wine coming up again. I really need to go.
But as the scent of coffee and something that could easily be wild berries and croissants comes to my nostrils, I decide to stay. A girl must have her priorities.
Constance is probably being too kind to me but I feel like she smirks at my back as soon as I can’t see her. She’s a lovely old lady, with her hair knotted tightly with a yellow bow, the same colour of her gown. She pours the coffee in silence, then goes to tidy up the bedroom.
I have to admit that the kitchen is a lot less kitsch than his room, but this doesn’t help with the whole picture I’m getting of the house. I mean, it’s a minimalist kitchen. Completely different from anything I’ve previously seen in the bedroom. Everything is smooth and made out of steel and the only colours I can see are white, grey and black. Weird.
As I plunge my spoon in a bowl of wild berries and yoghurt, I try to figure out who the hell he is and, most of all, his name. He’s leaning on the counter, with his dark green nightgown tied loosely on his abdomen. He’s drinking the coffee that Constance has just made for us, and he’s flipping through an old copy of The Independent. I study his face and his body.
He’s fit, but none of his features reminds me of anything we could have done last night or even before, when he must have picked me and convinced me that sleeping with him was the best choice I could take in that moment.
“So what do you think about this EU referendum?” he asks.
It’s when he raises his blue eyes on me that I have a glimpse of what happened last night.
Me and Elliot, sitting on the pavement at a bus stop in Oxford Circus, after our night at the Blues’ Kitchen in Camden. We were waiting for the 25 to Ilford and were eating chips. I had a bottle of beer in my bag, closed with a cork, and we were taking turns sipping from it.
Elliot was raving about her boss telling her not to come to work with chipped nail polish and about what she wanted to do to him – killing him, mostly.
Why the fuck do I remember this anyway? Oh, yeah. That was when the guy I’m sitting in front of and his mate approached us.
“Last night you were more talkative than this,” he says, without looking up from his magazine.
Oh, shit. I guess he’s waiting for an answer about the Brexit.
“Oh, sorry, yes. It’s just … mornings, you know?”
I can’t believe the banality I’ve just said. I’m sure I could find this in the chapter Shit everyone says after sleeping with strangers in the One-Night Stands for Dummies imaginary copy that I’d like to have in my bag.
He raises his eyebrows, still not looking at me. Do I really have to explain to a random bloke, at seven in the morning, my views on the Brexit? Sleeping with strangers is too, too strenuous. Dealing with people you don’t give a shit about and who don’t give a shit about you is definitely overrated. And now I need to implement another alternative plan to avoid starting a debate with someone that has probably been a Conservative since his mother put him his first playsuit.
Alright, I can deal with this. I know how to elegantly not-answer a question. Also, the Brexit actually interests me, as it is pretty much the only subject people seem to read about at the moment. As an aspiring columnist, I decided to start a project and give my own contribution to this new obsession, which is what I may talk to him about. I know what I am doing. Come on, Ortica, don’t be shy.
“Your question is quite interesting, because I am currently working on an investigation about female migrants in London.”
He looks up at me again, and another glimpse of the night comes up. He was wearing a suit and his friend was blond. They were sharing a bottle of wine, but the blond friend had some plastic cups in his right hand. There was almost no one on the street, only three or four people waiting for the 25 like us. It was very late at night and Elliot and me just wanted to get home when the guys approached us.
“And what’s this investigation about?” he asks, taking a sip of his coffee.
I plunge my spoon in the bowl again. Alright, he is interested. Damn.
I don’t think I’m being mean. It’s just that I don’t like talking to men in the morning, especially the next morning. I guess this is the reason why my love life is, well, dead.
“I’m interviewing EU migrant women that have established successful careers in London.” I take a spoonful of yoghurt, thinking about what to say next. The fact that I am actually going to have the first of those interviews later today and that now I am just sitting with some random bloke, eating wild berries in some kitchen somewhere around London, crosses my mind for a second. Anyway, I go on. “I ask them about their life, how their lifestyle would change if the UK were to leave the EU and so on. I want to hear the voices of people. What they think could actually happen to them. That’s what really interests me.”
Okay, he’s giving me that look. The look that I perfectly understand and that I’m learning to give as well: it’s the look that Londoners give you when you’ve shared too much of yourself. They wanted a plain, short answer, with a very extended maximum of ten seconds, but you definitely went over it and overshared. You’re not in Italy, Ortica. This is London.
