Her first day of freedom started with four firsts.
First Number One: the one-bedroom apartment was quiet when she woke up.
For the first nine days of her residency there, her father had insisted on sleeping on the couch instead of in a hotel room. She’d woken up to his noises: the kettle boiling away; the tap-tap-tap of his fingers on the screen of his tablet; or the quiet conversation he carried with his mother once she’d arrived from the hotel. Today, there were only her noises: the creaking of her bed as she stood up; her slippered footsteps; the chimes of cutlery as she pulled open the bench’s top drawer in search of a knife.
This, to her, was serenity.
First Number Two: she didn’t burn her toast. She lathered the golden crusty goodness with Nutella and breakfasted with a sense of accomplishment. At home, she would have had a much better spread – fried rice with scrambled eggs, perhaps, just as she liked it – but Maya would have made it. She had twelve years of cooking experience.
First Number Three: it was sixteen degrees Celcius, officially making it the coldest morning she’d ever known. The girl curled her fingers to tug the hem of her sleeves further down, desperate to cover up her stiffening hands. Deep within her half-unpacked suitcase was a pair of knitted gloves, but she hadn’t bothered looking for them. After a lifetime of oppressive heat and canned breeze, there was something refreshing about being cold. She could bear a little chill.
She crossed her arms, rocking lightly on her heels. She had left the warmth of her apartment a little too early for fear of missing the tram. Now she had to stand on the side of the road for a full seven minutes. She had decided that she wouldn’t play with her phone as she waited, not only to conserve battery but also because she wanted to be alert. Statistically, this city was safer than her hometown. Standing on the side of the road under the 8am sun was not likely to make her vulnerable to pickpockets. Still, she couldn’t bring herself to take out her new smartphone and busy herself with the status updates of people who were now on the other side of the Indian Ocean. It would have given her somewhere to look, something to do, but she couldn’t.
Anyway, she did not want to miss a thing today, even if it was just the movements of the café patrons across the street. Her gaze flickered from a cherry-haired teenager to a lanky brunette in business suit to a silver-haired lady with a shopping trolley. She wondered if any of them lived nearby, if she’d ever get to know any of them. The tram arrived on the dot. She had been told that this would not always be the case – even a developed, largely efficient city such as Melbourne was liable to imperfections – yet she couldn’t help being delighted. Order was not something she planned to take for granted.
The lanky businessman reached the door at the same time she did. For a split second, they stared at each other, and she made to step aside. She was the newcomer to the city, after all, she didn’t want to be seen as mannerless. He, however, made a swift, sweeping gesture toward the door. After you. Blinking, she muttered a thank you that was barely audible as she hurried onto the tram. She swiped her ticket and made to find a seat. The sense of accomplishment from earlier found her again, even as she hastily grabbed a pole to keep herself from flailing forward when the tram resumed its journey.
There were no seats left, so she planted her feet firmly on the floor and tightened her grip on the pole. This part was not so fun, and she couldn’t help but think of Noel. Of his wrinkled face and ironed shirts, his profile as viewed from the passenger seat. “Public transport?” he had echoed with a raised eyebrow, eyes firmly on the road. “That’s… adventurous, Princess. Be sure to carry a map, and watch out for yourself.”
She had informed him that she would certainly do both, and he needn’t have worried about her. She was ready. Her phone buzzed in her handbag. She hesitated and looked around, Noel’s advice still stuck in her head. None of her fellow commuters looked like thieves, shallow as such an observation might be. She dug into her bag with her free hand and peered at the screen.
Mum: Good luck today.
Her stomach jolted. She attributed this to the tram tipping downhill, a part of the route she’d forgotten was coming. Dropping the phone back into her bag, she stared out the window and concentrated on the metallic rumbling and clanging of the vehicle. She heard, instead, the strangled noise that escaped her mother when they’d embraced at the departure gate, the catch in her father’s voice as he was telling her to ‘be good’.
The fourth first was a splash of hot oil on bare skin. She drew in a sharp breath, shocked but not scorched. This, too, she could bear.
First Number Four: she missed home.
Cilla Prescott is a postgrad student by day and writer by night. She enjoys watching Masterchef, blogging about books, and eating delicious food. You can find her on Twitter: @pavedwithbookss.