I did not recognise Ella at first. Her own heavy Louis Vuitton case had given me a severe blow. I was on the ground, as a result of the powerful yet fashionable impact, when I spotted her face.
I have known Lanky Ella Lanesbury for years. I believe we first met when we were children. I was running a lemonade stand, of my own confection, in Regent’s Park (the smarter end). I sold lemonade for 25 pence a cup. Then, one day, I cannot remember the exact day, it might have been a Tuesday, or a Sunday, but it was definitely a day. Anyway, one day, Ella set up her own lemonade stand across from mine, and started selling lemonade for 20 pence a cup.
A price war followed. Soon we were both selling lemonade for 1 pence a cup, and I had to water down my lemonade and reduce the size of my cups to keep costs down. In the end, we were both selling tap water with a slice of lemon. We were not friends, indeed, we were both mortal enemies. It is only once we both approached the same executive member of London organise crime to burn the other’s stand to the ground that we became familiar. In our case familiarity bread friendship.
Our friendship was sealed when we were both shut down for false advertising (apparently water with a slice of lemon is not technically lemonade), and operating a business without a permit. Health and Safety was soon on our case as well when they found out that, to cut cost, we both started getting our water from a reservoir at the London Zoo. It turns out the reservoir was composed of used water that had served to wash various monkeys. Actually, is it considered a monkey if it is a gorilla? I will have to ask Ypres. Health and Safety would have never found out if we had not been denounced by an old lady who claims to have got monkeyitis (or something to that effect, I am not good with names) after drinking lemonade from a stand in Regent’s Park.
It is really the ensuing trial for criminal negligence that brought Ella and I closer together. Crown vs. Lanesbury and Vasa proved to have been quite the bonding experience. I knew our friendship was meant to last when we both showed up at the Old Bailey with the same Hermès scarf. Of course, being minors at the time, we were both proved innocent. I remember trying to get the gorilla to testify. I even wrote to the London Zoo, but I never heard back from the animal. The gorilla never wrote back either! (Ypres thought I should put that line in for humour. I indulged her.)
Of course, Lanky, in Lanky Ella Lanesbury, is a nickname. Ella is mostly limbs. She is all arms and legs. They go on for ever. Apparently, when she went to visit her grandfather’s village in Kenya, they thought each of her limbs had been tied to four horses as a child, and the horses told to pull. Her lankiness was paired with a severe tendency towards clumsiness. She was seen to be quite a catch, so I have been told. I must admit, although our friendship will endure every height and every low, I find her gaucheness tiring at times. As I lay on the floor of the first-class cabin, my right hand massaging the fresh bump on my head, I felt it to be one of those times.
“I’m so sorry madam! Did I hurt you! O my God, is that you Vanessa? Vanessa E. Vasa? My dear friend! I didn’t recognise you with the bump. Nice V-neck! Quite striking.”
“Rather like your suitcase,” I added with a touch of irony, if that was the word I was looking for.
“Let me help you up,” Ella offered. I felt that was the least she could do. After all, I had been hurled to the ground by her suitcase. I must add that those Louis Vuitton cases are very heavy.
“Do you think I might have brain damage, Ypres?”
“I think that a rather remote possibility.” I did not like the double entendre in that answer. I admit that I might not be the brightest bulb in the low-energy high-efficiency bulb box, but I am not a dim candle either – I am actually rather pleased with that metaphor (if metaphor is the word I am looking for). I gave Ypres a stern look.
Ella finally extended her right hand to help me up. However, she forgot she had her make-up bag in her left hand. In a brisk move she helped me up and embraced me, hitting me upside the head with the make-up bag she had forgotten in her left hand. Had she not been all limbs, this might not have happened. The last thing I remember is hitting the ground once more. It was a good thing I was not wearing sweatpants and a Winnie-the-Poo T-shirt.
When I finally came to, a few moments later, a number of people, some of whom I did not know, were standing over me. I believe one of them had on a Winnie-the-Poo T-shirt. As it turns out, I had been brought into the terminal on a stretcher. Of course, this was Ypres’s idea. And it was a good idea at that. One more accidental blow by Ella might have rendered me a permanent invalid. I might have become a vegetable, or rather fruit. I have trouble remembering which is which (perhaps this is a side-effect of my encounters with Ella). In any case, I know you should have at least five of them, fruits and vegetables that is, not invalids, a day.
