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AN EVEN EXCHANGE
By Christine F. Tomalin
iUniverse LLCCopyright © 2014 Christine F. Tomalin
All rights reserved.
The British racing green '64 "Bug Eye" Austin Healy took the turn with ease. Colin Chapman pulled onto the M1 toward London. His sense of excitement filled the sports car as he traveled to college for this his fourth year. His dad surprised him with a racing green Austin, a gift of thanks. This special "thank you" expressed the appreciation his father felt for Colin after his decision to enroll in college. But this Austin wasn't just any auto. It represented so much more than that to Colin and his father. Mr. Chapman watched him flounder for two years in assorted menial jobs. His father never thought the day would come when Colin would decide to choose a career that required advanced learning.
It would be extraordinary to have his own sports car and the freedom it would bring, especially knowing the commitment he made to himself and his father. He was returning to college and the new flat he just rented with his mates. Colin wouldn't need to live in halls of residence this year. Now he would be able to travel from his campus on the southern coast in Portsmouth to London at will. This sense of freedom was very appealing to him. London in the early 70's was everything a university student could want: theatre, art and music filled the city. He would take advantage of any excuse to spend time there. His younger brother, Sean, was doing his second year at the London School of Economics. They were more than brothers; they were each other's best friend. Now they had ever so much in common. Handsome, charming and available – they were prepared to overcome any challenge the future might bring.
* * *
Beri Baines' seat looked out across the 93 foot long wing span of the new Boeing 737 Jet. Could this dream finally be coming true? It was last spring whenProfessorLogan'sletterarrivedfromTrentonStateCollegecongratulating her on being one of four students selected to participate in the exchange program to study in England. What a perfect way to begin her senior year of college. The day was finally here. She was going abroad.
"Don't let her get on that plane," her mom, never a traveler, cautioned her dad as she prepared to board. It came as a surprise that her mom came out to JFK Airport, always tethered to home in the care of Charolette her younger sister. Charolette seemed to be no different from any other baby until she was three. Some time after her sixth birthday two different doctors declared her "mentally retarded" after she stopped trying to communicate, failing to speak or make eye contact with anyone. This was not an uncommon diagnosis in the 50's from the medical profession. Her mom dedicated her time to Charolette's care from that day on. Beri's dad tried to help as much as possible though his attempts were discouraged.
Tall and younger looking than his years, her dad doted on Beri afraid she was ignored by her mom. They had a special relationship. A few weeks prior to her leaving they spent the day together, just the two of them. She remembered him saying to her, "Don't you let your mom's lack of enthusiasm discourage you, Beri. She never enjoyed traveling or trying new things. Ever since you were little you, on the other hand, sought adventure. Go and do all you can to experience life at its best. Bring me home great stories of seeing new places and tasting new bites of life."
To have inherited her dad's wanderlust, above average height and hazel eyes delighted Beri. He always encouraged her to travel and try new things. Escaping her middle class town of Thomasville, New Jersey, would be wonderful.
* * *
The brief summer respite brought Colin into a romantic relationship that now needed some space. He breathed a sigh of relief to be leaving Coventry for his last year at college. Thoughts of Ellen, the wonderful older woman he met through friends whilst on summer break, filled his head as he traveled. On the plus side, she was bright and quite attractive. On the minus side was the young child she mothered out of wedlock. The magnetism he felt for children could not be denied. Nurturing instincts filled his inner soul. It wasn't that he wouldn't welcome being a father. His dreams were of fathering children of his own, however.
Colin had taken two years to work between finishing grammar school and beginning university studies. Working at menial jobs taught him the importance of an education. Naturally, he faced life with a maturity those around him lacked. He knew after experimenting in poor paying jobs that his life's work should be in education. He believed "School should be warm and welcoming to develop a newly forming mind. One should provide encouragement not negative criticism," he shared with his father. To head a school that mirrored this philosophy was his dream and ambition. Completing his degree would make this dream a reality and give his life purpose.
When he was chosen amongst his peers to be in the selective fourth year program, his professors confirmed his potential for leadership. An advanced degree would give him an edge over the regular Teacher's Certificate for an assistant headship in a Ministry of Education School anywhere in the country. This last year could be nothing short of wonderful for him.
He handled the steering wheel of the Austin with the confidence and skill he inherited from his father. London was less than a few hours away; the campus his final destination.
