It was mid-summer and a cloyingly hot day. Normally, I would never have ventured out into this heat no matter what the reason but today was an exception to that rule. My best friend had just broken up with her boyfriend of two years and if that wasn't reason enough to tug on my conscience and innate female empathy then the fact that he cheated on her would have had me running out of the house into the humidity in pursuit of a girly bonding day.
It took all my strength but I managed to clamp down on the small part of me that wanted to whine about the heat and suggest we move somewhere else. We were near Embankment station, just looking over the river and eating ice-cream as floods of tourists passed us on their way to whatever sight-seeing they had planned for the day. The sun beat down ruthlessly on my neck and shoulders making my loose fitting top stick uncomfortably to my skin. There was an odd charge about the air that had me thinking a thunderstorm would be breaking the streak of weather by that evening. I was looking forward to not having makeup melting on my face.
By contrast, Felicia was basking in the weather, the sunlight bouncing prettily off her chestnut hair instead of being absorbed into a jet black mane like mine. I had stupidly forgotten to bring any kind of hair tie so all I could do was shift the mass off my neck every now and then.
I sighed petulantly and took a big bite of ice-cream.
"You're so weird Aish," Felicia commented, "I don't understand how you can just eat ice cream. Don't you get brain freeze?"
"Don't call me Aish, 'Lee." I growled, ignoring her comment and crunching on the remainder of my cone.
She chuckled, we both hated when people shortened our names that way, so naturally we both ribbed each other about it constantly. "Sheesh," She laughed, "Aren't I meant to be the one in the bad mood?"
I sobered immediately. "No you're not, there's no reason why you should be. He was a loser anyway."
"Don't say that," She demurred. "It was a mutual thing."
"Him cheating on you is not mutual. You have to stop taking part of the blame on yourself, it was all him. I hate the way nowadays women think they have to just settle, that all guys are just like that so we should just accept it." I slapped the railing and shook my head. "It's bull. There has to be someone better out there." Felicia and I never censored ourselves or our opinions around each other.
"I know, I know, and I wouldn't have just let him get away with it. I just think that things were so bad between us towards the end I kind of wasn't surprised when he told me. Maybe that says something about our relationship, like; we weren't meant to be." She stared off into the distance, probably imagining a tall dark mystery man who would be miraculously perfect for her. Despite her oft flippant attitude, Felicia was a dreamer, an idealist. Bookish and passionate – with more layers than Baklava. I knew that if her feelings were seriously injured, I would make the git pay.
"Maybe." I observed her discreetly. She never spoke much about the things that really affected her but I knew her well enough by now to notice the small signs. She was wearing no make-up so the slight redness under her eyes was noticeable but there was no tightness around her mouth to indicate anger or repressed grief. It struck me that perhaps this break-up had been more of a release for her than anything, despite its dramatic nature. And since she seemed to be recovering nicely I could take the kid-gloves off.
"Let's get the hell outta this sun,"
She laughed, "I was wondering when you'd start the whining. Okay."
I scowled at her but not without humour, and then turned around intending to grab my blue handbag. Murphy's Law struck of course as it often does on days when I'm already feeling like crap on a stick. Just as my palm was closing around the cerulean leather handle the bag was ripped out of my grasp.
I stared in shock at the 6'2 brown haired lumberjack that was hurtling past me and making off with my handbag in the process. "Hey!" I shouted. "THIEF!" As I was watching, another male-shaped blur streaked past me, this one darker. I watched in shock as the second man tore after the first. "Thieves!" I yelled.
"Oh my God!" Felicia breathed. I hadn't noticed that she'd come up behind me and wrapped her arm round my shoulders as if stopping me from running after the thieves. Had I tried to? I couldn't even remember.
I turned to face her, "Tag-team purse thieves." I muttered incredulously. Then it hit me, "My debit card, my house keys, my phone, everything was in there!"
She clutched me tighter, "Okay, calm down. You can call your bank, cancel your debit card and then call your phone company and report the phone missing, they'll block it. Your house keys didn't have your address or anything like that on them so it's not like they can break into your house."
I was so glad in that moment that one of us could keep a level head in a crisis. "Right. Right. I just…I can't believe I was just robbed." I shook myself. "Bastards." I swore. They were well out of sight now, the sheer mass of people currently on the bridge meant that it would have been pointless to go find a police officer, anyone could get lost in this crowd in seconds.
Felicia pressed her mobile phone into my hand. "Here, make as many calls as you need."
"Thanks." I was about to call home to get my bank number from mum when the phone's screen lit up, signalling an incoming call. "Felicia Calling" it said.
My jaw dropped. Unbelievable.
"What? What is it?" Felicia asked.
"The tag-team purse thieving bastards are calling you from my phone!"
I hit the green button and lifted the sleek Nokia model to my ear. "Hello?"
