Walking in Providence
I was sitting in a large lecture theatre longing for the welcoming sound of bells ringing that would signify the conclusion of the most uninspiring lecture on The Scientific Basis of Therapeutics. I sat aloof as the lecturer continued his endless ramblings in the most annoying voice that suggested he had a sinus problem. Every word he said seemed to slurp out with a hiss. Of all the pharmacy lectures I had to endure, this was by far the worst. It was a cocktail of confusing terms; a maze of information that I couldn’t conquer.
As I sat fidgeting with my pen, I allowed my mind to roam freely down the corridors of pipe-dreaming. That was the only way I knew how to endure ninety minutes of sheer misery; but my gloom was quickly followed by the welcoming sound of bells ringing. I began to pack up my books and hurl my pens into my bag as I attempted to make for the exit. My joy however, was short lived. Professor Schmidt, our midget professor with the world’s largest and most crooked nose, had other ideas as he commenced a new topic even though the bell signifying the end of the class had just rung. I sat in my seat like an engorged volcano past its eruption date. The flood of bitter memories of how I came to be seated in that fourth year lecture theatre came gushing forth like a breached dam. It stemmed from an elaborate spin that now had me shackled in a four-year pharmacy course, when I had only planned to do three. The coyness of the Dean had bestowed upon me an unwanted destiny that now confined me in a place I didn’t want to be, and it all started when he decided to use my class as a guinea pig for the first ever four-year, as opposed to three-year, class; Master of Pharmacy.
The great four-year coup was a plot against us - the unsuspecting and hugely naive first year Pharmacy class - on our first day of university. After enrolment and registration, I remember just how excited I was to receive a white folded invitation with gold trimmings, wrapped with a plush white and gold ribbon, inviting me for ‘wine and cheese with the Dean in the Grand Library’. Though I knew the invitation had been sent out to everyone enrolled on the course, I still felt so special and privileged to be amongst such pomp.
As I walked eagerly towards the library I felt the prestigious breeze of splendour drawing me in; it felt as if I was in harmony with the opulence that surrounded me. The library was quaint with stained glass windows and panelled walls that were filled with books from floor to ceiling. The lofty ceiling was adorned with giant crystal chandeliers that cast shimmering shadows on the meticulously polished oak wood flooring. The Dean of our Faculty and our future lecturers stood in the front section of the library in an orderly straight line. They all wore well-tailored suits; even the women. I took a sweeping look at my outfit and felt glad that I had chosen to wear my favourite pin striped tailored suit, one of my most prized items of clothing bought by my father from the skilful tailors on Jermyn Street. Teamed with a baby pink high-collar shirt and finished off with my most treasured Massimo kitten heeled pumps, it really looked the part. I had tried to make an effort of matching my clothing with the smartness of the invitation; however, I seemed to be the only one who held that school of thought. In comparison to the rest of my class, I looked overdressed, apart from perhaps the really tall guy standing with his back to us, talking to the Dean. He looked far too debonair to be one of us in his pin-stripe suit. Most of the people there were wearing tracksuits or jeans. I giggled inwardly at my barefaced effort.
Upon entering the library, we were offered red wine or orange juice by smartly dressed waiting staff wearing crisp white shirts and black trousers; meticulously ironed napkins hung over one forearm whilst the hand of the other arm held a tray of drinks. I noticed the glasses had a strange white plastic attachment at their base. I wondered what it was for and deliberately hung back allowing others to take their choice of drink first. I didn’t want to appear common; as though I was not refined, so I watched surreptitiously, trailing every gesture the Dean made as he strode towards the waiting staff. He picked a glass of red wine and a small plate; without any hesitation he clipped the glass of wine onto the plate using the mystery attachment and reached for some crackers and cheese. Oh, that’s what it’s for, I thought to myself; I laughed at my tactic to try and understand how to use the glass. Feeling assured I quickly followed, picked a glass of orange juice and a plate, and confidently snapped the two together as if it were something I had done a thousand times before. I smiled when I noticed some people holding their plate in one hand and the wine glass in the other, because I knew they were as I had been just five minutes before, but didn’t have the forethought to discern the correct usage. It was hilarious watching them all huddle around the small cocktail tables that were scattered around the room each time they needed a free hand to eat the food on their plate.