* * *
"I am really excited, Dad. I wish you were able to come and visit me while I'm there. We would have so much fun exploring London, wouldn't we? I am keeping a journal to make notes of everything. I'm going to save every souvenir so I can remember every moment of this experience."
"We sure would have fun together. Seems like it was just yesterday that I left home and went to Hawaii. I was your age, Beri. I had my chance to travel because of the war. Of course, the circumstances were different. I went to help the US Navy rebuild their fleet. But I still learned so much about the people and the culture. This is your chance to go and see. Being away from home is an experience all young people should have. I am so proud of you for doing this. You worked hard to get the money together to study abroad and to travel while you are there. Make the most of it and don't let your mom make you feel guilty or overly cautious about doing this."
Walking to the gate Beri asked her dad, "Will you reassure mom that I'll be OK? I won't be alone. I'm with a well- chaperoned group from the college. Anyway, I will really miss you."
He rested his hand on her neck while they walked to the ticketing desk. His big smile always made her feel safe and loved.
As the crew prepared the jet for departure while Beri watched with envy. Here she was sitting in a plane for the first time ever. She didn't dare to blink, afraid it would all disappear. Becoming a teacher was her childhood goal. From the time she was little Beri loved being with children and played teacher with the neighborhood children for hours. It seemed natural for her to major in education at Trenton State College. Fear, not her mom's nor her own, would not stop her from studying education abroad. She did start to think that the life of a stewardess might be exciting. To be paid to travel to different parts of the world might be fun.
* * *
Colin guided the Austin Healy up to the curb just outside Sean's flat on the Crescent Way.
It was a stroke of luck to find a spot so near. Traffic in London had increased so in the two years since Sean moved into the flat. Colin envied his brother in many ways. He was studying economics at a major university in London. Always a serious student, Sean excelled academically. Studies came easier to his younger brother. It wasn't for lack of trying on Colin's part that he wasn't as good at his studies. A somewhat rebellious spirit made him question why one needed to read Latin and Greek in their years in boarding school. He would just as soon read current works by authors or read a well-written play.
"Colin, don't get too comfortable. We are meant to go off and fill the larder for the party we have planned for tonight," Sean yelled from the back bedroom as Colin came in the door putting his bag down on the dark wood floor next to the chaise lounge in the parlor.
Sunlight was just beginning to come through the large bay window that looked onto the crescent below.
"Right," Colin responded. "Let's take the Austin. I am parked in front of the flat.
How many are expected for the evening?"
"Should be ten or so friends coming. You must meet Parisha. We dated for a few weeks just prior to summer break. She is finance major from India. Her father is in Embassy here in London. Three of her school mates are coming, too. I'm not sure who the other suite mates invited. The more the merrier as far as I am concerned."
Sean was regarded as the ladies man in the suite as Colin knew well. His attractive good looks and outward nature never discouraged women from latching on to him when he and Colin went out or hosted parties at the London suite. While Sean was shorter in height, he was better built and muscular in contrast to Colin's tall and lean frame.
* * *
"Be sure to fasten your seatbelt." The attendant's voice interrupted Beri's thoughts. She glanced around the huge interior of the jet noticing the other students traveling along with her on the flight. "We are preparing for take off."
The jet seemed even larger from inside. A bright flash of light from the fiery sunset caught Beri's attention. It bounced off the wing of the 737 as it taxied down the runway.
"Is this your first time flying?" the noise of the engines dulled the voice of the passenger who was seated next to her.
Beri clutched the armrest of the 100-foot long jet as it began to accelerate.
"Yeah, I guess it's that obvious," Beri responded, "How about you?"
"No, I travel all the time. My grandparents live in Scotland. I spend summers with them. We have traveled to Europe and all over Great Britain. You will love it. Travel is life-changing!"
"I am so ready for life-changing," Beri replied smiling to mask any trepidation her voice might reveal.
"The flight will be fun. They will be serving us dinner once we reach higher altitudes. It is best to eat light and to drink lots of water. Did you find the socks, tooth brush and paste in the front pocket?"
"Socks? Why socks?" Beri questioned.
"So you can take off your shoes and get comfy. Kick them off and push your seat back. You might want to try and get some sleep later. With the time difference, you'll miss a good night's sleep and you'll arrive in the morning in London tired if you don't."
"I doubt I can sleep," Beri responded laughing. I haven't slept in days anticipating this trip. I can't wait to be in England. At some point I am hoping to get to Paris and to explore Europe."
