Copyright© 1995 -- All rights reserved
I was twenty-two or twenty-three. I'm not really sure if I had yet had my birthday that year, but I know I had been in France less than a full year. The French people I had met, had displayed their legendary, insufferable, snobbishness, and as an American Soldier on their soil, I had met more than a tourist's share of snubs. This was so common, that we soldiers had been encouraged to NOT wear our uniforms, off duty. I was anticipating my first leave, and my first opportunity to leave France, with more than the usual eagerness. I had decided on London, as my destination of choice. I was tired of having my best efforts to accommodate the French, by speaking their language, meet with ill concealed derision, and incomprehension, feigned or real. The train trip to Paris, from Orléans, where I was stationed, passed quickly enough, and the taxi ride to Orly was only expectedly traumatic. It was only at the departure gate, that things began to look up, and my furlough began to acquire the texture that one's first leave, in a foreign country, should have.
With an hour to kill, I made it a point to survey my fellow passengers, and see if there were any that I might enjoy spending a few minutes talking to. Since my paranoia about missing the flight, had brought me there so early, there weren't many people around, and I settled on a young man, of about my age, as a likely subject to talk with. His clothing said "French", but I had discovered that the younger people were much less inclined to be unpleasant, so I approached, and introduced myself. He was, indeed, French, with much better English, than I had fractured French. He said his name was Jules, and that he "had twenty-two years". This was his first trip to London too, and we speculated on how we would like it. As we sat in "Le Cafe", drinking our "cafe au lait" and talking, we were approached by a young woman, attracted by our using English. After we had reassured her that she was, indeed, at the right gate, for the flight to London, she accepted our invitation to join us, and introduced herself as Hadassah Revitsky, from New York City, on her first trip abroad. She had flown into Paris five days before, and was going to spend her last week in London, where they "almost speak English".
"Call me Haddy. The other is too much of a mouthful for anybody"
On my several trips to Paris, with a buddy, I had found that about the only people I ever met were Americans, attracted by our speaking English, who longed for relief, from the struggle to operate in French, among people who didn't seem to want to understand. I'd met several nice American girls that way, but I was interested in meeting some natives, and that didn't seem to be happening. When Haddy had her "cafe", and Jules and I had our second round in front of us, we continued our speculation about the next few days, in a country none of us had been to. As we sat and talked, and laughed, another young woman came to our table, and asked in English, if we were American. We answered "Two out of three. Where are you from?"
"I'm from Israel and my name is Yasmine."
Haddy asked, "Are you Jewish too?"
"No. Everyone in Israel isn't Jewish, you know."
These things out of the way, we invited her to sit with us, until time to board. She agreed, and we were having a great time, laughing at our experiences, in a foreign country. Even Jules had some tales to tell, of his trips to The Netherlands, on school Holidays. By the time we were called, to board the plane, for the 40 minute flight to Heathrow, we had agreed to spend the next week seeing London together. During the flight, it came out that none of us had hotel reservations. This may not seem like much, but we weren't scheduled to land in England until 1 AM and in those days, the hotels closed and locked their doors at 11 PM, until sometime in the morning. Not that any of us knew that.
Haddy was only nineteen, and had straight blond hair to her shoulders, blue eyes and a cute button of a nose that tilted up a bit at the end. Her figure was just a pound or two on the plumps side of fashionable. Her Slavic heritage showed, in the broadness of her brow, and silkiness of her hair. She and Jules seemed to hit it off immediately, and were seated with their heads together, laughing softly at something one of them said.
Yasmine and I, in the seat behind them, grinned at each other, when we noticed their rapport. She told me she was twenty, lived in Tel Aviv, and was a student at the university, majoring in English. Her black curly hair and green eyes could have, except for her dark skin, been found in any of the bogs of Ireland, or streets of Dublin. Even the crucifix around her neck, didn't place her in the mid-east. She was short. Probably not more than 5' 2", and built like a typical American teen-ager. A little coltish, with small, perky breasts, and hips more like a boy's than one would have expected, in a girl from the Middle East. Her clear skin was no darker than one could find on a California beach, in mid summer. I looked more Semitic than she, with my brown hair, brown eyes, hooked nose, and weather darkened skin, from my outdoor military activities, of the last four years.
When the plane landed at Heathrow, we were met by mist, and a down-pour. Luckily, we were all prepared for the rain, which England was so famous for. Yasmine's Israeli passport delayed her at immigration, and the three of us waited outside the arrival gate, discussing our options. Jules suggested that we go to an area called "Queensway" where, he had been told, there were many inexpensive hotels, that catered to young tourists. We had decided to save some money by sharing rooms, Jules and me in one, and Haddy and Yasmine in another. Both Jules and I were agreed, that we would try to modify that arrangement, as soon as possible.
After ten minutes, or so, Yasmine joined us with her luggage, and we found our way to the bus, that would take us into Central London. Being, as we were, from Chicago, New York, Paris and Tel Aviv; we were amazed at how dark and deserted Central London was at only 2 AM. The rain had tapered off to a light drizzle and the fog had settled in more heavily. After receiving directions, we set off on foot, the 3/4 of a mile to our destination. The tone of the whole week, for me, was set on that walk to "Queensway". As we set our bags down to rest our arms, we were treated to what I had thought, was an invention of the fiction writers, I had read as a child. The fog was parted by a uniformed figure, walking down "the wrong side of the street", with a lantern (albeit electric) in his hand, followed closely by a red, double decked, bus. As we watched in amazement, they both disappeared into the mist in, what seemed, only a couple seconds. I had thought that this procedure was an invention of A. Conan Doyle, and was delighted to see that he had drawn it from life. I could see, in my mind's eye, a horse-drawn hansom cab following that lantern, instead of a two story, red, motor-bus.
The first Hotel we got to was an harbinger of things to come. On the front door was a sign, saying "Tenants Only! This door is locked from 11 PM until 6 AM." It was a distinct disappointment, as we were all tired, and looking forward to a bed and sleep. After five more replays of this scenario, we found a convenient curb-stone and sat, to talk over our options. We were at the point of deciding to find a couple comfortable park benches, for the remainder of the night, when a huge, black, taxi pulled up to our feet. A gray head poked out and a gravelly, Cockney voice asked "Are you all right loves? 'Op in before you drown out there." We were grateful for the opportunity, and scrambled quickly into the back of that beautiful black car. We explained our predicament to "Albert", as he had told us his name was. As we sat there steaming up the window, Albert took of his cap and scratched his head:
"Well, loves, I don't know of an 'otel that'll open up for you right now. I'm going past my flat, so you can doss down at my place. I'll come back at eight, when I get off work, and take you to a place you'll like, right near here. You talk it over, while I stretch my legs."
Haddy was the first to speak, from her New York background. "I don't trust this guy! He might be a rapist, or "Jack the Ripper".
"Maybe he's just a nice guy. Even in Chicago we have some of those. Besides, there're four of us and he's got to be 60 years old. How much of a threat can he be. We'll just be careful; until we're sure he's O.K. Jules or I'll stay behind him all the time, until he leaves us alone, or we feel comfortable."
" 'D'accord'. I agree with Arthur. Let's take advantage of his offer. We don't want to stay out all night, in this weather,."
" 'D'accord, Jules! Porquoi non?' We don't have a lot of other options. I believe Albert is all right, just a generous man, trying to help out some strangers." Yasmine summed up.
Albert returned to the cab, and settled himself in the front seat. "Well, what's the word? Am I going to have boarders, for the night?"
"Thanks, Albert. We'll be very grateful, for the help.", Yasmine answered, for us all.
.... There is more of this story ...