Novel Preview: A Second Chance
Maja, July 1997
On Saturday afternoon, Victoria Coach Station was buzzing with the nervous energy of travellers arriving from all corners of Europe. One coach after another entered the crowded terminal and they spewed their human contents onto the melting tarmac. The air in the roofed station was heavy with diesel fumes. Tired and disoriented passengers wandered around the coaches trying to retrieve their luggage. Some were saying good bye to their travel companions. Others waved in the direction of the waiting area where their friends and families had gathered to welcome them.
Having collected her luggage, Maja swung a small holdall over her shoulder, adjusted the handle on her suitcase and began walking to the waiting area. Through the glass, like the walls of a large fish tank, a crowd of people was peering at the new arrivals. Several pairs of eyes were following her as she entered the hall. She lowered her gaze and tried not to stare back but she couldn’t resist observing from the corner of her eye. These faces came in so many colours and their features were amazingly diverse. These people represented a new and different world to the one she had inhabited so far. In front of her, a group of girls wearing skimpy summer dresses squealed joyfully next to an ample African woman who had matched a long patterned outfit with an elaborately tied turban. An oriental looking couple — a girl wearing white and red Pippi Longstocking pop socks with a short pleated skirt and a boy in a tennis outfit — was having a noisy reunion.
Moving her eyes from face to face, Maja suddenly realised that one person she couldn’t see was Ewa, who should have been meeting her here. Her school friend had been living and working in London for a year. It was Ewa who had given Maja the idea of coming to England. With her energy and infectious enthusiasm, Ewa made everything appear simple. As she moved through the sea of bodies, Maja was scanning the crowd milling around her. The faces reddened and sweaty in the July heat. She should easily have been able to recognise Ewa: her long blonde hair and some bright piece which, no doubt, she would be wearing in the middle of summer. Ewa had mentioned an information desk last time they spoke, so Maja started navigating through the crowd to a yellow counter with information boards installed above it. Two assistants were
under siege from enquiring travellers. It wasn’t a good meeting point. Standing on her toes and craning her neck, Maja looked around several times. In such a crowded place, she might not be able to meet Ewa. What was she going to do if Ewa didn’t find her? Then, unexpectedly, she heard a cry: ‘Maja, Maja!’
She turned around. A grinning tomboy with a short blonde crop dressed in a red and white striped T-shirt was running through the open door of the terminal. Maja stood mesmerised. Ewa looked so different from the girl she had last seen in Grodek. Her short hair and strong eyeliner gave her a punkish appearance, but the stripey top and white cropped trousers were the essence of her.
Ewa threw her arms around Maja and gave her an enthusiastic hug.
‘It’s so good to see you!’
She smelled of something sweet and large hoops in her ears patted Maja’s cheeks. The wide smile was so familiar, yet there was something different about Ewa although she couldn’t put her finger on it.
‘Maja, stop staring at me and say something.’
‘I’m so happy to see you. I wasn’t sure we would find each other in this crowd.’
‘A woman of little faith! Of course we would have found each
other. Somehow. How was your journey?’
‘Good. Very interesting. Exhausting though.’
‘Crossing Europe for the first time after all. It will be worth it.
You’ll see. But first let’s get out of here. Give me your suitcase.’
Even before Maja could hand it over to her, Ewa grabbed the handle of Maja’s suitcase, deftly twisted it around and started making her way through the crowd, casting a few ‘sorry’s to the left and right.