We strolled down the slick cobblestones of High Street. Rain doused us. Pushing through people, I walked near the shops so wind blew the drops over my head. Maria had brought an umbrella but a gust had turned it inside out and it broke. It was an expensive one from home too. I should’ve warned her. She walked in the middle of the street, more interested in the small shops than staying dry. We’d seen three Sports Directs and two WH Smiths. We were looking for I & H Griffith’s Electronics which had the adapter we needed to charge our dwindling cell batteries. A decade later and I still remembered the store name, but not the location.
We had gotten off the bus and unloaded the bags in our flat. It was nearly 11 AM and I said we could get in a few hours of sleep or I could show her the sites. I reminded her most stores closed around dinner time. After sending a text to Herr Hoffman, she said we should explore. We stepped outside and the sunny day down-poured.
But Maria didn’t mind. “If I’m paying six hundred for a jacket, it better hold up in the rain.” And it seemed to.
The wet and wind chilled us and we made for the nearest shop, Peacocks. The clothes were too hip for even our students, but we ducked inside anyway. Maria used the chance to text Herr Hoffman again.
“I think I’ll refresh my memory with some of the cities we’ll be taking the kids to,” I said. I wiped droplets from my arm, only to notice a sales clerk staring. In America, she might be mad that I dampened her carpet. But it already squished under my feet from the rain other customers dragged in. She just said, “‘Ello.” She wasn’t wearing a bra, like many British women.
“Are the buses reliable here?” Maria held a shirt up to her. It had a unicorn in glitter. There were no mirrors so she looked to me for an opinion.
I shook my head. “Practically German.”
“You visited? You saw their amazing public transportation?”
“Well, no, but I can’t imagine how British buses could be better. Clean, on time, easy to find, cheap.”
She found a leather jacket and tried it on. It was better than Broadway for me. She had her coat and purse and everything but she wouldn’t set them on the wet carpet so she was holding everything in one hand while she put her other hand through the jacket, then with that she held her jacket and purse and was feeling for the new jacket’s armhole behind her but she couldn’t find it so she kept twisting and wiggling her arm. Finally a clerk helped her. Maria thought the jacket was too trendy but the girl insisted she had the shoulders for it. “We need to get registered with the school.”
“Can you take care of that? Just bring back my forms. I’ll fill them out on the bus.”
The girl helping Maria out of the jacket glared at me for not helping my friend (or girlfriend or wife or whatever she thought Maria was to me).
“I’m not sure they’ll let me,” Maria said. She tested her hair to see if it was drying. It had a wavy look to it now that looked stylish – good even! Though it was a bit short for my liking. Maybe wavy with a few more inches so it went past her chin. “Maybe we could explore the country together.”
I hadn’t even thought to bring her. She’d dillydally while I scoured the land for the heart shrine.
We left Peacocks and the clerk said goodbye as the doorbell chime did the same. It was very polite of both of them, considering we didn’t buy anything. We passed another Sports Direct near the clock tower outside Deiniol Centre.
Against the tower, a street performer with dreads and missing teeth and a wet dog was performing on his guitar. People crowded as he crooned, “There’s a lady who’s sure that all that glimmers is gold.” He mutilated it. The chords were a mess. But people applauded. They tossed in fivers and pound-coins and someone fed the dog.
I went in to the Sports Direct. Maria followed. “I got a fleece here years ago. Only ten quid. It was on sale. Too small and too old now, but I loved that thing. It was grey and it had ‘Everlast’ across the front. Which I loved because I was in the boxing club over here. I wore it everywhere. Do you remember it? It started because Wales rains quite a bit – obviously. Especially come Fall. And fleece dries quick. It’s warm while wet too. But back in the states, I kept wearing it.”
“I remember it actually. The old one might fit you soon. You’ve been slimming down lately.”
“Too ratty now. But if I can find another….” I searched the racks for it. I found some in black and bright blue and bright red and bright green, colors I wouldn’t wear. I found some grey ones but they were for football teams that, as an American, I knew nothing about. “Can professors join clubs here?” I asked.
“What were you thinking of joining?” Maria was sending another text.
