Lennon sat back on the seat and breathed in deeply. The carrier bag was positioned between his feet. He was facing the direction of travel. He could relax now. He closed his eyes. He heard the guard’s final whistle and the bleeps signalling that the train was about to leave. The doors swished shut.
He sensed movement and opened his eyes to see a young woman settling herself in the seat opposite him. Blonde shoulder length hair, a pink cardigan fashionably short, a white cotton dress with large pink roses and that classic English complexion of peaches and cream that you hardly ever see in real life; attractive, early twenties.
The train drew out of the gloom of Charing Cross Station and began its journey across the rooftops of South London.
Lennon had only been in the city for three weeks and it still amazed him that the train seemed to be parallel with the yellow bricked chimneys of the houses. He looked down at the tiny green spaces they called gardens and wondered how people managed to live in such proximity to each other. After the expanses of Wyoming, London seemed like a giant jigsaw puzzle where blocks of flats jutted into factories which abutted into warehouses and pinioned rows of terraced houses is between.
He closed his eyes again. How could he have been so foolish?
The day had started so well. ‘Today, I’ll do Soho,’ he’d announced to his English Aunt at breakfast. He’s caught the train, Chislehurst to Charing Cross. Watched the man eating fire sticks in Covent Garden. Had a coffee sitting at a table on a narrow sidewalk outside an Italian bistro. Bought a postcard of the ‘London Eye’ to send home to Mom. And then he’d found the bookshop, ‘Threadgolds.’
It was like entering a magic world. Dark wooden floorboards with white stains, covered with burgundy patterned, Eastern rugs. Tall standard lamps with cream looped shades. The smell of incense and candles flickering in glass holders, even though it was daytime. And the books. Dark oak bookshelves of different heights and widths, none of them matching. The shelf categories with handwritten labels: Far East, Surrealism, Cool Contemporary. A separate section: Wicca, Shamanism, New Age, Goddess, Dion Fortune.
Lennon had sat on a faded chintz sofa with a sign above it that said, ‘Browsers please rest yourselves here.’
He felt he had gone to heaven. This second hand bookshop was exactly as he had imagined it should be. Just like the London of the movies. Lennon knew with every breath of his twenty-two years that this was happiness. The only flaw was the Australian twang of the shop girl, who he could hear talking on the phone.
He went to the back of the shop and stooped to fit himself through a small alcove where he negotiated three wooden steps to the ‘Music and Memorabilia’ section.
Lennon stood as still as a rock. It was them. A black and white photograph. Written in dark ink across the top left hand was the autograph, ‘John Lennon.’
Their faces stared out at him across the fifty year time warp. There was no price. Lennon ducked back to the front of the shop.
‘How much is that photograph of ‘The Beatles?’ he asked.
‘It’s not for sale,’ said the shop girl.
‘Thanks ma’am,’ said Lennon. He turned to the nearest shelf and selected a soft backed pamphlet with the title, ‘Churches of London.’
‘How much is this, ma’am?’
‘Two pounds ninety-five pence. Would you like a bag?’
‘That’ll be three pounds exactly.’
The shop girl put the pamphlet in a dark green carrier bag with string handles and the word ‘Threadgolds,’ in gold, gothic lettering.
The train jolted and Lennon opened his eyes. It had come to a halt. Through the loudspeaker came the driver’s voice,
‘We apologize for the delay of this train service. We will continue our journey as soon as possible.’
The girl, sitting opposite, took off her pink cardigan.
‘Delays; always the same, the train service is appalling.’
‘Yes, ma’am,’ said Lennon.
The girl sounded imperious.
‘Yes.ma’am,’ replied Lennon.
This woman was only about his age, yet her clipped English accent made him feel as if he was back in school.
‘Are you on holiday here?’
‘Yes, ma’am, on my vacation. I’m doing Europe. I’ve been in England for about three weeks, staying with my English aunt.
‘I couldn’t help noticing. You have a ‘Threadgold’s’ bag. That is my favourite bookshop in all London. What did you purchase?’
‘Only a pamphlet ma’am.’
The woman laughed. ‘That’s a very large bag for a pamphlet. I love the lettering on these bags. She leant forward to touch the gold letters. Her cardigan slipped off her lap and half fell into the carrier. Lennon put out his hand to retrieve it. Their hands collided and the cardigan fell inside the bag.
‘I do apologize,’ said the young woman. She pulled the cardigan out of the carrier. ‘Why, you have a picture in here. How exciting.’
As she spoke she pulled the framed photograph from the carrier. She looked at it, then at Lennon and her cheeks drained of colour.
‘I bought it.’ Lennon found himself gabbling. He could feel sweat on his brow. ‘They wanted five hundred pounds for it, but I couldn’t resist it. My name is Lennon. My mom named me for one of the Beatles. I bought it for my mom.’
‘You’re lying,’ said the woman. ‘Mr Threadgold would never sell this. If it went to auction it could make around four or five thousand pounds.’ She looked at Lennon. The colour was back in her cheeks. ‘You’re a liar.’
Lennon was silent. He could feel the sweat oozing into the crisp cotton of his green striped shirt.
‘So the question is,’ said the woman, carefully putting the photograph back into the carrier. ‘The question is, what do we do about it?’
Lennon remained silent.
‘My name’s Pippa, Pippa Greenway.’ She held out her hand.
‘Pleased to meet you Pippa, I’m Lennon.’ He shook her hand.
Her eyes glinted. ‘I know. You told me.’
Heck, thought Lennon, what is going on here? These English, making formal, polite introductions at this juncture.
The loudspeaker buzzed and the driver’s voice stated, ‘Passengers are advised that normal service is now resumed.’ The train juddered and slid into movement.
‘Where are you travelling to?’ asked Pippa.
‘Good. I know Chislehurst. There are a number of banks and building societies in the High Street. I suggest Lennon…’ She put a slow emphasis on his name. ‘I suggest that we visit an establishment of your choice and you withdraw funds. Shall we say three thousand pounds? Cheap at the price, I think.’
Very nice – is there more?
No, I’ve left it there. Would you like more? Hmm