The spread of cheese and crackers was impressive but the odour of some of the cheeses put me right off; they stank like dirty socks, and the crackers looked overly healthy. I picked the only cracker that had no lumps and bumps on it; all the other crackers were far too busy with oats, rock salt or poppy seeds protruding like pimples. I stood with my glass of orange juice attached to my plate in one hand, and I nibbled on a dry cracker with the other, trying to pretend I enjoyed the feastings of the suave. I had tried to find a cheese to go with my choice of cracker but there was no Cheddar, Edam or Gouda in the vast array of choices. If I were to be classed according to my taste in cheese, then I definitely would have been shoved into the ranking of unrefined. I observed our faculty of lecturers carefully as they stood with a glass of red wine in one hand and nibbled on knobbly crackers and brie with the other, wondering why on earth anyone found brie delicious, especially when teamed with apple! Yuck! The room was buzzing with the sound of munching and excited chatter, when suddenly the sound of the most polished English accent I’d ever heard boomed through the microphone, ‘Could everyone begin to make their way to the inner chamber of the library please.’ and with that announcement we were promptly ushered to our seats and gestured to quieten down.
As I made my way to the inner chamber of the library I again noticed the guy in the exquisite pin-stripe suit. He walked with his head held high and his broad shoulders stood to attention, as if held in the air by hangers. Even though I couldn’t see his face, each stride he took with his long legs caused gentle wafts of spicy cologne, and I began to wonder if the fine specimen was part of the Pharmacy class. I hoped he was.
We all sat quietly like a brood awaiting illumination from the privileged astute, and the fans that lined each row of seats swirled gently in the background, bringing with each rotation the aroma of a concoction of red wine, orange juice and brie. The lecturers, together with the Dean, looked very distinguished as they stood studying their new recruits – us, the first year Pharmacy students. It was then that the Dean stepped towards the microphone and began a meandering speech about how delighted he was to welcome us as the first class of the four-year Pharmacy Masters degree. I almost gagged on the mouthful of crackers that I was still trying to polish off as he said those two seemingly harmless words – four years.
‘Did I just hear him say four years?’ the guy sitting next to me whispered in my ear.
I looked at him out of the corner of my eye, not knowing what I was more shocked by, the four-year course or the fact that he had totally invaded my private space when he whispered his moist muffled words into my ear. I drew back sharply, with puckered brows, as I replied, ‘You heard right.’
‘It must have been a slip of tongue, I didn’t sign up for a four-year course, I thought it was a three-year course!’ he continued as he arched his neck even further to reach my ear.
‘Would you stop that please!’ I retorted.
‘Stop what? I’m just saying…’
‘I know, but it tickles and I don’t like it when people whisper so close to my ears.’ I promptly snapped, stunned at my rudeness for interrupting him in mid sentence.
‘Ok then, sorry, I won’t do it again. I was just taken aback by his statement.’ he replied, whispering again in my ear, with a cheeky smirk that I caught as he turned away.
At that point I managed to crack the tiniest of smiles and tried to look interested in the drivel the Dean was passionately talking about. From time to time however, I found myself wanting to look in the direction of ‘Mr Cheeky Smirk’ sitting beside me, because each time the fan blew in our direction his scent would gently caress my nostrils, blocking out the stuffy scent of brie. Although his perfume was delicate it was unmistakably delicious. I forced myself not to stare in his direction but at the same time I itched to see his face properly. Up until that point I’d only seen his profile and just when I was about to steal a glance of him fully, he became engaged in quiet conversation with the person sitting to his left. I decided to return my attention to the Dean, realising that my efforts at catching a glimpse were proving to be in vain. The Dean continued to list the merits of a four-year course. Everyone besides ‘Mr Cheeky Smirk’ and myself seemed to not only have bought the idea, but also clapped emphatically at the notion. I knew there was no point trying to object to a concept that really wasn’t a suggestion but a finished decision.
That day I left the Dean’s cheese and wine reception feeling less than optimistic about my time at university, and determined in my heart, I decided to compensate for every hour I had to spend there by vigorously indulging in extra curricular activities immediately after lectures. Just then, I heard the smarmy voice of Mr Schmidt interrupt my thoughts.
‘Ok, I think that’s enough for today.’
His words were like a war cry. Everyone grabbed their bags and stampeded out of the lecture theatre. I found myself swept amidst the fleeing students as I muttered sarcastically, ‘Enough for today? More like enough for a lifetime!’
My idea of extracurricular enjoyment was to dive head first into a sea of partying. It was a means of escape from reality into a world of blithe abandonment, and for a time it appeared to be the exact antidote for a gruelling university schedule that I was looking for. As I shuffled out of the lecture theatre I quickly whipped out my mobile phone to check out my social schedule for the rest of the week.