Their conversation during the seven hour flight made the trip pass quickly.
The group still had a two hour train ride ahead to the south until reaching their final destination after landing at Heathrow.
Portsmouth Coastal College of Education would be her new home for the next five months and she could not wait to arrive, unpack and meet the English students.
* * *
The London School of Economics where Sean studied attracted a large international student population. It was not uncommon for Sean to fill the flat with co-eds from Europe, the Middle East, South America and Australia. Maybe it was his maturity or his keen sense of responsibility. Colin had learned to accept his failures along with is successes. He always shouldered any blame alone. While Sean's friends hailed from all over the world, Colin's friends from Portsmouth Coastal College were mostly from Great Britain. Colin loved how Sean could create a party atmosphere in a short time at the flat.
And parties at the flat never disappointed anyone fortunate enough to be invited.
In the hours following the arrival of the guests, Colin met Parisha's friends and relaxed for the night with the help of the pints that seemed to make him forget the stress of the relationship he left behind in Coventry. There always seemed to be something about women from other countries that intrigued Colin. Not sure if it was their accent or their attitude he found exciting, he enjoyed any chance for a meeting. They held a fascination for him. Often their perspective was quite different. It was the challenge of the way they looked at things that he enjoyed as well. He could understand why his dad loved to travel for his business.
So much awaited Colin at Portsmouth Coastal College. In many ways, college life was different for him than for his brother and also from his younger classmates. Maybe it was his maturity or his keen sense of responsibility. Colin had learned to accept his failures along with is successes. He always shouldered any blame alone.
"Not to worry," Colin would say, "I shall make the most of any situation in which I find myself."
* * *
Up close from the Portsmouth bound train window the landscape was even more beautiful to Beri than from the air, distracting her from getting a close look at the members of her group. Even the smallest of backyards had a garden with roses huge and brightly colored. Sheep and cows appeared in lush fields everywhere along the southern train route. The gardens and landscape that created a checkerboard pattern from above when flying over amazed her. Thick green lawns and newly harvested fields crisscrossed their route. Golden bails of harvested hay were rolled into huge balls on the edges of the fields. New Jersey had dairy farms and fields but here the deep hue of the green grass seemed magnified under the English sunlight.
When the American students arrived at Portsmouth Coastal College of Education, they reported immediately to the welcoming tea the Principal was holding. Their late arrival was regarded with disdain. The Principal's opening comments fell short on both warmth and welcome.
"You do realize that your group is twenty minutes late," she began. "Here in Britain we adhere to formalities. It goes without saying that punctuality is a characteristic we cherish."
As Beri and a few of the members of the group felt the sting of the Principal's words Sam, the deviant in the group, leaned into Beri and quietly chided, "We rebelled against your formality you coveted back in 1776, she must have missed those events back then even though she looks old enough to have been there."
Sam's sharp wit and sense of humor would make these stuffy occasions fun, Beri thought. He wasn't one to hold back. She felt jealous of his ability to be so relaxed and humorous in situations with people he hardly knew.
* * *
Thoughts of his third year at Portsmouth spun though his head as Colin traveled back to the town. What a year it was. His main subject classes in the English Department at the college always offered a challenged. Colin prided himself on his memory. He could recite most of the English poets verbatim. Professor Hardy delighted in Colin's recitations as he would occasionally cleverly place a pertinent poem in place of comment during his tutorial session in the small group. His fellow students would be delighted by his skills. They especially enjoyed when he would entertain the group at the student bar with a tune or two from his music hall program. He was always able to get the attention of the ladies whenever he appeared on stage in the drama productions on campus. He was meant to be on stage. The deep voice and tall presence commanded the eye to behold.
It was when he would be cast opposite his mate Raph that their magical sparks would fly clear out across the orchestra seats to the back of the hall. The director would attempt to take control of their drama with little success. The college audience loved them. What more could she want. The goal at the college was to sell out performances and the pair had no trouble filling the seats.
Colin thought of what might face him ahead for his fourth year. He would have to get back to Coventry to see Ellen on weekends if he wished to keep that relationship alive. Is that what he wanted? Did he really want to be torn apart by having to keep that relationship alive and still focus on his work at the college? Long conversations with his dad over a pint helped him to think it out before the end of summer break.
Excerpted from AN EVEN EXCHANGE by Christine F. Tomalin. Copyright © 2014 Christine F. Tomalin. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse LLC.
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