Once my eyes had finally adjusted to the specimen in the Winnie-the-Poo T-shirt, the less said about the footwear the better, I spotted Ypres and Ella to my left. I tried to get up, but my left arm was held back by some contraption, which brought be back to the stretcher with a crash. As Ypres described it to me later, it was rather as if I had been under the influence of a malicious bungee cord.
“I’m just checking your blood pressure, Miss,” said a voice from behind my head.
“Standard procedure, I am sure” Ypres volunteered. She always tries to reassure me, although I am not one to overreact or draw attention to myself in a dramatic fashion.
Lanky Ella came in close to my ear to whisper. Luckily, Ypres had largely neutralised her by confiscating and carrying her hand luggage.
“Ypres is right about checking blood pressure as a standard procedure. They did the same thing to that man who had to be comforted by that calm flight attendant on board. The nurse said his pressure was dangerously low. Of course that was the least of his worries. About five minutes later his wife inadvertently tripped him at the top of an escalator. Apparently his encouragement to the nurse to raise his pressure by any means necessary did not bode well with her.”
The crowd, I was afraid to see, was not dissipating, but rather gaining. Indeed, as Ella embarked on her monologue, a few members of the male species and a woman with adventurous eyes and a short haircut drew near.
“You know falling down an escalator is rather common. I cannot tell you how many times I have inadvertently seen people in my close physical proximity plunge towards injury from the top of escalators. Why just when I was at the airport before take-off, I was at the top of an escalator with my bags, next to a fellow traveller, when I hear a thud and turned around to find her traversing the air towards the bottom of the escalator. Thank goodness she was not hurt. A group of American tourists from the Midwest cushioned her fall.”
Suddenly, Ella turned towards me.
“You know Vanessa, when it all began, she was standing about the distance that you are from me.”
Fortunately, the nurse taking my blood pressure intervened before any further harm could be done.
“Aside from the rather alarming jolt in your systolic into the 180s towards the last thirty seconds of my examination, it all looks fine. You should avoid stress for the next few days. A bit of exercise wouldn’t hurt either.”
As the nurse was releasing the measuring equipment from my arm, I made an inquiry. “Does shopping count? You know those bags can get quite heavy, especially when one has to drag them through Mayfair.”
“No, Miss, that is not exercise.”
I gathered he did not have many pleasures in life. Although, he did seem to enjoy squeezing the life out of people’s arms to get a blood pressure reading.
“I was just asking,” I said, “because you seemed to have damaged the arm of my V-neck with your vigorous squeezing. You know Merino wool is quite delicate. It does not take well to being vigorously manipulated by philandering medical contraptions. Aren’t you supposed to take one’s blood pressure without clothes on anyway?”
Ypres quickly pointed out that my choice of words could lead to confusion. She suggested that what I meant was that the measurement of one’s blood pressure should be done with one’s arm exposed, most likely with a sleeved rolled up. I did not see how the choice of the word “exposed” over “without clothes” ameliorated the matter, but I did not pester.
“I suggested the nurse take your pressure over your V-neck for sake of modesty,” Ypres continued on. Rather ad nausea, if that is the word I am looking for. “I felt waking up with a man squeezing your bare arm with an unfamiliar contraption might be rather unnerving.”
Of course, Ypres was right. I would have received quite a fright had I seen that creature of a nurse manhandling my arm with his instrument. (Note: when Ypres went over this part of the chapter, I always entrust her with the reviewing of my writing, she felt the word “instrument” could cause confusion. As you can see, I kept it. I do not see how this choice of words could be anything but crystal clear).
The crowd dispersed, and the nurse finally left, putting his instrument away. I got off the stretcher, which he took with him. There I was in a terminal at Heathrow with Ypres’s comforting fish face and Lanky Ella dangerously unaware of her own destructive power. I stood motionless for a while, the left arm of my Merino wool V-neck slightly unravelled. I was getting rather anxious to leave Heathrow and get back to the comfort of my London home. I rather felt this was going to be a long and out of the ordinary day.
Chapter IV will be published next Monday, 21 December, at 12:00 EST 17:00 GMT, and will be the last post of 2015.