I grab my cup of coffee and take a long sip. Why the hell did he insist on having breakfast together if he wasn’t that interested in having a real conversation? I mean, he wants me to answer his questions and that’s it? I swear yuppies from London are fucked up. I think it’s one of the problems of living in cities like this. First of all, the main interactions with people they could date start on Tinder – which is something I really need to get used to. Elliot wants me to download it and give it a try, but my Italian pride is not going to be defeated so easily. We’re behind on too many things, girls are used to being whistled at and harassed on the streets, but we’re also used to normal, face-to-face interactions, and this is one of the few things I like to be old-school about.
So I think that the fact that he and his friend came up to hit on us just before we would take the bus to get home excited Elliot and me. She was already a bit drunk and she started freaking out about it, as she’s used to texting guys for ages before something actually happens.
They were brilliant. Surely more brilliant than what he seems now, reading his magazine and taking sips of coffee as he’s kindly letting me admire his presence instead of trying to involve me in a conversation. Come on, man, we both know we’re not going to see each other again after this breakfast, but you’re not even trying to make it a good story to tell my friends. You’re boring.
His silence is helpful, from a certain point of view. I can focus on what I have to do today. First of all, I need to think immediately about how to get back home. I don’t think that asking where we are exactly in London would make a good impression. I look around to see if I can spot any hint.
“You know how to get back home, right?”
I freeze. Did he read my mind? Is this a trap? Does he really think that I know? Is he trying to be kind or is this a way of letting me know that he wants me out of his house in the next twenty seconds?
Alright, Ortica. Elegant way to answer an unwanted question.
“Yeah, I think I got a picture yesterday, but you’d be very kind if you gave me some advice.”
He closes his magazine and leans on the counter, looking me in the eyes. “Alright,” he starts. “You said you were taking the 25 to Stratford, right?”
I nod. I remember his eyes now. He was looking straight at me last night, when he leant to offer us some wine. Elliot nudged me. She didn’t want me to take it. I knew that accepting alcohol from strangers in London wasn’t exactly a wise move – but I was a bit too drunk and I said yes anyway. Elliot, of course, did the same after she saw the brand on the bottle. Brunello di Montalcino. Tuscan wine. My land.
“We are in Primrose Hill now,” he says. He’s smiling slightly, like he perfectly knows that I have no idea where we are. “You knew that, right?”
I try unsuccessfully to conceal my smile. My lips twitch. “Well, now that you told me, yes.”
I am expecting him to start laughing and hope that we both finally burst as any normal people who slept together and don’t know the other person would do, but he doesn’t.
“Chalk Farm tube stop is just two blocks away from here. That’s an easy connection to Camden and from there the Overground from Camden Road to Stratford. Whenever you want, feel free to go.”
Oh, man. This was rude. You spoilt everything. You probably have a nice looking Tinder profile, all flashing abs and pectorals, of course with a sensitive, polite-guy-working-in-finance description, but it’s clear that you can’t really deal with girls. You’re just a boring asshole with ivory-armrested chairs.
I nod and take the last sip of my coffee. Then I plunge my spoon back in the yoghurt bowl again, but I don’t bring it to my mouth. I get up.
“Oh, that’s sweet, I-don’t-know-your-name guy. In the name of all the women in the world, I want to thank you for your kind concession.”
I grab my bag on the chair next to me, get up and smile at him. He’s watching me with his stupid gob open as I turn on my heels.
“Can you bring me my Sunday papers, love?” I hear him saying.
“Go fuck yourself.”
I go out of the kitchen, hearing nothing behind me, and go through the bloody hallway with the dark green and golden lilies carpet. I didn’t notice it the night before, but it’s just really kitsch as hell.
I open the door and go out. I can smell the scent of the lemon tree. The building is amazing, I didn’t remember it was so beautiful from the outside. The garden is small, but extremely well kept. I have no memories of walking through this. Some herbs are planted on the right side of the grass patch. A marble lion is looking towards the small gate, waiting for people to come in.
But the tremendous decorations of the garden aren’t what really strikes me. As soon as I look up, I see London’s clear sky. I hear the endless sounds of the city, the engines, people talking, laughing and screaming, trains in the distance.
Running the fingers through my hair, I plunge into the chaos of my city.