“I don’t know. Maybe boxing again. It was fun.”
“Getting black eyes was fun?”
“I hardly got hit. I couldn’t hit for shit, but I hardly got hit too.” I ducked under a sale sign to check the other side. I slipped past a customer when I saw grey. My hand shot out. Knockout! I had found my fleece! Nearly identical, but larger. It made me nostalgic for sweeter times when I was poor and had no responsibilities. “And why not do it while here? There’s free healthcare.” I’d find the heart shrine in a week and be done with my mission and could enjoy the rest of the semester boxing and being a professor again. None of this curse crap.
We paid and left and I went out in my new fleece with the collar eternally popped. The rain had stopped.
We backtracked to the clock tower since High Street ended at a fish-and-chips shop, Cheryl’s Chippie. Inside the Deiniol the most amazing aroma threatened my slowly-slimming figure. I remembered it. I remember it from the first time I ventured out into Bangor on my own during a rainstorm and I slipped on the wet drain of Alt Glanrafon, a half-mile 20% incline nicknamed “Bitch Hill.” And once I slipped, I kept going till I reached a hedge-fence. And I was miserable, wet, alone in a foreign land with a bunch of students who I didn’t know but hated anyway, and I needed something to perk up my mood. That’s when I first found this smell. The smell of sugar and batter being dipped in hot oil. The smell of fat and grease and sugar and carbs and everything I had loved for the past decade and for which I had sacrificed the love of shallow women and my athletic form. Dragon Bites mini-donuts.
I darted towards it without telling Maria. She followed. I could hear her heels clacking on the tile behind me. Dragon Bites was the same as I left it. It was in the corner of the shopping centre and shaped like a triangle. The front was all glass and it could fit about three people comfortably. The walls were covered with posters of fast cars and bikini babes, and I’m positive they were the same cars and same babes from when I was 20. And the man! An Arab man, like I remembered. Was he the same man? He had the same mustache. Maybe it was his son or his brother because he hadn’t aged. Was Arab-skin youthful like Asian or African skin?
For three quid, a two-pound coin and a one-pounder, I feasted on 30 mini-donuts with holes and everything! The granulated sugar crunched but the hot dough was soft. It burned my mouth but I kept eating. I offered one to Maria, but she said she’d wait for them to cool. They might be devoured before that.
“Where do you think you’ll travel first?” she asked. “Assuming you get the chance.”
“I’ve already mapped it out. Anglesey. Hit the 52-letter town and keep on going. Then I’ll hit the cities nearest to Bangor: Conwy, Llanberis, Llanlyfni. I’ll even hit Snowdon through Beddgelert. Then I’ll radiate out from there.” I had planned the trips around where I thought the heart shrine might be, judging by my map.
“All the names sound similar to me, but I don’t remember a field trip to Clan–leaf–knee.”
Had I been caught? Did Maria know I wasn’t doing this for the kids and our fieldtrips together? Did she suspect anything? No. It was too crazy to suspect.
My phone rang and I gave Maria the bag of donuts to hold. She actually ate one. Then seven more. They were that good.
Molly was calling. I still hadn’t changed her contact info from Amalia in my phone.
“The flight got delayed. Stupid high winds,” she snapped. She had gotten a good deal on her ticket because it left before anything was awake. And since we lived two hours from the nearest airport and she had to be there early, I would guess she stayed up all night.
“How’s Pickles?” I couldn’t board my mutt for a semester but I needed to be here sooner than I could get a flight that allowed dogs on-board. So Molly was bringing the dog.
“Why don’t you ever ask how I am? A torture. There’s your answer.” She hung up.
I turned around to tell Maria that Molly would be late, which was okay since she was signed onto the trip as a student. But Maria was on the phone with Herr Hoffman’s voicemail. “Hey, honey. Just checking to see if my texts were going through. I want you to know I landed safely and we’re already exploring Bangor. That’s where we’re staying, Bangor. If you get this, please call so I know my messages are going through. Bye.”
I checked the time on my phone. 11:22. Local time. “You know it’s only five in the morning there, right?”