Christina watched the bus turned round and make its way down the opposite side of the road. She could see Paul's red jacket. He was sitting about half way down the bus. He was just staring out through the window at nothing in particular. She waved frantically. Neither Paul nor the bus-driver saw her.
‘You absolute tow-rag. Typical!’ she muttered.
She had told her Paul that she would be late, that she had a detention, but that she would still be in time for the second school bus. There were always plenty of seats on the second, and they didn't mind the locals using up the extras. Now there wouldn't be a service bus for another fifteen minutes and by then she wouldn't be able to use her school bus pass as the rush hour would have begun. And she didn't want to use her own money because she wanted to go and raid Pandora’s Potions . Why did you have to have younger brothers? They really were no use. He could have asked the driver to wait. Oh shit! She would just have to walk.
She picked up her bag. It weighed a ton. All those IB text books. That was another thing too. She had plenty of studying to do. The exams were only a few weeks away. She really didn't have time for this. But she must go to Pandora’s Potions . There was nothing for it but to walk. Perhaps Mum would be in when she got back and could lend her the tram fare. She could pop up to Calverstraat quickly and be back for a long evening of study.
As if it wasn't depressing enough, being stuck here in Buitenveldert. She loved Amsterdam. But not this particular part. The concrete jungle. Little boxy houses, all the same. The grey, depressing, university! That's where her parents wanted her to go and study after IB. The hard pavements which hurt her feet every time she missed the school bus and she did that often enough. Worst of all, the International School.
She liked it at first. She made lots of friends very quickly and she'd enjoyed the work. She'd been a bit upset about leaving Greg back in England, but she'd soon had a good reason to forget that. Until Susanne Richards came on the scene!
It had been worth it, though. Christina smiled as she thought about the fight.
This was the last detention and this was the first day she was allowed out. She smiled to herself when she remembered Susanne's bruised face. And the broken nose. She ran her tongue across her own newly capped front teeth. They had actually been an improvement on her old ones and a reminder of her triumph.
Now she had a new smile. Thank you, Susanne!
Jan would appreciate that. Oh Jan! Just thinking about him made something in inside her jump.
Susanne. What was she doing now? No hard studying for her. Life of luxury, no doubt. Watching DVDs all day. Staying in bed if she wanted. Or perhaps she was with Jan.
Hot, angry tears poured down Christina's cheeks. She walked faster, her heels clipping the pavements noisily. Step after step. Faster and faster. Angrier and angrier. Gradually stamping out her rage on the hard pavements. She was leaving the concrete suburbs and soon Beethovenstraat would be in sight. As the tall dark brick buildings with the shiny, squeaky clean windows came into view. It began to rain. A cool summer ‘motregen’. The sort that can soak you if you stay in it long enough, but you don't notice at first. Certainly it dampened her fiery anger just a little.
A number five tram was at the terminus. Christina had a bright, a wicked idea. She would travel ‘black’ up to the city centre. She knew how to recognise the secret inspectors. Look out for anyone with a brief-case. And even if they did come up to her, she rehearsed in her mind looking through her pockets for the ticket. Turning on the tears. That would be easy - think about Jan. Showing her school bus pass. The tram rattled off and its slow jerky journey began. Up Beethovenstraat, round by the Concertgebouw, over the Leidseplein. All those places she loved so much. Christina watched the doors carefully every time they stopped. No sign of any inspectors. The tram arrived at Spui. Almost disappointed at not being able to go through her little act, she trotted out of the tram and made her way through the little alley that lead into the Calverstraat.
Although it was almost summer it already looked dark. The sky was black and the rain was getting heavier. The road between the shops in Claverstraat was quite narrow and the buildings tall. Lights shone from all of the shop windows.
It seemed like Christmas. Christina loved to scavange through the displays looking for the item of clothing, the piece of make-up or jewellery which would transform her from dowdy school girl into fairy-tale princess. But she never found it. And she had to buy something, or she felt bad.
She took out her purse. Two euros. Not even enough for a lipstick. But she would go into Pandora’s Potions anyway. She could try out all the testers. She could decide what she could buy when she had some more money. She would miss the thrill of seeing her purchase wrapped, giving over her money, going home, knowing she had achieved something and looking forward to the improvement in her life the gift to herself would bring. But that thrill never lasted very long, anyway. And it seemed like months since she had been able to browse.