One day, after a particularly effervescent night out, I returned home at about four o’clock in the morning and fell in a comatose state and fully dressed, into the hallway that led to my bedroom. I woke up a few hours later with what felt like an orchestra playing an endless cacophony of recitals in my head. My skin was pasty and pale and my mouth was full of fluff from the fake fur rug that lined the upstairs hallway. I felt like a living corpse. I remember crawling from the hallway and into the bathroom, where I sat on the floor curled up in a ball with my back against the bathtub. I was hugging myself tight, as though trying to reassure myself that the growing need for something more in my life was a fixable phase that would soon pass. The seemingly sudden and ever-deepening void within me was relentless. I felt frustrated at my inability to address the niggling longing within me that screamed for change. I buried my head between my knees as I gasped, ‘God if you really are interested in my life, then do something about my seemingly purposeless existence!’ I sat in that position for what felt like hours.
When I eventually raised my head from between my knees, I looked up and saw a framed painting peeking out from behind the bathroom door. It was of a mountainous region with waterfalls spooling over jagged cliffs, and at the bottom of the painting the words ‘Looking for a love worth finding? Check out my bestselling book. God’ stood out.
That painting must have been in the same position for years, but I had never noticed it, tucked away so neatly just above the radiator behind the door; but on that day, those words really were like rushing waters over rugged mountains. The seemingly unremarkable statement created a bizarre desire within me to stop and reflect upon what I had permitted to be my life’s story. Entwined within this reflection was an inexplicable urge to actually read the bestseller the painting promoted. I flirted with the idea of reading the Bible for a few moments, but my thoughts never actually became actions until it was as if the Bible was everywhere I looked. Eventually the gentle prompts spurred an irrefutable compulsion that required me to surrender to the urges inside and read that alluring book; but not before further nights of empty cavorting.
The continuous cycle of going to university, partying and then arriving home in the early hours of the morning looped like never ending static feedback. Many people say the weekend begins on a Friday, but my weekend always began whenever a party came up, and that was nearly always a Wednesday. I was flicking through my text messages to see what party was scheduled when I came upon the White Party. There had been so much hype leading up to that party so I decided to go with the flow of the popular consensus for fear of hearing those dreaded words, ‘You missed out!’ The party was at a club just off Regents Street and it was strictly invitation only. I loved such snobbery because it made the invitation more alluring, and the anticipation even more exciting. I had a ritual that heralded my partying. I always started with a hot shower whilst listening to my prized Rock the Party CD compilation, which played loudly through the house. The bass of the music made my blood pulse with excitement; and the lyrics DMX barked through the speakers made the urgency to get to the club and truly ‘rock the party’ all the more electrifying. Once out of the bathroom, I danced towards my bedroom and took my carefully set out attire from the wardrobe, spreading it out on my bed; I knew my outfit was going to cause a stir and I liked that. I likened my dress sense, when out partying, to a painting; my body was the canvas and my clothing the paint. I dressed to please my ego’s appetite which was to be the centre of attention; the promise of the endless gawps from the guys geared my choice of what to wear. The more scandalous the outfit, the more compliments I seemed to get from the guys and the more jealous glares I got from their browbeaten girlfriends.
My sense of style had slowly morphed over the years. My tops had gone from modest to overtly questionable, and my trousers from being comfy to needing a pair of scissors to pry my legs out of them. For the White Party I decided to wear skin-tight hipsters, a backless tummy-rising vest and gold accessories. I had recently pierced my belly button and savoured every opportunity to show off my diamante navel stud. I loved the way it glistened under the nightclub lights as I danced uninhibited like an erudite belly dancer.
Just as I was making the last touches to my make up, I heard the doorbell ring. It was Pixie. Pixie was the first friend I made on the first day of high school when I was nine. She was a real chatterbox and had talked her way into my affections. Ever since our paths crossed in the summer of 1990 at the back of the assembly line, Pixie and I had been inseparable. It was eleven years since our first meeting and nothing had changed. Pixie was my partner in everything from shopping to eating, and of course partying too! From the erratic ring of the doorbell I knew it was Pixie and her ever-obedient friend - with benefits – Charles. Charles was like a marvellously trained racehorse; he did everything Pixie said. He was our regular chauffeur and financier of drinks. I often felt sorry for him, knowing Pixie was well out of his league; but Pixie continually dangled the hope of him potentially becoming her boyfriend in front of his eager eyes, even though she knew that it would never happen. It was that hope that propelled his endless efforts to please her. If only he knew it was as likely as finding pineapples on an apple tree! But who was I to say anything when I was benefiting from his shuttling services too? I walked down the stairs cautiously as I made for the front door. I didn’t want to miss my step while wearing such high-heeled stilettos. I had twisted my ankle six weeks prior whilst running down the stairs in my headlong haste to catch a taxi, and didn’t want a repeat of that. As I opened the door I heard Pixie cry out, ‘Hurry Roxy, lets go!’ followed by a stream of toots from a car horn. I upped my pace as I hurried towards the car, holding the side railings of the walkway.
