The “Living” in Working Abroad
On that last day we rode the bus into town together, I handed her an apple. At the time, it was the only gesture I could make to try and say everything would be okay. As her stop approached, she came over to where I was sitting, leaving her luggage near the front. When we hugged, our eyes began to rim with tears that we held on to as we let go of each other. My friend’s journey in working abroad was ending, and mine, I can look back and say, had just begun.
It was my first day at my new job. After a long search for an art-related job as an assistant, an attendent, a whatever-would-allow-me-to-be-around-creative-people, I gave up and applied to be a waitress, a shop attendant, anything that would allow me to survive, maybe save a little, and be social. When we had first arrived, my friend and I, we immediately got hired as temps and entered the exciting world of telemarketing. Our only relief was being able to roll our eyes in exasperation at each other across our desks throughout the day and laugh about it all back at our flat when the only remaining evidence of our status as telemarketers was the dent the headpiece left in her hair.
So she got off the bus, laden with bags, and I stayed on to the end of the line with my head resting against the chilly glass of the bus window. The baby in front of me smiled, releasing a mouthful of cookie onto my black trousers. In my polyester maroon shirt that served as my temporary uniform until the real shirts came in, I began my first day at the chain cinema I worked at for the remainder of my stay in Brighton.
For a month, I lived alone in our large flat. It was on a quiet, dark street that reminded me at times of the small Tuscan town I had lived in when I studied abroad in Italy. With no television, radio, flatmate, or internet access, my library books and I kept each other warm through the cool December nights. The flat was not cheap, nor were the utility bills, and in taking a job at the cinema instead of continuing telemarketing, I was bringing in less money than when we signed the lease. I was upset with my friend for deciding to leave so soon because she had left me alone in a flat that we both signed a lease for, but I had hopes of getting out. After many weeks of not returning my calls, the landlord told me that he would work with me to find some people to replace us. I yearned for the day when I would be free from the lease and could move to a more affordable place.
On Christmas Eve, the landlord was kind enough to tell me that it wasn’t his fault I had come to the country with a bad friend. He was not compassionate to say the least. If it weren’t for the fact that my boyfriend was visiting me for the holidays, I would have had the most depressing Christmas of my life.
As the weeks passed, I was alone, stuck, and decided to free myself. Late one night, I packed my bags, lined them up near the door and took three bus trips with as much as I could carry each time to my new home: a hostel. I left a note for the landlord – my last communication with him. At first, I took a bed in a shared room at 70 pounds a week, but moved soon after spending a week there with a creepy drifter from Australia who took delight in pushing farts out and stripping naked with no shame and with his flabby butt in front of me. My new room was my own, but at 90 pounds a week, it wasn’t much cheaper than the flat I had been living in. I had my own television, a sink, more privacy and full-sized bed, but beyond that, the benefits were hardly worth the extra expense that I honestly could barely afford.
The final straw came when mysterious itchy bumps started appearing on my arms and legs. Over the phone, my mother panicked and schooled me on the severity of bedbug infestations, which is what she believed it was. I approached the guy at the front desk to quietly let him know that their establishment had a problem (or at least my room did). When he implied that the problem may be due to me, I knew it was time to go once again. I put an ad up for a room in the window of a natural foods shop and waited for responses. I washed all my clothing at a laundromat and sealed them in bags while still there to prevent wherever I moved from becoming infested.
Within a week, I received an email from a single man (no thanks) and a single woman with a fourteen-year-old son, who happens to also be an artist. I agreed to meet her at her place after work. On the bus ride north, I glanced at my Brighton A-Z and memorized the street name and house number I had written down. The location was farther from town than I would have wanted, but I continued. Shortly after I knocked on #5, a light went on inside. No shadow darkened the peephole. No one answered or pulled the curtains back. A wave of sadness washes over me. I begin to imagine that she looked down on me from the upstairs window and decided against letting me in. Hope of leaving the hostel is gone. I head back to the bus stop as it begins to drizzle. I text my mom. What should I do? She calls back, all the way from the States, to tell me to try again. I bang and bang, but no one comes to the door. I turn back to the bus stop, but then I stop. I take out the A-Z. I’m on the wrong street! It curves in an unusual way, and that is why I thought the more obvious street was still the same road. I rush to the correct street, now late for our meeting.
I see the upstairs light on and am filled with hope. The only thing between me and the front door is a tall wooden door embedded in a huge hedge. I try to push the door open. No luck. I try to push the hedge around it back so I can crawl through the side, but it’s too dense. The night is cold and damp. I have forgotten her phone number on my bed at the hostel. From where I am, I cannot even see the front door. I walk the perimeter, and finally, I crawl over a chain link fence on the side of the house, trample through the wet lawn, under the clothesline and toward the front door. If anyone has been watching me, they undoubtedly see me as the crazy, desperate person that I am in that moment. When I knock, she opens and looks, for some reason, just as I imagined, short with long curly blonde hair. She smiles, welcomes me in. Her place is colorful, warm and cozy. Plants thrive on the windowsills and art lives on the walls. We drink hot chocolate in the kitchen and talk for an hour. Finally, I think, finally home.