Love, in English(2)

By: Karina Halle

“So many stars,” he commented, his eyes lingering all over my body.

“I study astronomy.”

He turned wide-eyed. “You’re joking? You study? In school?”

And here we go—I couldn’t possibly have eleven tattoos, multiple earrings and a nose ring and tongue ring and go to university, earning a science degree. I heard it all the damn time, I just thought Europe was more progressive in that area, too. I guess you could find morons in every country.

“Does it surprise you that I’m smart?” I asked pointedly while I considered pushing him off the bunk.

He nodded. “Of course. Usually, uh, girls who are…who…” I narrowed my eyes as he fumbled to continue, “have tattoos and, um, like the sex. Usually they aren’t so smart.”

I breathed in and put on a stiff smile. “I can tell that the girls who sleep with you have to be stupid. I’m starting to feel a bit stupid myself. I’ll blame London, though.” I motioned for him to move. “Now are you going to get off the bunk bed or do I have to make you?”

His eyes grew round yet again. If he thought my tats made me hard-core, I wasn’t going to convince him otherwise. He got down off the ladder and quickly slipped on his clothes while I did the awkward climb of shame. I had a healthy body image but getting my curvy ass down a narrow ladder couldn’t be a pretty sight.

He headed for the door while I fastened on my bra, then paused and shot me an anxious glance over his shoulder. “Did you want to go back out? I think people are still drinking.”

I shook my head. “No thanks, you go.”

He looked relieved. “Okay. Well thank you for…have a nice night Vilma.”

He shut the door after him and I yelled, “It’s Vera!” after him. I sighed and shrugged. I guess it was only fair. I couldn’t remember his name properly either.

I quickly slipped on my matching underwear and stared at the dress that Portuguese boy had taken off me earlier. It was my last night in London and incredibly tempting to head back out to the pubs and have some more fun but that’s all I’d been doing for the last week. Sure, I took in a lot of the sights—the natural history museum, the London eye, Tate Modern, Tower of London. I rode the cute cabs and the underground and double decker buses and ate food that ranged from awesome (deep fried Mars bars!) to nasty (don’t order fish and chips from a Chinese restaurant).

But even though I came to the UK by myself, I hadn’t had a moment alone. That was something I hadn’t realized about the backpacking culture, especially when you’re in your early twenties and can speak English—it’s so easy to meet people. I’d never been so social in my entire life and never had so much fun.

And seeing for the next month I’d be in Spain, being nothing but social, I had to take advantage of some “me” time.

I slipped on my dress and a pair of leggings, thinking that the constant cold drizzle hadn’t let up yet, and quickly ran a brush through my unruly hair that I had just dyed strawberry blonde before I left. The rain was going to make it even wavier but I didn’t care. What was London without rain, even though the temperatures were slightly below average for it being almost June.

I grabbed my sweater coat and leather purse and headed out of the dorm room, stopping by the bathroom on the way outside. I ran into a few familiar faces in the hallways and could hear a raucous game of pool going on in the common room but I kept my head down and headed out into the grey night.

Even though the sun had gone down a few hours ago, I was relieved to see there were still crowds milling along the Thames. I kept to the well-lit parts—I wasn’t about to get mugged my first week traveling overseas—as I scuttled across the Victoria Embankment, stopping at Cleopatra’s Needle. The rain had tapered off and there was a spring freshness in the air. I leaned against one of the bronze sphinxes and stared at the lights of the nearest bridge as it sparkled on the dark river.

I let my mind wander. That’s what it did best.

I still couldn’t really grasp that I was here. It took a few days to get over my horrendous jet lag, then after that I was on the go, taking a million photos and drinking a lot of beer. Now, it still didn’t feel real, even with the lights of London all around me. Maybe I just couldn’t believe that something that I planned actually went through and happened. I know that the minute I saw the travel blog post about the language program (help Spaniards with their conversational English and stay in Spain for free!) and told my family I was doing it this summer, forgoing my astronomy internship, none of them believed I’d actually follow through.

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