‘Hey Roxy. You look fab!’ Pixie commented as she gave her own ensemble a quick look. We looked like twins; our outfits mirrored each other’s except that Pixie wore a mini skirt and I wore hipsters.
‘You look ravishing as usual.’ Charles commented as he reversed his brand new Peugeot 206 out of the driveway. ‘Thanks. I know!’ I responded, loving his flattery.
As we approached the club, we saw there was a queue as long as a train, which looped round into the next street. ‘Did you remember to put our names on the guest list Charles?’ Pixie enquired, directing her full attention at Charles. ‘Yes I did. No worries. I’ll get you ladies in.’ Charles quickly responded as he walked calmly past everyone and led us to the front of the queue. I could feel the dagger-like glares from the freezing stream of people pierce my back as I walked past. It was jealousy in its purest form, and that made me chuckle on the inside. Once at the front, the bouncers greeted Charles warmly with a firm handshake and ushered us right in.
The bouncers were exceedingly fierce looking, and tall with huge muscles; I was dwarfed by their sheer enormity. One of them wore an outmoded mesh vest that made him look like He-Man from the 1980s cartoon of the same name. He kept staring at me until I made eye contact, and then he did the most revolting of gestures; he winked. How vile! I wasn’t amused and felt like I was going to puke on the spot in disgust. Pixie must have sensed my displeasure because just then she grabbed my hand and swiftly led the way into the club with Charles in tow.
As we went through I heard the stifled sound of music. We were on the ground floor and the club was in the basement. We quickly walked past the cloakroom; we didn’t wear any jackets so we didn’t need their services; and walked down the spiral staircase towards the sound of thumping music, which got louder and louder with each downward step. The club was miniscule and the small space between the walls was reminiscent of a medieval dungeon. The lighting was low and the air was filled with the smoky haze of cigarettes and other substances. On first impressions, the club looked quite unexceptional; but the fact that it was bursting with all the so-called ‘happening’ people of the party circuit, and it had an endless stream of top tracks being delivered by the DJ, compensated for the murky atmosphere of the subterranean vault. We strode into the heart of the revellers with a beat in our step as we made for a table marked ‘reserved’.
Pixie and I sat down as Charles went to the bar to get some drinks. We chatted excitedly to one another about the people in the club, knowing that they’d be doing the exact same. From our seats we nodded, in recognition, at the sea of regulars we seemed to bump into at every party. Some of the more confident people came over to say hello, but we barely acknowledged them as they approached our table, and didn’t even stand up to return the friendly gesture. We felt too important to stand because of our delusion that we were somehow more grandiose. As Charles walked back with a bottle of iced champagne and strawberries glazed with melted chocolate, I noticed several curious glares towards our table. I loved the attention so I leant forward to take hold of a juicy strawberry and a glass of ice cold Moet, even though I despise the taste of alcohol. I found the taste of alcohol repulsive and the headache that inevitably ensued afterwards was unforgiving; but in the setting of a party, the champagne was more than a drink, it was an accessory that I used to bolster my image even though each swig of it was bitter and unpleasant on my taste buds. Pixie on the other hand loved champagne and all things alcoholic. I always felt she used it as an excuse for outlandish behaviour; nonetheless I found it so funny when she got overly tipsy. As I sat sipping on champagne, and slowly devouring the plump strawberries encased in the smoothest milk chocolate I had ever eaten, my senses came alive and my toes began to curl from the explosion of flavours that burst in my mouth. I savoured each mouthful of that chocolate heaven and compensated for each swig of champagne with the sweet taste of two chocolate covered strawberries. With each bite I shut my eyes tight in delight. As I opened them, I noticed a group of guys standing and watching every movement I made. They stared brazenly; wanting me to see that they liked what they saw. I pretended to neither notice, nor be distracted by their prying attention as I whispered in Pixie’s ear, ‘We are on TV.’
That was our signal to prop ourselves up and savour the moment. I recognised one of the guys as a party regular. He and his posse were at every party. The only chance of them not attending the most exclusive parties was if a global epidemic had struck everyone dead, and that hadn’t happened yet! One of them in particular had become my ‘dance buddy’ at every party we went to. It was a strange liaison. We’d somehow migrate toward one another at a party and would dance and cosy up together all night; but afterwards it never progressed into anything more. It was as if we were using each other to get attention and gain even more noteriety, and we simply didn’t mind that our public appearances didn’t lead to more. I in particular wasn’t bothered because the chequered reputation that preceded him had only served as a dramatic stop sign in my path. As Pixie and I sat engaged in girlie chatter, Charles tried to get cosy, but Pixie wasn’t about to let him limit her chances of meeting someone else; so she pulled me by the hand and gestured for us to hit the dance floor. Knowing that she was using me as her alibi for abandoning Charles, I took my cue. The DJ pumped out tracks that made us dance emphatically, Pixie and I moved in synchronised harmony to the delight of the gawping guys. Whenever Charles tried to dance with Pixie she’d swing her way round and push me towards him to dance. That annoyed me, but I knew his insistent loitering irritated her more, so I conceded to her wishes dutifully. Whilst dancing with Charles, I felt the heat of someone dancing within my personal bubble. I knew it was ‘him’, my dance buddy. I swung myself round quickly and Pixie returned the favour I had done for her and turned to dance with Charles. I danced with my dance buddy for the best part of the night. The DJ was good; he played old-school tracks that made everyone go hyper. I almost went berserk when the DJ played my all time favourite 2 Legit 2 Quit. I’d heard that Hammer had left doing party tracks and was a Minister. I felt strangely sorry for him, thinking he was missing out on what I thought was ‘life’.