It was cool and bright inside. The mirrors all around reflected the light backwards and forwards. Christina tried to count how many times she could see her reflection. One of the assistants smiled at her.
Christina started her assault on the pots and potions. Mango Body Butter sounded good. She smoothed some into the back of her wrist. Or Antique Gold Eye Definer. She took the small tester wand out of its case and drew a little squiggle in the middle of her forehead. She giggled to herself. Some exotic princess she would make! She never had been able to draw.
She made her way through the rows of little bottles. It was the containers that fascinated her here. So simple. But with such exciting names. Someone's home-made dream. Then she saw the green scrunchy. If she was not mistaken, it would match her eyes exactly. And it would look so good next to her dark hair. She lifted it up to her head. She was right! It was superb. It would look great. She looked at the price label! €1.75. It had been reduced from €3.50. She could afford it. Excitedly she held it up to her head again.
There was a strong smell of peaches. The mirror in front of her seemed to wobble and waves formed in it surface. She felt dizzy and slightly sick. Then the glass and her head cleared and she caught her reflection smiling at her. But she was wearing chiffon veils, in that very same green as the scrunchy, around her head. In her hand was a jar covered in jewels. The reflection held the jar towards her and took off the lid. The smell of peaches became stronger. The reflection nodded.
‘Are you all right, Miss?’ It was the assistant who had smiled at her earlier.
‘Er, yes. I think I'll take this.’
She followed the girl to the till and handed over the scrunchy.
‘It goes really well with your eyes,’ said the girl. ‘It will look lovely.’
‘Yes,’ said Christina, pleased. She made to leave the shop, but could not resist taking one last look at skin care products. ‘Hydrating Moisture Lotion, made with peach kernel oil,’ she muttered as she took the lid off one and took a sniff. It was that smell again.
The dizziness came back, and there was that strange reflection again. The girl in the mirror nodded. Christina then saw the odd looking jar amongst the bottles of moisturizer. It was the very one that the girl had been holding out to her. She meant her to take it. But who ... ? Why... ? Christina knew she must! But it would be shop-lifting. She quickly looked round. All of the assistants were busy serving clients or re-stocking the displays. The only customers were at the tills. She quickly put the jar in the bag with the scrunchy and hurried out of the shop.
She hardly noticed the journey home. She had to take the tram again, as now the rain was torrential. And she had to travel ‘black’ once more. Jan, you're making me wicked, she thought. The fight. Travelling without paying twice in one day. And now shop-lifting. No, that was not fair. Jan had shown her everything. They had been to hard-edged Rotterdam and elegant den Hague, the magical Efteling theme park and across the dramatic Afsuiltsdijk, which cut the North Sea off from the Ijsselmeer, into gentle Friesland. He had shown her where the drug scene was and how to observe but avoid. They had gone into the brown cafés and the tea-shops where you can buy cakes laced with marijuana. They had gone into bars where his biker friends smoked pot and got drunk, but the most he ever did was drink a small beer, and she was allowed nothing but cola or mineral water.
‘You are underage,’ he always said. ‘You must know these things exist so that you can avoid them.’
And when it got too dangerous he would whip her away. Saint Jan, she thought, but not unkindly. He had only kissed her properly once, very recently, as they had sat by the Amstel one warm evening in the Bos. Then he had pulled away.
‘Too tempting,’ he said. There had been cuddles, and holding hands, and little kisses. Nothing more. But neither of them had minded. It was like electricity between them. She tingled whenever he touched her. It had only been like that with Greg right at the beginning. Then he had become comfortable and familiar. Jan was always exciting, full of surprises.
The tram stopped at a red light. Christina looked inside her bag. The green scrunchy seemed to glow and made her eyes go funny. She pushed it to the bottom of the bag. She undid the jar of moisture lotion. The smell of peaches overwhelmed her again.
She went dizzy. Oh, god, she was going to be sick. She rushed forward to the front of the tram, school bag and shopping bag clutched in one hand, her other hand over her mouth.
The tram driver got the message, and opened the doors. She rushed down the steps and vomited onto the road beside the tram tracks. Then her knees gave way and she crumpled.
She was in that strange space again. The room from which there was no way out. The tight band was round her head. She could feel her whole body rocking rhythmically to and fro and she could do nothing out stop it.
‘Oh my god!’ she heard a woman’s voice say.
She heard the car screech to a halt and she was aware that her head was knocking repeatedly into the front wheel. She knew she would soon be in the white-tiled room.