LAST WEEK, Sarah sat on an airport courtesy bus as it jostled its way through the early afternoon traffic to the long stay car park. She stared into space, wondering whether the herbs she had planted in the back garden two weeks previously would still be alive when she got home. What had the British weather been like while she was in Switzerland?
On the seat opposite, rocking back and forth with the motion of the vehicle, a woman in late middle age and a heavy green plaid coat squinted back at her through heavy lenses.
“We’ll see how things have changed since we’ve been away,” averred the woman, poking a frizzy piece of wispy grey hair back under the control of her knitted hat. “Just been away for a few days?”
“Sorry?” said Sarah.
“You don’t have much luggage.” The woman nodded towards Sarah’s small travel bag, and then to her own two large trunks. “I’ve been away for three weeks. Oh, Mrs Goodson,” she explained, offering a hand in a fingerless glove.
Sarah shook it, and said “I’ve been away for ten days. But I got used to travelling light.? The woman looked puzzled. “In my… previous job,” Sarah added lamely.
Mrs Goodson nodded as though she understood. “When travelling in foreign climes, I like to take lots of items which remind me of home. One feels so alienated, otherwise.” She leaned forward conspiratorially. “Even then, there are so many familiar things that seem wrong when you return, don’t you find?” She sneezed into a grubby paper tissue. “Driving on the left. No mountains in the distance. Policemen in tall helmets. Red telephone boxes…”
The colour of the sky, thought Sarah. The number of moons.
Mrs Goodson chattered on, seemingly unworried that the conversation became increasingly one-sided. Sarah allowed her attention to wander, the other woman’s cheerful flow becoming a burr in the background. Just when Mrs Goodson was pulling family snapshots out of her handbag, the bus slowed as it approached Bus Point Blue 3. Sarah checked her parking ticket, quietly relieved to see her scrawled annotation confirming this as her stop. She stepped down into the aisle and picked her bag off the seat beside her, swaying as the bus came to a halt.
The exit door sighed open. Clasping the travel bag in front of her, Sarah stepped down from the bus.
But instead of stepping out to a row of parked cars, she was on a suburban high street. Momentarily thrown into confusion, she turned back to look through the bus doors. Instead, she saw the outline of a tall blue box shimmering away to nothing. And she recognised the fading sound of the TARDIS engine noise.
She could feel the knot in her stomach again, the familiar hunger-pain of abandonment and loss. Her mind was a whirl. She hadn’t wanted to leave, only wanted some attention. Ignored by the Doctor once too often she had, in a moment of adolescent pique which had surprised her even as it happened, gathered up a random handful of belongings from her room and stood in the console room, explaining that she was leaving right there, right then. She had peered accusingly at him over her hastily assembled box of books, clothes, a toy owl, working herself into a convincing lather of indignation, to which the Doctor appeared to be only half listening. And then, with a suddenness that had knocked all argument from her, he had practically bundled her out of the doors.
The TARDIS was gone, leaving Sarah staring at the tall, untidy privet hedge. She looked around, disconsolate, her feelings disjointed. The roads seemed empty, apart from a golden labrador dog which trotted incuriously across the road towards her, sniffing at spots on the low curve of redbrick wall.
“This isn’t Hillview Road,” she said to herself. Then she dropped to her haunches, and placed her battered box of sad belongings on the patched pavement so that she could fondle the dog’s ears. “I bet this isn’t South Croydon, either.”
The dog’s muzzle wrinkled into infeasible shapes. “Lady, this isn’t even Earth,” it said.
Sarah leapt to her feet, knocking over her box. The owl sprawled, its large cotton eyes staring blindly skywards. Sarah was still staring at the dog. “No,” she said.
The dog blinked once. “If you don’t believe me, ask her,” it said, tossing its head in Sarah’s direction.
“Hello?” said a woman’s voice behind her. For a crazy moment, Sarah stared at her feet, thinking that she must be blocking the pavement with the spilled box contents. She turned with an apology on her lips; but she half stepped, half stumbled backwards as she recognised the woman. It was Mrs Goodson, standing by Bus Point Blue 3, her puzzled face peering at Sarah from beneath her woollen hat. “Oh, here you are dear. For a moment, I thought you’d disappeared on me.”
© Peter Anghelides 1996