After dancing non-stop with all my might, I began to feel dehydrated. My head was pounding like a workman’s drill. I knew it was time to tank up on water and sit it out for a little, so I left Pixie dancing under the disco ball and made for the bar. I ordered a glass of cold water and drank its entire contents in one swift move. I remained seated at the bar for a few moments waiting for the pounding in my head to dull down. As I sat at the bar I watched Pixie on the dance floor as she swivelled seductively to the lyrics of Girl I Love your Waistline. For the first time ever, I was on the viewing end of my own dancing, for Pixie and I had slowly become one and the same. I saw how the guys looked at her, eyes filled with lust. She was like an unpaid go-go dancer, drunk on the frenzy her action was causing as much as on the champagne. On the other side of the room were the nauseated stares of guys with their girlfriends, stares unquestionably of disgust. Pixie was oblivious to the ruckus she was causing, as I too realised that I had become oblivious to the image I had sanctioned. I suddenly felt bizarrely self-conscious. I started to tug on my top, trying to force the gap between my top and my hipsters to become seamless. As Pixie danced her skirt rose higher and higher but she seemed not to care, the champagne had well and truly done its work; she was swimming in a sea of licentiousness. The whole scenario made me cringe at my own clothing because I knew I was no better than Pixie. I felt glued to the chair; not wanting to parade myself like a cheap commodity at an auction. As I sat there, Pixie gesticulated for me to come back to the dance floor. At that point she had managed to entice two guys to come and dance with her. I knew one of them was for me but I just couldn’t bear the thought of going back on the dance floor. I gestured for Pixie to carry on, and tried to muster a smile of commendation. Pixie gave me a questioning look. I knew that look. It was the look she gave me that screamed, ‘Do not wane on me Roxy!’ Her glare lingered for a few moments before she quickly resumed her suggestive dancing, sandwiched between the two guys. I looked towards our table and saw Charles sitting there, alone, watching Pixie on the dance floor with such pain in his eyes. He had become a free ride and an open wallet for her, and by association, me too.
I felt a wave of revulsion come over me. I had become so callous without even realising it. What was I doing scantily clad, sitting in a dingy dungeon disguised as a place of merriment? The emptiness I had felt before began to deepen. The more I sat there, the more mortified I felt. I just wanted to leave the club immediately. As I walked towards Pixie, she thought I was joining her to dance, but my eyes revealed the truth; she knew something was wrong.
‘What’s wrong Roxy? Aren’t you having a good time?’
‘Pixie, I am tired and have a headache. Can we go now?’
‘Go? Are you joking? The party has just started!’
‘No, I’m serious Pixie. I want to go now.’
‘Ok, ok, tell Charles to take you home. He shouldn’t bother coming back either!’
‘Tell Charles to take you home. I’ll find my way home.’
I knew what Pixie meant when she said she’d find her way home! She always scolded me, calling me frigid, because I refused to go beyond the club with any of the guys. I cast a fleeting glance at Charles as he sat in the reserved section oblivious to all the girls around him trying to get his attention; but his attention was fixed firmly on Pixie. He looked longingly at her. I knew he had fallen for her charm and had managed to convince himself it was love.
‘Don’t worry Pixie, I’ll take a cab.’ I said as I walked towards the stairs, ‘Talk to you tomorrow ok.’ I blurted as I picked up my pace.
‘Yeah, speak to you tomorrow Roxy!’
Once outside the club, I saw some of the faces I’d seen as I entered the club nearly three hours prior. They were still cueing obediently and haggling with the bouncers about why they ought to be let into the club. Don’t they have any shame? I thought to myself as I snarled at them in judgement. I knew I was being a hypocrite; I was no better than them, but that night I felt a downpour of regret for the way I’d dressed, behaved and given such credence to aimless cavorting.
