The following is an extract from Shy Feet – Part One, one of the twelve short stories in Shy Feet: Short Stories Inspired by Travel.
Nineteen years ago, I arrived at CambridgeUniversity with a suitcase that squeaked as it rolled along behind me. I studied Economics and found that I was still able to complete the required work in a fraction of the predicted time. I spent what remained of my days learning computer programming so I could build software to manage my first business, an introduction service for non-English speaking students who needed proofreading services and English lessons, which other British students provided. I called the company International Student Support, ISS, and despite three months of thorough market research, I was astonished at how much money international students had at their fingertips to spend. That summer I hired an accountant for my Mum’s business and a temporary manager for ISS so I could travel the length of South America alone. I learnt how to speak Spanish and how to savour good food; by eating it with people you love - in this case three generations of a Chilean host family I lost touch with too quickly.
Sixteen years ago, I spent a year studying at BrownUniversity in California. It was the first time I took the sun for granted and my hair turned golden as a result. I learnt short hushing Arabic words from the Ph.D. student I fell in love with there. At the end of the spring semester, he whisked me away for a holiday at his family’s mansion on the rugged outskirts of Marrakech, a city I swayed from loving to hating and back again. I found the crowded Medina alleyways as dirty as they were mysterious and I lost count of how many skinny cats trotted at my ankles. I felt upset when Amir was too proud to acknowledge them and I promised myself if I ever moved to Morocco with Amir that I would never ignore these cats, even if I couldn’t help them.
Fifteen years ago, I returned to Cambridge and finished my degree. I was awarded a First. My graduation was a day of misty eyes and sparkling wine as I took Mum for a punt along the River Cam. I hired more staff to work for ISS and slowly the business needed less of me. In the September of that year I returned to California carrying everything I owned, but Amir didn’t show up. Over the phone, in an airport motel room, he told me he was engaged to a woman he’d never met and that he was going to honour this commitment. I stayed in that motel room for three days expecting him to call back. He didn’t. Instead, I created a miserable environment in which my heart could break in torturous silence. The only phone call I received was the one that made me go home; the one that turned the broken pieces of my heart into dust-like fragments. My mother had died of a brain tumour nobody knew was there.
Fourteen years ago, I founded the hair products company that would make me a millionaire. The company was named after my mother, Gloria Gill, and when an Australian multinational wanted to buy the rights to distribute in Australia and New Zealand, I moved to Sydney to oversee the process. It was too easy a decision to make, I’d been looking for an escape. I rented an overpriced waterfront apartment and fell in love with the SydneyHarbourBridge. I worked tirelessly towards making my mother’s name something that hairdressers everywhere could be proud of and I took it as a compliment when journalists misprinted my age as 33 in articles and interviews.
Twelve years ago, I received my first marriage proposal from an Australian entrepreneur famous for turning around the fortunes of failed businesses. At first he wanted to hire me. Then he wanted to dine me. And finally he wanted to marry me and love me for the rest of my life. He never seemed to want to fuck me and that was a problem. I didn’t want love; I wanted to be used. Not long after I turned him down, I realised how despicably rich I was. I began giving away over half of my income to brain tumour charities across the world and I downgraded to a suburban one-bedroom flat on a non-descript North Shore street. My only indulgence was a slightly skewed, distant view of the HarbourBridge from the corner of the bedroom window.
Ten years ago, Gloria Gill was named ‘Cosmetics Brand of the Year’ in fourteen countries. At around the same time I found my first grey hair, a thick blade of white bursting out just above my right temple. It prompted me to sell my majority shareholding for more money than I was comfortable with and I put my apartment on the market. I met the woman who bought it privately at yoga. She had dark brown dreadlocks and a green Om symbol tattooed on the inside of her left wrist. As I handed over the keys, I asked her if she had a backpack and if I could buy it from her. I booked a one-way flight to Bangkok the next day.
Nine years ago, I was proposed to for the second time. He was a slight Japanese man of few words but many physical expressions. We met in India on a meditation retreat. He was there because of the stress of a divorce. I was there because it was finally time to deal with the loss of my mother. I returned to Tokyo with him and spent my days meditating on a designer sheepskin rug in front of a view of Shibuya. I teetered on the brink of falling in love with him, always pushed back by the fact that he had three young children I couldn’t communicate with. I left in the middle of a rainy night because I knew saying goodbye might have pushed me over the edge.
Eight years ago, I arrived in Cape Town to roll out the same social enterprise I’d begun in Asia a year ago, International Start-up Support, ISS2. Using a similar model to the original ISS, I created an online network whereby successful professionals and business leaders could mentor small start-ups in developing countries. It was one of the first social enterprises of its kind. When I received an email from Amir saying he was divorced and wanted to see me again, I ignored it. I spent a lot of time on the beach listening to the waves and asking them for answers.
"This collection of stories is like a blanket woven from 100% wanderlust under which you can hide as Frances M. Thompson tucks you in with her words and keeps you warm with her descriptions of characters you'll love and places you can tell she knows by heart." Gesa Neitzel, www.bedouinwriter.com
Shy Feet: Short Stories Inspired by Travel is a collection of twelve quirky, charismatic and touching tales of travel.
The inquisitive Ruth tells the story of The Lost Children of Gatwick Airport and in Max's Holiday we learn what a seven-year-old boy considers a "proper holiday" to be. In The Flowers Sleep Tonight, we meet Thomas and Carly, two solo travellers whose paths keep crossing... because that's exactly what Thomas wants.
A spontaneous plan to elope is revealed in The Runaways and Homes from Homes is about the lessons Patricia learns from the hotel bellboy she has a fling with. Oh, Henry is the story of how a dream holiday can mean two different things to two lovers and Katie's Maps is an offbeat love letter to a vast collection of maps. Extracts from a travel journal tell one woman's life story in All the Beaches are Made of Pebbles and find out what Australia and underpants have to do with Claudia wanting to leave her husband of forty years in The Road is Long.
From the unforgiving Australian Outback to the jagged beauty of the Amalfi Coast, along the pebbled beaches of Brighton & Hove and down the busy streets of late night Barcelona, this collection of short stories highlights how travel intersects and enriches all of our lives, often without us realising it...
"Shy Feet: Short Stories Inspired by Travel transports you to exotic locales without leaving your armchair and leaves you wanting more... Frances M. Thompson has a novel in her and I can't wait to read it." Nathalie Harris, www.acooknotmad.com
Genre – Short Stories, Contemporary Fiction
Rating – PG13
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