A flash fiction story by Brian Robinson.
As I boarded the train from Bath to Paddington London, serious doubts began to creep in. I was a country boy, born on a farm in Somerset. And I knew that moving to London would be like moving to another planet. Nonetheless, I had made my decision. I had come to the view that life should never be predictable: it should always be random. I wanted to go on an adventure. I didn’t want to marry the girl next door. I didn’t want to follow in my father’s farming footsteps. But I knew in my heart of hearts, that my gap-year could easily turn out to be my crap-year.
On the other hand, I did have money and a degree behind me, so at least in theory, I shouldn’t be destitute any time soon. As I got off the train in London, I didn’t yet have a hotel booked. That was a deliberate part of my random strategy. I would decide which hotel only when in the taxi.
“Where to young man?” I rattled off the names of four hotels which I knew were reasonably priced and not light years away from Paddington Station.
“Yes, but which one?”
“I don’t mind. You decide.”
“I don’t usually recommend hotels. But if you’re going to push me, then I’ll need to know a bit more about why you’re here.”
“I’ve just started a gap year, and I’m here in London to begin my adult life before I start my career. I don’t want life to be determined or set out for me. I refuse to be shaped by either my environment or my genes.”
“I see. But you realise that asking a taxi driver where to place your first step in London may not be entirely random. For example, I may not choose randomly.”
“Yes I understand that. But it will be random enough.”
“Okay. Well in that case I choose none of your hotels. I have another in mind. Do you want to know more about it?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Well It’s not one that I’ve recommended before, and to be honest, I know very little about it. But if you decide to go there, you will meet the love of your life. Now I know exactly what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that sounds very much like things are being determined. But that’s a mistake. A big mistake. Remember, you still have a choice. You can ignore my advice and choose you own hotel. Or you could get into another taxi. You could even turn tail and go back to Bath. Life offers many pathways.”
How did he know I’ve just arrived from Bath? I thought. I could have come from literally hundreds of different places. I decided to take things one step further. “How will I know if it’s her? I could get hooked up with the wrong girl.”
“Good question! She will be wearing a pearl earring. Will that be enough of a clue?”
“Like in the painting you mean?”
“Well not quite. The earring in the painting is actually far too large. But just like in the painting, she will be wearing just one pearl earring. What do you think?”
This wasn’t an avenue I was about to ignore. In fact, I couldn’t have wished for things to have turned out better. I was putting my life in the hands of complete stranger. A London taxi driver who appeared to know more about me than he should.
When I arrived at the hotel I naturally scoured the place for the girl with a pearl earring, but she was nowhere to be seen. I stayed in the hotel bar all that evening, waiting, expectantly, still nothing. But at breakfast the next morning, there she was, sitting alone at a table. She was beautiful and I couldn’t help but stare.
I knew I had to approach her, even though I felt cripplingly awkward about it. “Do you mind if I join you?”
She looked around. “There are other tables you know.”
“Yes, but I couldn’t help noticing your lovely earring. And you’re only wearing one. Does all that sound a bit lame?”
“No, not really. Lots of people admire my earring. It’s a nod to the painting of course. I absolutely love art. The earrings were a gift from my dad.”
“I don’t suppose he’s a taxi driver is he?”
“No! Where did that come from. My dad’s an architect.”
“Well that’s a coincidence. I’ve just spent four years studying architecture at uni.
I take it London’s not your home. You wouldn’t be here in a hotel otherwise.”
“No, I’m just visiting London for a few days. I have friends here and there’s an art exhibition I simply couldn’t miss.”
“Can I ask where home is?”
“Bath. I travelled up on the train yesterday from Bath.”