I stood shivering at the corner of the road, full of lament for not wearing a winter jacket even though it was mid November! My mantra was – ‘fashion first, sense later!’ However on that night my motto backfired, I had more fashion than sense and was bobbing like a float in water as the icy wind lashed mercilessly against every exposed inch of my body. After about twenty minutes of being at the mercy of the elements, I finally saw the welcoming light of a vacant taxi approaching. I quickly stuck out my hand and motioned frantically for the taxi to stop. The taxi pulled up beside me abruptly and in the process splashed a huge puddle of filthy water on me.
Oh great, just what I need right now! I snapped at myself. As I was trying to rub off the oily residue from the splash, an uncivilized, ill-mannered man cut quickly in front of me and jumped into the cab. No sooner had he got in, the taxi screeched off down the road. So much for English decorum and gentlemanly etiquette! All I heard were the words, ‘Better luck next time love!’ and with that I found myself become engulfed with fury. I was fuming and could have bitten the head off anyone that crossed my path at that very moment. I continued to stand at the corner of the road with my white trousers looking more like a mechanics overall. My appearance was like that of a dishevelled tramp as I waited a further thirty minutes for a taxi that never came.
By the time I’d waited for nearly an hour, I knew it was time to try my local, very unreliable money grabbing cab service. They always wanted more money than normal cabs and were nearly always late. But on that day, I knew I couldn’t be too fussy; my options were dwindling. So against my better judgement, I decided to call my local cab company and as predicted, they were all too happy to take advantage of my predicament. They refused to come all the way to central London from North-West London unless I paid double. I didn’t even bother to give the cab controller an answer. I terminated the call so fiercely that I thought I’d break my handset. Just as I was about to go back into the warmth of the club and ask Charles to take me home, I saw a taxi coming towards me and though its vacant light wasn’t on, I noticed there were no passengers so I leapt into the middle of the road like a cat so he wouldn’t drive past me; sure enough the taxi pulled up to the side of the road.
The Taxi driver opened his window and said, ‘Where you off to then?’
‘LaPine Street, NW2’ I replied.
‘Hop in.’ he said as he pressed a button that unlocked the doors.
I hurriedly jumped into the taxi and snuggled into the warmth within. I sat there trying to defrost from the bitter and brutal lashings I’d received from the November downpour. The taxi was very clean; cleaner than any I’d ever been in. It was cosy and warm and had the scent of new leather. I loved the smell and so sank the corner of my face into the seat as I tried to get a few minutes sleep. The whole evening had me exhausted and confused. Why had the club, Pixie’s dancing and my outfit all of a sudden repelled me so intensely? My thoughts overwhelmed me, and only served to resurrect my headache. I closed my eyes, wanting to stop the building tension in my temples from progressing any further, when the driver said in a distinct Caribbean accent, ‘A good night then?’ I was in no mood for small talk. My temples pulsated with pain, I was drenched in grime and my eyelids were on strike, it was a major battle trying to encourage them to open. ‘What?’ I replied, barely opening my eyes.
‘Looks like you had a good night!’ He replied, changing tack. I knew his open-ended question was the start of a full-blown conversation so I slowly opened my eyes to see his reflection in the mirror. I didn’t want to encourage conversation with anyone that was a psycho in disguise! When I noticed he was elderly and had a soft smile, I propped myself up and forced myself to answer him.
‘It was ok.’ I responded, hoping the conversation would conclude at that point so that I could get some kip.
‘But the night is still young’ He replied.
At that point, I couldn’t resist the temptation to roll my eyeballs and sigh loudly. I knew I was being rude, but he was being rude for not allowing me to sleep. My attempt at being overtly bad mannered definitely didn’t bother him because he continued looking at me through his rear view mirror for a response.
‘I know the night is still young but I just didn’t feel like staying out any longer.’ I sighed.
‘I was just making my way home when I saw you in the distance standing in the middle of the road, looking like a drenched squirrel.’ He said, almost chuckling at his own remark.
Did he just call me a drenched squirrel? I thought to myself. My initial reaction was to take offence, but his chuckle was so contagious that I found myself muster a giggle too; I realised just how pathetic I looked with my drenched hair, sodden stilettos and grime stained trousers. Drenched squirrel was actually putting it mildly; I looked more like go-go Barbie on a bad day!
‘That’s better. You look much better when you smile.’ He commented. ‘You know, I don’t believe in coincidences’ he continued, ‘only providences.’
Oh hear we go... I’m stuck with a Philosopher! I thought. What was he on? Coincidence I knew, but what the heck was providence? I’d never heard that word before.
‘What do you mean by providence?’ I asked.
‘Well I have lived long enough to know that things just don’t happen. They are scheduled to happen.
‘Scheduled to happen? You are scaring me now!’ I responded smiling, but being half serious.
