As I walked with Natasha, along a shortcut in north London, I heard a scuttling sound behind us. A man ran anxiously across the road, his shoulders hunched into his not-quite-run. It was a non-committal kind of run, seemingly heading towards the pub that at that moment belched cheers into the dark January evening. A football game?
We continued, chatting our way along the cut-through to the station that Natasha had used so many times before. As we crossed another street, a voice behind us:
We turned. The man with the not-quite-run was not-quite-running towards us.
“Is this the way to the toob?” American. Glasses, wild, grey hair.
We told him the way as he caught up with us. Yes, he could continue along this path. No, he didn’t need to take the High Road. It would take him ten minutes or so.
“Will it be safe, walking this way?”
I shrugged. “Yes, at this time of night.” We turned to leave.
“May I take a photo? Of you two.”
We exchanged looks, uncertain.
“Photos of my travels…”
He lifted a small digital camera to his eye. A strange tourist snap…
“Where are you travelling from?”
“From Vermont. The States.”
I could tell Natasha was uneasy — I could feel her arm, tense, at my side.
“And, just one more…” I readjusted my face into a smile.
With the second flash, I had a vision of this photo: the two of us in our heavy coats, lit harshly against the London darkness. Puzzled, suspicious eyes. Either a printed image pushed around on a tabletop or a digital file on a screen. Look, those two. You can tell from their clothes. Evidence.
The man from Vermont nodded his thanks and then lunged awkwardly towards us, gesturing to the book in Natasha’s hand.
“What are you reading?”
Natasha tilted the cover towards him — I could tell she wasn’t going to give him anything more that that.
“OK, well, thank you.” And he motioned for us to walk ahead of him.
A few minutes later, Natasha turned to me. “I thought Vermont was in Canada…”