The Arrival

Isabel reached out her arm and hit the alarm’s snooze button. Tucking herself back under the duvet, she stretched out her limbs and yawned. She lay like a starfish, revelling in the sleepy warmth of her double bed. How do you feel today? More and more often the answer to this question was Fine; peaceful; happy. Today, anticipation and a vague buzz of excitement bubbled deep in her stomach.
The alarm bleeped again. Isabel pushed off the duvet and swung her legs out over the edge of the bed. The gap between the curtains revealed a strip of pearly-grey morning light. She stood up and retrieved her dressing gown from its hook on the back of the bedroom door. Padding barefoot into her tiny kitchen she switched on the kettle and her iPod; opened the fridge door. The shelves were almost empty but there was milk and apple juice. They would need to go shopping later to buy something for dinner…and breakfast. Isabel sang, swaying in time to the reggae beat, as she poured muesli and milk into a bowl and threw a teabag into her mug.
Pulling up the roller blind in the living room unveiled the full glory of the summer morning. Soft, steel-grey clouds moved lazily across the sky. The leaves of the tall trees in the graveyard across the street shimmied and shook. Isabel sat cross-legged on the sofa with her breakfast and laptop. Checked her emails and Facebook page, and took a quick look at the latest job advertisements. A gentle drizzle had begun to fall. Isabel rose. Placing her dishes in the sink, she turned the music up and went into the bathroom. Shedding her dressing gown, she stepped into the shower, still singing. Don’t worry about a thing…
Wrapped in an oversize red bath towel, her tousled hair dripping onto her bare shoulders, Isabel opened her wardrobe door. Rifling through its contents, she pulled out a long, sleeveless dress. A soft jersey fabric with paisley patterns of purple, turquoise and orange.
Back in the bathroom, she brushed her teeth; carefully blow-dried her hair into careless curls; applied a little make up and slipped two small silver rings onto the little fingers of each hand. Inserting three coloured studs into her left ear, she finished with a lavish spray of jasmine perfume.
Mobile phone, reading glasses and purse were shoved into a small leather satchel and her raincoat and umbrella extracted from the hall cupboard. Isabel contemplated the row of shoes and settled on a pair of yellow flip flops.
Once out on the street, she rejoiced momentarily in the refreshing feeling of the rain on her face. The air had a promising warmth. A teasing wind played with her hair. Putting up her umbrella and hitching her dress to calf level with her free hand, Isabel set off.
As she crossed the bridge over the Water of Leith, she paused to watch the raindrops making pure, circular patterns on the river’s murky, khaki-green surface. A solitary heron stood motionless and watchful. Seagulls bobbed in the ripples. Without warning, the wind whipped round and crawled under her umbrella, pulling it inside out. Isabel laughed and forced the umbrella back into shape. The wind continued its tricks. Sent another gust that bent the flimsy metal spokes. Isabel shrugged. Her son had warned her to always carry an umbrella in Edinburgh. He had not told her that nine times out of ten it would be useless. She tossed the umbrella in a nearby bin. The rain dripped down her neck. Her flip flops squelched and squeaked.
She ran across the cobbles to the bus stop outside Mimi’s Tearooms. A memory of a lingering first kiss on this very spot clouded her eyes. She shook the bitter-sweet memory away and squeezed into the bus shelter. A gaggle of tourists, bewildered by the Scottish summer weather and clad in inadequate flimsy plastic ponchos, clutched sodden street maps. Isabel gave them an encouraging smile as she fished some coins from her purse. A pink and maroon double decker rattled up the street, spray erupting from beneath its wheels.
Clambering up the narrow stairs, Isabel landed in the nearest free seat as the bus lurched forward. Raindrops raced down the dusty windows. Her buoyant mood faded a little as memories invaded again.
The bus swung into the wide expanse of Leith Walk, lined with four storey stone tenements fringed with a diversity of multi-coloured shops. Isabel forced herself to concentrate on this vibrant, slightly edgy view, looking down at the rain-soaked figures going about their business or loitering outside the pubs. She breathed deeply and slowly. She was back in the present moment. Every little things gonna be alright…


The rain had stopped. The pavements glistened – washed clean. A watery sun shone cautiously. Isabel’s mobile played its text tune. Flicking it to life, she checked the message - “Shld arrive in 15 mins x.”
Her heart smiled.
She joined the queue of passengers waiting to alight in Princes Street. Decanted into the soggy throng milling outside the Waverley Steps, she eased her way across the pavement to the railway station entrance and negotiated the steep stone steps into the underground depths.
The main concourse was buzzing with Friday travellers. The giant departures and arrivals board flashed and flickered. A disembodied voice announced the imminent arrival at Platform 4 of the 06.42 from Crewe.
Isabel positioned herself close to the ticket barriers, her back to a pillar, and scanned the stream of new arrivals. Moments later she was waving and calling out, a large grin spreading across her face. A tall, good-looking man in a well-cut charcoal grey suit smiled at her. She smiled back, but her eyes were elsewhere. A slight figure with a very large backpack and dark blonde hair draped across her eyes propelled herself through the barrier. Isabel moved forward, enveloped the young woman into a loving embrace and kissed her niece on the cheek.

 

Elspeth Mackenzie