‘No what I mean is, I believe my steps are directed by God. Things just don’t happen in my life.’
‘Are you serious? Do you really believe in all that stuff?’
‘All that stuff? You mean God, Jesus, the Bible. That stuff?’
‘Yeah, that stuff.’ I replied.
‘Yes I do.’ He said stoically.
At that point I was expecting him to whip out a glossy leaflet about new heavens and pictures of people of the world hugging lions and walking with elephants; but he didn’t. He simply brushed off my cynicism just like one would shoo a buzzing fly and continued to expand upon the topic of providence.
‘Coincidence is something that is somewhat erratic in nature and beyond ones control. It also requires an element of luck. Providence however is a purposeful scheduling of events by the general overseer, God.’
‘Ok, I’m all ears. Explain.’ I requested, intrigued by the Pandora’s Box of insight that he’d opened before me on the issue of providence; a word I had never encountered till that night.
He continued explaining how he was about to call it a night and drive from Piccadilly Circus directly to Victoria and then on to Vauxhall where he lived, when he felt compelled to backtrack, go through Regents park and on towards Oxford street. He didn’t have his vacant taxi light on because his intention wasn’t to pick up any passengers but to go directly home. He noticed me because I looked like, in his words, ‘a dishevelled squirrel’ as I sprang into the middle of the road. He then said something that made me know that his path crossing mine was indeed providence. ‘There comes a point in a person’s life when the normality they know is just not good enough. There comes a time when change and total redirection is the only remedy for the growing gulf of dissatisfaction.’
I paused when he told me this. He had skilfully articulated just how I was feeling without even knowing it. It was his story, but it matched so perfectly with my experience that night. I couldn’t have expressed it better myself. He continued by explaining how he had fought for many years to negate the pull of God on his heart, and only succumbed to God’s destiny for his life in his 40s; but not before he had made so many mistakes that he still suffered the consequences of his actions even though he was 65. His words were like a welcome drink of water in a sun-scorched dessert and I wanted to drink every drop that spilled out of the fountain of providence.
As we pulled up to the front of my house he said, ‘That’ll will be twenty-five pounds, but for you, make it twenty.’ I wouldn’t have known we had already reached my house, had he not interrupted his story to tell me how much I had to pay. I felt disappointed that there had been no traffic to prolong the journey home.
As I leaned forward to pay him, he whispered something that literally changed the direction of my life. He said, ‘Do not put it off any longer.’ Those words cut through every layer of hardness I had built up and hit its target, my heart. His words were timely and accurate. I had been evading God’s tug on my heart to change, but in that moment everything became still and I immediately sensed that my days of empty revelry were numbered.
As soon as I got into the warmth of the house, I kicked off my waterlogged stilettos, allowing my aching toes to finally uncoil. Before I even made it up the stairs and to my bedroom, I began to peel off my icy cold ‘squirrel’ attire and I pondered upon all that the taxi driver had said about providence. The final words he said to me bounced around my room like a boomerang; ‘Do not put it off any longer-Do not put it off any longer-Do not put it off any longer.’ With those words swirling around, I went to the bathroom to wash off my mask of makeup before retiring for the night. As I finished washing my face, water dripping down my neck, I searched for my towel around the bathroom. It wasn’t hanging in its usual position. I hoped my over zealous sister hadn’t put it in the wash! I was just about to use tissue to clean my face when I saw the corner of my towel peeking out from behind the bathroom door. It was hanging on the radiator. I quickly picked it up and wiped my face with it, when suddenly, as I put the towel back, the framed picture tucked neatly away caught my attention for the second time. The words, ‘Looking for a love worth finding? Check out my bestselling book. God’ jumped out at me and gave me such a squeeze that I felt like I was gasping for breath. In that moment, I too experienced what I could only describe as providence. How long was I going to delay that which my heart was compelling me to do? It was so simple yet still I fought the urge to stop and open the Bible, I shunned it like the plague. Somehow my heart overrode my fighting mind and I resolved to read the Bible and not put it off any longer. I quickly found the Bible I’d received from my father on the day of my first Holy Communion nearly ten years earlier. He had given it to me when I was 11.
That day was a very proud day for my father. He wasn’t satisfied with my sisters and I receiving just First Holy Communion, but wanted us to do a hat trick – First Holy Communion, Baptism and Confirmation all on the same day. On that day, his pride was bountiful. His exuberant display of joy was like a flood across an arid plain. On the evening of my hat trick, he presented me with a white leather-bound Bible with a gold plated Crucifix mounted on it. Since that day I had left it under my pillow, believing it was my lucky fairy that slept quietly beneath my head, warding off nightmares and bringing good fortune. That night, I pulled out my Bible from under the pillow, and I attempted to wake it from its deep slumber, and then my phone rang. It was Pixie. I could recognise her alcohol-laced words in my sleep.
