“I can’t be dreaming, I’m in the bathroom!” said Zoe to the phone in her hand. The pitch of her voice kept rising.
“You are not dreaming. We are conversing over what they call a mobile phone” said the lady on the other end of the line.
“How would I be “conversing” with you…when you’re dead! You’ve been dead for 30 years!” “You called me…well technically, I phoned you, but you asked for my help.”
“I don’t even know you…never met you in my life…” Zoe’s hand was sweating and she nearly dropped the phone.
“We have met once, but you were too young to remember it.”
“No one’s said anything.”
“I suppose not. It wasn’t the happiest of occasions for your family. Even though you had just been born…they couldn’t celebrate…”
“Now you mention it!…D’you know, I’ve always wondered one thing?”
“Don’t panic, dear child.” “I’m not panicking, I’m raving mad at you! Why did you leave them, mum and dad… us, when they needed you most?”
“What happened was not my choice.”
“Damn right, it was! You should have taken better care of yourself! Looked after your health more!”
“This is Life you are talking about and Life is unpredictable.”
“If you’d waited a few more years to get ill, maybe mum would have been able to help you!”
“I had no idea you had all these emotions hidden inside of you. Have you always felt that way?”
“Don’t try to change the subject! Didn’t you want to live long enough to know your grandchildren!?”
“Of course, I did.”
“I don’t think you did. I think you are…you used to be just…just a selfish woman!”
“I didn’t call to argue with you, young lady!”
“Why did you “call” then?”
“To let you know that I am there for you. I have always been and always will be.”
“You’re where for me!? Oh, my God, what have I done to deserve this?” sighed Zoe.
“You have done nothing wrong…” said the woman with a soothing voice.
“I’m not talking to you! Was talking to myself. It’s official! I’m bonkers!” said Zoe and tapped her phone on the screen to end the call.
Right. I just hung up on my grandmother! I should text her to say “sorry”. Surely I should! thought Zoe to herself and looked at the calls log on the phone. The call she’d just received appeared to be from a withheld number. Of course! What did you expect to see, you silly cow – the number for Heaven? So you could ask if there’s a booking for you at the Paradise hotel? And when it is for? Oh, maybe not the “when”, I don’t want to know the when! How did I get here? she asked herself and leaned on one of the walls of the toilet in the shared house in North London, where she rented a room for ₤150 a week . Hang on she thought, and looked at the time, It’s still 4 am. Practically speaking, it’s still last night. I’m still drunk, that’s it – I’ve had too much whiskey and my head is still spinning. I did not just receive a call from a dead relative. I’m hallucinating. Okay, think. What happened last night?
Zoe came home from yet another day at the office of the little PR agency where she shared an office space with her boss Caroline and two more girls – Lynn and Mandy. Lately the days there seemed longer and felt increasingly less satisfying. She had been interning for Caroline for just over three months now and things were moving in no direction for them to work together further as a team. It wasn’t that Caroline didn’t like what Zoe was doing for her agency. Zoe knew everyone there appreciated her and her efforts. And they all used to get along so well. But her boss’s spirits had recently dropped its normally high levels, which had led the young woman to believe that their paths will soon be separating. Besides, Caroline never stopped going on about how many bills she’d had to pay and how hard it was for a business woman nowadays to stay on top of her game. On top of your game?! Zoe wondered, you can’t even afford to pay my transport expenses!? Why did I take this internship!? She’d seen the advert on Gumtree. She should have known better, should have known it was dodgy. But a few months ago, still in Manchester, freshly out of university and eager to start her fabulous career in media and PR, she was absolutely convinced that fait had only good things in store for her. She didn’t spend too much time looking around for an internship. She wanted to be out there as soon as possible. She didn’t even look for a paid job, because the presumption was that graduates have to gain some work experience first, before they can be trusted to do the job properly. That’s what they told her to do. That’s what everyone did. Everyone was interning and doing all sorts of work placements, selling themselves practically for peanuts.
How she missed the coziness and convenience of well-known, welcoming Manchester. Where she knew all the streets, squares and canals she needed to know. No maps necessary, no GPS and navigation systems on smart phones required. Just the occasional stopping and asking a stranger on the street for directions. Her favorite route was, of course, either to the gym, to university, or to Arndale. She loved jogging around the Salford Quays. Having lunch on the grass in the Media City during class breaks. Going out on a Saturday night with the girls in the Northern Quarter. People-watching while having a cocktail in one of the many bars on Deansgate Locks. Buying fruit on her way to work from the market on Market Street. Drinking beer and enjoying the sun on the grass at Piccadilly Gardens. She loved it all. Magical, happy, timeless, blissful, young, stress-free, and full of hope. These words would pop into mind, whenever she thought of the three (best) years of her life spent in her city. Why didn’t she stay there then!?
After a few months living in one of the greatest and most expensive cities in the world – London – and not being able to see it and enjoy it properly, as a result of the nonexistent money flowing into her bank account, she’d began to feel the strains of it all. The loneliness she felt amongst the millions of people was never so intense. She missed her friends, her schoolmates, her flat mate, even the tutors at university. But it was time to move on, she’d decided. Time for a change of scenery and bigger challenges. So she came down to London.
Up until now, everything seemed bearable to Zoe. The unpaid job, the unbelievable amount of lost time spent commuting on the public transport. The lack of close friends and family or even a lover to get you excited about things… The pollution. The 130 000 different languages and accents you hear everywhere around you. No wonder when she first came down here, she felt like she’d arrived in a completely different country, not England at all. It seemed to her that people had no respect for their adopted land. Many didn’t even bother to learn to speak English properly they didn’t care about fitting into the bigger picture. All they cared about is staying within the borderlines of their own little communities. Holding strong on to their own roots, buying only their native food and drinks from the many Turkish, Polish, Greek, Italian, Bulgarian, Indian, African or God knows what else shops. Given the demand, these shops were now growing like mushrooms after rain behind every corner of every street.
Things in Zoe’s own little life started to feel very different only recently, as an eye-opening realization was repeatedly nudging her in the chest. She was soon to add one more year of life experience to her so far 29 years of age. With the big 3-0 knocking on the door, Zoe needed to start earning money and behave like a grown up ASAP, if not immediately. She thought about the direction of her life day and night. This whole thing made her feel as if she was still in the shower, preparing for the date of her life. This date was supposed to be life altering, fulfilling and unforgettable. She was full of hope, with butterflies in her tummy,… She wanted to be pretty, so she stopped the water in the tub and reached for her towel. Loud steps outside the flat distracted her from her singing. She could hear them approaching. “No!”, whispered Zoe to herself. Big 3-0’s finger was on the buzzer and the noise was loud. “No!”, jumped up Zoe, water still dripping off her bare flesh, “I’m not ready yet!” The key was in the lock and the lock was now turning… “I’m not even dressed yet! You’re way too early!” The door opened, Thirty approached in the corridor… “You’re not supposed to have a key, I haven’t given you a key…Stop!”, panicked Zoe as Thirty’s hand rested now on the bathroom door handle. “It’s all over”, Life smiled cheekily at her, “Say goodbye to your Twenties, it’s time to open up your eyes… “I want one more year, please! I’ll put everything in order! You’ll see! Come back later, when I’m prepared…” “…open up your eyes…”, whispered Life. She woke up with her heart racing and her face all swimming in sweat. The room was dark. It was the middle of the night. She was on her own. As she calmed her heart rate down, she reached for her diary on the bedside table: “Dear Lea, only you can help me. I’m turning 30 soon…” She wrote until she dozed off into a dream again. And then the phone rang.