by Josephine Howard
The lady in Thomas Cook is quite helpful as she writes out, with smart manicured hands, my train and boat tickets and gives me instructions on my journey. She doesn’t ask if I will be OK but treats me like an adult. She does ask whether I have a passport though. I don’t. The only other time I have been abroad, a couple of years ago, I appeared on a group passport with the school. She says I should get a photo done in the booth at Woolworths, then go to the Post Office on Lord Street. She says there might not be enough time before next Tuesday to get a proper passport from Liverpool.
The booth in Woolworths is by the record section. I glance briefly at the posters for the latest Ktel hits LP and wait my turn for the booth. There are some lads I recognise vaguely from school in there messing about. I want to become invisible because I don’t want them to see me.
Inside the booth I draw the brown pleated curtain across. Looking down I can see the shoes, white socks and narrow legged jeans of the lads outside waiting for their photos. They don’t appear to have noticed me. Good. I twizzle the stool until I think it’s the right height. I look at myself in the little mirror: a reflection of a girl with acne, brown shoulder length frizzy hair and brown glasses that hide eyes that seem a little sad, and older than my seventeen years. I sigh. No matter how much make up or Clearisil I use my spots are still visible. I wonder whether I should take my glasses off, and decide against it. I put my coins into the machine, and keep a straight and serious face as the machine flashes four times. A few minutes later the images appear on the outside of the machine. I grab them quick with hands far less mainicured than the lady in Thomas Cook and before the boys from school notice.
The Post Office is just across the street from Woolworths through the front of Christ Church gardens. The queue inside is long, reaching out of the door into the street. I look for an application for a twelve month European Visitor’s Passport from the grey shelves storing a variety of forms for pensions, driving licences, car tax and all sorts of paraphernalia dealt with here. There are pens attached to the shelves so I fill the form in. I join the queue of old folk come to collect their weekly pension, their hair smelling of blue.
I leave a little while later with the passport in my hand, my photo Pritt sticked to the inside by the post office counter clerk. It is valid for a year, so is good for going to see Annabel next Tuesday. She is ringing her Mum, next door, tonight. I can tell her then that I am definitely going, on Tuesday, and that my train gets in at Gare du Nord at ten o’clock at night.
I am not sure how I feel as I walk back home from town, tickets and passport at the ready. It all seemed very easy to organise. I am going to Paris. Me – next week! Walking over Eastbank Bridge I begin to smile to myself. Blinking ‘eck, it was only last year that me and Annabel were playing knock and run with that house down there, at the bottom of the steps from the bridge over the railway line. Only a few days and I will be on that railway line to Liverpool, then London and Dover for the boat. Then Paris.
Josephine Howard is nearly divorced and lives with her 13 year-old son close enough to the sea to hear the seagulls.