‘Hey, Roxy! We are just round the corner from your place; do you want to join us for a late night munch at your favourite Lebanese?’
That was temptation of the highest order. I loved late night feasting on Lebanese kebabs, fresh off the spit. My tummy began to rumble and my body beckoned me to surrender to the crispy lamb slices drizzled with delectable yoghurt dressing, garnished with piquant pickles and crispy salad. Ninety-nine per cent of me wanted to quickly throw on my jeans and join them. But just then, the gold plated crucifix on my bible glistened under my bedside lamp and cast a reflection on my arm. I looked at the shimmering cross and immediately knew what my response had to be. With a large gulp of air I ended my pause and replied to Pixie with as convincing a tone as I could conjure, ‘Sorry Pixie, I have to pass this time. I’m already in bed.’ I realised I had responded feebly as I heard the echo of voices in the background shouting, ‘O come on! Join us!’ Although the voices were muffled, I knew Pixie was in the company of guys. I ignored their prompts and waited silently to see if Pixie was going to try and convince me to go along, or if she’d drop the matter. I was elated when Pixie light heartedly said, ‘No worries, all the more for me!’ I heard a bit of a kafuffle before she dropped the phone. I was sure she was overly merry from all the champagne and even more sure she wasn’t with Charles. I switched off my phone, tossed it towards my bag on the floor, and directed my attention to the Bible.
I opened it up, wondering where to start from - New Testament or Old, Genesis or Revelation? As I flicked through the first couple pages I saw a long alphabetical list of emotions with the corresponding scripture that dealt with each one. I scanned through the list to see, if ‘providence’ would make its debut. I really didn’t know how to articulate how I was feeling, but I hoped to find something that near enough fit. As I read the headings – fear, anger, bitterness, envy, pride…, – My attention was caught by the heading, ‘feeling far from God’. Though I didn’t know how to locate what it was I was looking for, that glossary of emotions had. That was exactly how I felt, far from God, and I didn’t know how to reach for Him and feel connected. I quickly flicked the pages of the Bible until I reached page 617, and searched for the suggested scripture in Psalm 42:5. I read the passage with wide-eyed amazement and my heart began to beat wildly.
‘Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.’
I sat up in bed; the passage of scripture had managed to grab my full attention. It described precisely how I was feeling. I was downcast in my spirit and disturbed within; but at the same time a question crept in, a question that I certainly didn’t know how to answer. What did it mean to put my hope in God? I knew hope was an expectation for something positive to happen, but didn’t know how that related to God. I flicked to the front of the bible again and searched the list, looking anxiously for anything that was to do with hope.
Perhaps biblical hope was different to secular hope? I hunted through the list again, searching for the word, but found nothing. I scrolled down the list with my finger, frantically searching for anything even remotely linked to hope when suddenly I stopped. My finger rested on the topic ‘when Faith is weak’. Why my finger stopped there, I will never truly know, but at that moment I was sure there’d be something about hope within those pages. I eagerly flicked to the referenced pages listed beside ‘when Faith is weak’, Hebrews 11, and started to read it tentatively.
It began with the words – ‘Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see…’ I paused for a moment and re-read the words again – ‘Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see…’
I tried to comprehend the truth held in that statement. Everything became still and silent. It was like I was sitting in a void of inactivity, as though someone had pressed the pause button on everything apart from my mind. My brain was in overdrive trying to fathom the information that was being presented to it. I swallowed hard as I continued to read through chapter 11.
With each passing word I read, illumination came. It was like an idiots guide to faith and hope. The chapter was teeming with examples of people who believed God so implicitly that even when the promise was elusive, they still believed; even when all seemed unlikely, they still trusted the beholder of that promise. As a matter of fact, they all lived their life living in the hope of that promise, but never actually experienced the fulfilment in their lifetime. They died believing! That I found extraordinary. How could they believe without proof or manifestation? How could they put their trust and hope in God so implicitly without even seeing the evidence of what they believed? Their belief, faith and hope in what they couldn’t feel, see, or touch was extraordinarily inspiring. They were living examples of what it meant to have ‘hope in God’ and I wanted that badly.
After reading that passage, I went on to the next suggested scripture and then the next and on still to the fourth. I felt like a weary traveller in the desert who had stumbled upon an oasis. My soul held onto every word, as if for dear life.
By the time I finished reading, it was about four-thirty in the morning and I knew I had to concede to sleep. As I put the Bible back under my pillow, a wave of realisation came over me; the Bible wasn’t a lucky charm, but a treasure chest of words that gushed through me like an unhindered tributary; bringing refreshment in its wake.