Germaine Baxter wrapped her coat around herself, missing the feel of the red silk scarf she’d lost on the tube. London was far too large to hope that she’d ever find it again. It had been a Christmas gift from her mother, which made her regret losing it even more. It was not easy to replace either, coming from a unique artisan’s shop in Cairo, where her mother had recently had a holiday with her second husband, David, who was now Germaine’s extremely wealthy step-father.
Germaine was happy for her mother, who had raised her almost alone after her father lost his life in the line of duty as an army official. They were very close because there was no one else in their extended family living nearby, and no siblings or cousins that Germaine had spent very much time with. Germaine and her mother had been financially provided for through her father’s legacy, so they had chosen to stay in London where Germaine could attend some of the country’s best educational institutions, whilst most of her parents’ families remained in the rural parts of south east England, where her parents had met. The scarf her mother had given her at Christmas was a visual reminder of how much her mother had given her, and how loved she had felt as a child. Apart from its particular silken texture, it had a pattern embroidered thinly into its borders. It felt warm but not stifling, beautiful, luxurious and meaningful around her neck. When Germaine had mentioned the loss of the scarf to her mother on the phone, she had received the sort of answer she expected to receive. “Don’t worry, darling,” assured her mother’s voice from the other side of West London, “things are just things.” Germaine tried to comfort herself with the thought that her mother was not upset about the scarf, as she left the house for another day’s commute.
Amira ran her fingers through the silky patterns of the red scarf she had found on the Bakerloo Line. She had meant to hand it in to a member of the Underground staff to put into their lost property, but having held it in her hand for a few minutes, she noticed something about it. It had dark red patterns that looked like rivers meeting, stitched into its edges. It also had a noticeable fragrance that was iconic and expensive. She felt like holding on to the scarf for a little longer.
Amira was far from home. Home meant the town where she was born and had grown up. The scarf reminded her of other parts of the globe. It reminded her of the freedom to visit different countries without risk. She felt that she would not have been able to afford the scarf or the fragrance that had imbued its fabric. She decided to wrap the scarf around her neck.
Joseph heard the doorbell and let the cleaner in. She was an immigrant with broken English but she communicated well with her expressions and smiles. Today she stepped in with a striking red scarf wrapped around her neck. It looked out of place on her ordinary-looking clothing but it suited her in a strange way, complimenting her delicate, innocent features. Joseph wondered if the young woman had more money than she said she did. He knew she was some sort of a refugee, most of her family still trying to survive in a part of the world that had been devastated by war. She wanted her parents and siblings to leave their homeland the way she had done, but she’d told him they felt it was too risky for them to leave in that way. She had felt it was too risky to stay.
In her heart Amira knew it wasn’t just the bombing, the lack of supplies, the everyday confusion that she had wanted to escape. It was the lawlessness. The feeling that anyone could do anything to her without her permission. When a group of her friends found a way to get out, she had taken her mother’s blessings and fled. Her father had been out at the time and she knew her mother would handle his reaction. She had had barely any contact with her family since that time, over a year ago. She had been detained in a camp whilst her right to asylum was debated. Many were sent back, but the authorities knew the danger of sending her back to her hometown and decided to let her stay.
Joseph didn’t mind immigrants being in the country legally if they were contributing to the economy. The girl’s English had improved a lot over the course of the six months she had been cleaning for him. He was pleased for her and he found her trustworthy. He left her in his apartment to finish cleaning as he went out to meet his new girlfriend, a budding lawyer who was intelligent and beautiful. The sort of girl he was excited to introduce to his parents.
Germaine took in Joseph’s apartment as they sat in his living room drinking wine. It was the first time she had stayed at his place since they had been dating. “It looks very clean even in the light of day,” Germaine said approvingly.
“I wish I could take credit for it, but I have a cleaner, a lady — she’ll be in soon,” Joseph explained cheerily.
“A young lady?” Germaine asked casually with a smile.
“Yes,” Joseph laughed. “You have nothing to worry about!” he added.
Germaine laughed with Joseph. She liked his warmth and humour and determination to succeed. Still in this mid-twenties, he already owned his own place in London, without having had any help from anyone. He had achieved everything himself, getting scholarships all the way through his education. He looked and sounded perfectly English, but his parents had come from eastern Europe when he was just two years old, and they had faced some hard times. His younger sister was born in London, like Germaine. Now that Joseph was working for a big company in central London, he’d started lavishing his parents with things they could not have afforded when he was a child. Germaine loved his generosity.
The doorbell rang and Joseph walked over to let the cleaner in. Germaine looked up and noticed the girl in faded jeans and a cream-coloured sweater. She noticed a child-like face and an uncertain demeanour, but most of all she noticed the richly pigmented red scarf around the girl’s neck. The girl said hello and Germaine nodded as the girl began to busy herself in the apartment.
“Amira,” Germaine said to the girl cleaning up one day as they both stood in Joseph’s kitchen. “Can I ask you something personal?” Joseph was showering and the question had been on Germaine’s mind for weeks.
“Of course Miss,” said Amira as she wiped the kitchen surfaces.
“Where did you get that scarf?”
Amira looked embarrassed. “Miss, I found it on the tube. I wanted to give back but it so nice.”
Germaine sighed. She had suspected Amira had found her scarf after she’d realised they took some of the same train lines. London was not as huge as she had thought.
“Amira, I lost that scarf soon after Christmas. It’s mine. I will give you some money for it if you want, but I’d like to have it back.”
Amira looked flushed and uncomfortable. “Are you sure Miss? I don’t need your money. I like the scarf a lot. But if it is really yours you can have it.”
“Thank you, Amira. It was a gift which is why I want it back.” Germaine opened her bag and pulled out a note. “Here is ten pounds. For the scarf. And for being honest.”
Amira looked down at the floor and took the note. When Amira had finished cleaning, she took her things and said goodbye, leaving the red scarf on the table.
Germaine picked up the scarf and wrapped it around her neck. It felt changed somehow. It didn’t feel like it was hers anymore. Germaine felt awkward and wondered if someone else had lost an identical scarf that Amira had picked up. The odds were inconceivable. Joseph stepped out from the bedroom, the smell of the aftershave he had doused over himself filling every corner of the apartment. Germaine stroked the worn-looking scarf as she glanced at him.
“Ready to go out?” Joseph asked. “Is that the cleaner’s scarf?”
“It’s actually mine,” Germaine answered. “I’d lost it on the tube and she’d found it. She was happy for me to have it back when I told her. Uncanny, isn’t it?” Germaine smiled at Joseph. He eyed the scarf on Germaine and it looked out of place. It seemed to look borrowed, worn-out.
“I think that scarf has done a few rounds in the city, it doesn’t look like one of yours,” Joseph remarked.
“I was thinking the same thing,” Germaine said wistfully. Then her expression brightened. “Come on, I want to go to the shops,” she announced as she took Joseph’s hand and pulled him towards the door. With her other hand she pulled off the red scarf and dropped it into the recycling crate outside the apartment.
Amira saw her boss and his girlfriend leaving his apartment as she herself was walking to the station, on her way to her next job. They were laughing and holding hands. She looked out for the pretty scarf she had grown attached to, but it was not around the lady’s neck or in her hands. She felt the absence of it on her bare neck as the cold air chilled her skin. The loneliness of an alien city enveloped her once again.