Dressed in the trendy leggings I just bought from some cheap boutique, my English style riding boots, a wool sweater from Ireland, and a leather jacket I proudly found at some famous London flea market, I knew I no longer looked like a foreigner. Smugly, I stood in the lobby of our two-star London hotel surfing through postcards.
I was waiting on my collegiate friends so we could all go to breakfast and plan our daily attack on pubs and nightclubs. Post card surfing filled the time.
Big Ben, seen it. Tower of London, been there. Wimbledon, didn’t look too exciting. The hotel gift shop stood off to the side of the lobby. I had a clear view of our meeting place and several of my classmates were already gathering.
Although it was early in the morning, maybe ten, the shop had a dozen or so patrons mulling around. One woman stopped to look at the post card rack next to mine.
She stood about 5’8 and weighed a bit too much for her frame. Her thin curls lay languishly around her hairline. I tried to ignore her. She seemed fascinated by me.
“Are you American?” she asked with a decidedly cockney accent.
“Yes.” Disappointed that my carefully crafted British outfit didn’t hide my nationality, I continued to look at post cards. Prince Albert Hall, would be going there to see Sting in a few days. The London Underground, spent hours figuring that out.
The Brit stood motionless staring through the post card rack and directly at me. I barely noticed when she took a step closer to me. Sheep eating grass on a hillside. King’s Cross Train Station. There were tons of post cards and I thought I ought to send something to my parents. Piccadilly Circus. The Crown Jewels.
“So you’re from America?”
“Yes,” I answered again glancing in her direction. I loved British accents, even if they weren’t the Queen’s English.
She took a step around the post cards and stood next to me, toe to toe. Her eyes blinked, just for a second.
“Then you killed my brother!”
I looked up at her face seven inches above mine. I had no idea what she just said. These were words that my nineteen year old mind could not process. I’m sure bewilderment flashed across my eyes until a quarter of a second later when the look turned to fear.
This dowdy forty-something dressed in some loose floral smock and black tights, hauled off and punched me in the stomach. The sensation was new to me. I couldn’t breathe. Tears began to fill my eyes. I had no idea what to do.
I must have made some grunting sound because within another second, one of the guys on my trip rushed to my side to catch me before I fell. Another ran to the front desk to tell someone that a lady had just hit their friend.
The clerk from the store popped out from behind the desk and directed the miscreant to the security desk and she was ushered away, out of view, far from me. The hotel manager appeared and apologized.
Apparently, she was staying with her brother in one of the rooms. She had been released from some mental hospital. She would not bother me again.
Seriously? An escaped mental patient loose on the streets of London? It sounded like the beginnings of a horror movie with me as the first victim.
Later, in our hotel room, my roommate and I could see her in her room across the courtyard. She stood rocking back and forth. She looked to be screaming while she rocked. We drew the orange and brown paisley curtains closed. I took off my English outfit and put on a pair of Levi’s and my university sweatshirt.
If I couldn’t hide my American-ness to a crazy lady, then there was no reason to pretend I was “Maeve Burberry” from Frisby-on-the-Wreake, near Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire. Dressed in my American finest, I assumed a new persona–the all-American girl “Dixie Cupp” from Deer Lick, Kentucky.