London is one long ride on an interminable escalator, mopping my brow and frowning at the chunky A-Z, wondering how it is possible for many of my destinations to be so very far removed from
metro tube stations.
It is struggling to remember to “KEEP LEFT” in corridors and on staircases which are neatly divided into two halves. Keeping my expensive travelcard handy for when I leave every station to avoid awkward, embarrassing fumbling; a wave of homesickness for my Navigo card and its comforting “DRIINNG!” welling up as the alien “PIINNG!” of Oyster cards echoes in my ears.
In Paris, leaning over the edge of a platform to squint along the tunnel, I can often spy the lights of the next station, and sometimes make out the next one after that. A station is never more than a short stroll away.
I drag my overnight bag along residential streets, plastic wheels rumbling noisily over uneven paving slabs, glancing at my watch periodically to see if I am late enough to warrant making a breathless, apologetic phone call.
I am pathetically grateful to whoever had the foresight to paint helpful hints on the tarmac at every pedestrian crossing, prompting me to “LOOK RIGHT!” or “LOOK LEFT!”, rather than trusting my (apparently continental) instincts and stepping out into the path of a rapidly approaching black cab.
It is in my native land that I am truly a fish out of water: panting, helplessly disorientated, yearning for the familiarity of my French home.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Later, back in the village where I grew up, I creep into my daughter’s bedroom, craving the familiar scent of her warm curls, her damp scalp.
She is unexpectedly awake, sitting up in bed with a welcoming smile. I cover her cheeks with kisses.
“Mummy,” she asks, “are you going to sleep in your bed today?”
“Yes my love,” I reply, “so you can come and fetch me when you wake up in the morning.”
She pauses for a moment; I can almost see her thinking.
“Mummy? Have you got a sleeping bag like mine?”
“No. Mummies don’t usually wear sleeping bags.”
“When I will be a mummy and you will be a little girl, I can lend you this one,” she says generously, gesturing down at her pink gingham pod.
I find this notion of role reversal strangely comforting.
Later, against my better judgement, I slip into the single bed, beside her oblivious sleeping form and let the regularity of her breathing slow my rapidly thumping heart.