"Hi," a male voice began, I didn't let him finish.
"Is this tag-team purse thieving bastard number one or tag-team purse thieving bastard number two?"
There was a pause, then, "Huh?"
"Listen you vile, depraved, opportunistic law-breaking hooligan, I don't care who the hell you think you are but if you don't return my bag with all it's contents intact I swear I'll hunt you down and bust a cap in your ass."
What? I was angry. And I watch too many gangster movies. Unfortunately my ill-conceived threat didn't have the desired effect as the bastard on the other end of the phone started laughing incredulously.
"Did you just threaten to shoot me?" His voice was mid-range and infuriatingly full of humour. I wondered whether this was the dark haired one or the lumberjack.
"So what if I did?" I demanded, still fuming.
"Do you even own a gun?"
I paused, "I could get one."
"Right" He chuckled. "Well good luck with that…but some advice; if you're trying to threaten someone in future you might want to stop using words like 'hooligan'".
I looked skywards. "I don't believe this. The purse thief is commenting on my vocabulary."
There was a pause, "I'm not a purse thief."
"Oh really?" I gasped, "I'm sorry! What are you kids calling it nowadays? Accessory appropriation? Property displacement facilitation?"
He laughed and it annoyed me that I found the sound warm and friendly rather than annoying. "I take back any comments about your vocabulary, it's fine the way it is. Anyway, I was going to explain myself but you interrupted, I want to return your handbag, I just wrestled it away from the tall guy that ran off with it. Are you still near Embankment with your friend?"
My jaw dropped for the second time that day. "What is it?" Felicia asked, tapping my shoulder.
"You-you- what? Who are you?"
"Oh, uh…sorry I thought you saw me run after that guy. You were screaming 'thief' so I went after him. Caught him near the steps on the other side of the bridge. I looked into your bag only to find a contact number and um…Felicia?- was the last dialled number so I just rang it again figuring it might be the girl I saw you standing with."
I was speechless for maybe a beat too long. "Look," He continued, sounding more hesitant. "I realise this is a really weird situation but I'm walking back to Embankment right now, I think everything's still in here."
"Oh my God! I'm so sorry, thank you so much…I…"
He laughed again. "Hey, no worries. Uh I think I see you."
I turned around to the direction they had run off in and saw a man with a phone- my phone- pressed to his ear, waving at me. He hung up the phone. As he came closer I recognised him as the dark haired man I had assumed to be an accomplice, because seriously, who tackles a thief for a complete stranger nowadays? Apparently this guy does.
He was tall, not as tall as the lumberjack but that still meant he towered over me. His eyes were a honey brown and he looked to be maybe my age or a few years over at best and like me; Middle Eastern. He was wearing a plain white shirt with the sleeves rolled up against the heat and slacks. His skin was sun kissed and only slightly sweaty which was impressive in this weather.
When he was close enough he smiled shyly, not really meeting my gaze, "Hi."
"Hi." I replied quietly, suddenly mortified. I had just threatened to "bust a cap" in this guy's ass!
"Your bag, Aisha…" Felicia said, coolly appraising the man who was holding it.
"I'll explain in a minute," I told her, turning back to my hero. "Thank you so much."
He shook his head, waving my gratitude away. "No problem, he was tall but went down easily." He handed me back my precious bag. When he was passing me back my phone I noticed his hand.
"Oh, your knuckles!"
He looked at his hand and frowned. "Oh, uh, I'm fine."
Not thinking, I grabbed his hand. "You're bruised and bleeding."
"Nah, it's just a scratch." He extracted his hand from mine gently and must have noticed my embarrassment at my slightly forward reaction. "It's not nearly the punishment you wanted to give him anyway."
That only made me blush more.
"I'm Zayd by the way." He said, finally looking at me. I had a strange out of body experience as I looked up at his face, half bathed in sunlight. There was an easiness, an honesty about his gaze that I found entrancing.
"Aish." I breathed.
Felicia coughed, probably because I'd never in my life introduced myself that way.
Zayd looked concerned. "Are you okay, Felicia?"
She stared at him, this time probably because he somehow knew her name. I chuckled, "She's fine. Um…look I should apologise, and thank you, and make it up to you for yelling at you on the phone," and swoon at you I thought. "We were going to go get some more ice cream, do you want to come?
He considered a moment, and then shook his head. "If I let you yell at me some more, and if it's not too forward- would it be okay for us to get lunch instead?"
Felicia answered for me, "She'd love to. How about Lebanese food at Edgware Road?"
Zayd started walking with us, back over the bridge and towards the tube station. "Sure. As long as it's a place with AC."
Felicia nudged me, smirking. I scowled at her. But…with my best friend at my side, purse in hand and exiting the psychotic heat with a heroic new acquaintance; I knew my day would only get better.